Clinton, the progressive with power

A piece from the Economist discusses the campaign of Hillary Clinton, “HILLARY CLINTON is a fighter. In a very long speech at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park in New York City, where she officially re-launched her presidential campaign this weekend, she declared that she is here to fight. She is ready for battle in “four fights” in particular. There is the fight “to make the economy work for everyday Americans”; the fight “to strengthen America’s families”; and the fight to “maintain [America’s] leadership for peace, security, and prosperity”. Last, but not least, she will join the fight for “reforming our government and revitalising our democracy.” At an abstract level, this is all rather unobjectionable. But who, exactly, is Mrs Clinton fighting against? It’s not America’s external enemies she’s itching to take on. She’s not in a lather about the Islamic State. It’s the Grand Old Party she’s got a beef against, and if you’re inclined to support it, Mrs Clinton has it in for you, too”.

This summation is a tad unfair. The GOP have been consistently responsible for the many, though obviously not all of the problems in modern America, from their obsession of cutting taxes to higher rates of poverty and reduced social mobility to shutting down the government they have helped bring America to where it is today.

The piece goes on to mention “Mrs Clinton’s combative partisanship is a far cry from Barack Obama’s promises to heal the divisions of a fundamentally united nation through edifying speeches and determinedly cooperative leadership. Mr Obama cast himself as a sort of King Solomon, capable of sagely arbitrating the disputes of rival factions from a position of lofty moral as well as political authority. But it didn’t work out as Mr Obama, or his supporters, had hoped. His great achievement, the passage of Obamacare, was the result of a brute-force party-line vote. Subsequent attempts at Solomonic negotiation were repeatedly foiled by the dogged partisan unity of congressional Republicans. Mrs Clinton has advertised her disinclination to reach across the aisle only to have her hand slapped away. Her model of leadership is more General Patton than Solomon. Mrs Clinton does not promise progress through reconciliation, but Democratic victory over the forces of Republican darkness with a combination of superior strategy and force”.

This strategy could be a refreshing change from the naivety of the early Obama years where he was either stupid enough or arrogant enough to believe that he could heal the profound and in some cases, natural ideological divisions within American society. While Clinton’s approach appears, at this moment, to be more brawn it may in the end lead to more compromise with the GOP recognising her as a more serious political operator not to be ignored.

As the report adds “Mrs Clinton promises a Democratic party exhausted by Republican intransigence something much different, and much desired: victory. To Democrats fed up with congressional obstruction, and Mr Obama’s failure to blow past it, this is a most appealing message. And it’s a savvy move, too, converting Mrs Clinton’s lack of charm, and her reputation for shady dealings, into assets. She’s not here to make you like her. She’s here to make sure that you get what you’d like—if you’re a Democrat. ‘A vote for me isn’t a vote for ‘unity”, writes David Frum in the Atlantic, perceptively drawing out the subtext of Mrs Clinton’s speech. ‘It’s a vote to claim a larger piece of the nation’s dwindling resources from people you don’t like and who don’t like you. In an age of increasing partisan polarisation, Mrs Clinton’s openly hostile message verges on a refreshing frankness about the nature of politics”.

The report adds that “Voters also like to be assured that they’re doing the right thing by supporting policies which, incidentally, happen to feather their nests. Take, for instance, Mrs Clinton’s proposals to ‘make it easier for every citizen to vote’ through ‘universal, automatic registration and expanded early voting’. This is presented mainly as a defence of the ideals of democracy, not as a way of making it easier for Democrats to win elections. But she won’t mind too much if you happen to see the big picture”.

If this plan were implemented it would be a temporary loss for the GOP, yet it would also be a challenge to them. They would have to propose policies that would woo these newly enfranchised voters away from the Democrats to the GOP. This would be better both for the GOP and in the end, as Clinton says, democracy.

The report adds “To understand the particular combination of pugnacity and idealism in Mrs Clinton’s announcement speech, it is necessary to understand how the rising influence and confidence of the progressive left is reshaping both the rhetoric and moral worldview of the Democratic Party. The 1990s ‘new liberalism’ of Bill Clinton, a former president and Mrs Clinton’s husband, was a Democratic version of the sunny view, normally associated with the right, that a rising tide raises all boats. The displacement of Bill Clintonian ‘liberalism’ by ‘progressivism’ brought about by the financial crisis and increasing inequality has led to a decline on the left of harmonious ideals of in-it-together mutual benefit. In is place is a combative, zero-sum conception of politics that combines the lofty rhetoric of social and economic justice with a disenchanted view of democracy as smashmouth sectarian conflict. Mrs Clinton is ably capitalising on this development”.

Interestingly the article goes on to note that “Although the populist progressivism touted by such figures as Elizabeth Warren may seem to present a challenge to the relatively conservative Mrs Clinton, it has actually handed her a very powerful weapon. Progressives wax idealistic about democracy, but their implicit notion of practical politics is class war by electoral means. This allows the powerful Mrs Clinton to position herself as her party’s only real hope, while lending moral dignity to otherwise baldly transactional promises to her party’s constituencies. If politics is war, then Democratic success in national politics requires a battle-tested leader mighty enough to vanquish the amassed forces of plutocracy and right-wing reaction. Bernie Sanders, a professorial Vermont senator and, so far, Mrs Clinton’s most significant left-wing challenger, may be able to state the problems, and articulate attractively progressive answers. But he cannot be the progressive answer. What can sweet Bernie Sanders do to the Koch brothers? Throw spare copies of “Manufacturing Consent” at them? Progressivism in both its moderate and extreme versions implies the need for a leader who is a heavyweight slugger, willing to fight at least a little dirty”.

It concludes “This is why, as long as progressivism is ascendant within the Democratic party, Mrs Clinton need not fear a progressive insurgency. In announcing her candidacy by picking fights in terms appealing to progressives, Mrs Clinton has reminded her party that, even if she’s not the progressive hero they might want, she alone has the knockout power they need”.

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