It’s official: Hillary Rodham Clinton is the Democratic Party nominee for President of the United States. As I saw numerous people opine on Twitter, “Well, love her or hate her, you gotta admit this moment is historic.” Yes, sure, but if we’re taking the term very broadly, if I eat a sandwich and write an article about it, that too is historic.
I get what they mean, though, and what this moment means to so many Americans, especially women and girls, young and old. Truth be told, the U.S. is long overdue for a woman to be a major-party nominee for POTUS. CNN recently put together a list of 60+ countries who have elected female leaders (either presidents or prime ministers) before America. I’m sure you’re familiar, even slightly, with a number of the names on their tally. Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Isabel Perón, Margaret Thatcher, Benazir Bhutto, Angela Merkel, Julia Gillard, Dilma Rousseff—and these are just a sampling of the notables. What’s more, it’s not like these nations with women as heads of state are all major players on the international scene. For crying out loud, Mauritius beat us to the punch! Mauritius, I say!
Now that we’ve established Hillary’s place in history—or herstory, as some would have it—and having surveyed the indelible crack which has been made in that proverbial but all-too-real glass ceiling, it’s time to talk turkey regarding the polls and whether or not the would-be Madam President can seal the deal come November. As much as some of us would insist it just has to happen, the reality is that the race for the top office in the country is pretty much a dead heat. In the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, Donald Trump actually leads by two points, though as the accompanying article indicates, the so-called “credibility interval” for this data is 4%, meaning Clinton and Trump are essentially tied. A coin-flip over whether or not Hillary Clinton becomes President, and perhaps over the fate of the country itself? Democrats, do you feel lucky?
Bearing in mind that Hillary’s standing in the polls may yet see a bump owing to a “convention effect” of sorts after making her closing speech from Philadelphia, but regardless, the margin is too close for either the Democrats or the Republicans to take for granted. And this is where Bernie Sanders and his stupid supporters come into play. Wait—I’m a Bernie Sanders supporter. Does that mean I’m stupid? I guess so. Because the bulk of the reaction to Sanders delegates and supporters/Democratic National Convention protestors, at least within the Democratic Party, seems to be one of exasperation and irritation. “Guys, you lost—get over it!” “We need to unify—move on!” “Kids, it’s time for the adults to take over. We’re going to need you to fall in line already.”
Uh-oh. You didn’t just say fall in line to the “Bernie or Bust” crowd, did you? Yeah, um, they tend not to respond well to that, especially considering that a number of them may be voting for the first time or may simply be new to the Democratic Party (and therefore don’t remember how Hillary threw her support behind Barack Obama in 2008). So, asking people you’re trying to win over to stop being “sore losers” and to “get with the program” may be a bit of a self-defeating proposition when they haven’t been part of the Party or the political process itself for very long. Especially just a few hours after their idol finally was mathematically eliminated from competition, if you will, and mere days after leaked DNC E-mails proved that key Committee figures essentially worked for the Clinton campaign and against Sanders, and with the help of members of the mainstream media, no less. Sheesh, give them time to mourn!
Instead, those Hillary Clinton supporters and others looking forward to the general election treated the lead-up to the deciding roll call vote at the Democratic National Convention like a coronation for Hillary rather than the democratic process that is meant to occur at party conventions. Accordingly, that Bernie or Busters and other Clinton protestors would voice their displeasure was met with contempt. Sarah Silverman, who supported Bernie in the primaries but now is #WithHer, scored big points among audiences in the arena and at home by calling the Bernie or Bust contingent “ridiculous.” Now, after the fact of Hillary Clinton securing the party nomination outright, other social critics have taken to chastising the #NeverHillary stance. Seth Meyers, for one, though his point about the danger of electing a “racist demagogue” is well noted, reflecting a sense of impatient annoyance, addressed the #HillNo movement by insisting “we don’t have time” for their shenanigans, and suggesting that Sanders supporters must have skipped History class to attend a Bernie rally in their failure to recognize the dangers of a Trump presidency based on similar examples. When comedians and other personalities aren’t “taking down” Sanders’ more vocal supporters, the news is picking up the slack. Philip Bump of The Washington Post points to Pew research which finds that nine out of 10 “unwavering” Bernie backers support Clinton in the general election, thus delegitimizing the Bernie or Bust position. You can’t argue with that survey! It’s scientific!
The quick and widespread antipathy to Bernie Sanders’ die-hard supporters, I believe, stems from conceptions held by these outsiders about Bernie backers’ identity, which may, after all, be misconceptions and/or subject to the tendency of Clinton and other leaders within the Democratic Party to treat blocs of people as wholly homogeneous groups (remember Hillary’s Southern “firewall” among blacks?). Throughout the campaign season, Hillary supporters and the media alike have evidently tried to characterize Bernie Sanders’ faithful as one or more of the following:
- Impractical, imprudent idealists
- Mindless Bernie followers
- People who really, really don’t like Hillary Clinton and other “establishment” candidates
- Spoiled brats who only want “free stuff”
- White undergraduate students
OK, let me address each of these points/characterizations on their own merit:
1) When exactly did it become a bad thing to be an idealist? Have eight years of Barack Obama’s platform of “hope and change” and failures on some aspects of that platform hardened us to the extent we must categorically dismiss optimism in favor of cold pragmatism, or worse, cynicism? Joe Biden somewhat chided critics of Bernie Sanders’ a while back when going after his (Bernie’s) “unrealistic” policy goals, inferring that the Democrats and we as a country need to think big in terms of we aim to accomplish, and only then work backwards or down from there. That is to say that touting one’s identity as a “progressive who gets things done” might be judged as preemptive capitulation toward moderates for the sake of merely incremental progress, not to mention that with a Republican-controlled Congress, any Democrat would be likely to have difficulty passing his or her intended initiatives, regardless of how “left-leaning” he or she is.
I think Sanders’ political movement, perhaps unfairly, gets conflated with the Occupy Wall Street movement, which was too unfocused to be very durable. If his stump speeches have hammered one thing home, it’s that Bernie’s agenda has definite direction with respect to getting money out of politics, shrinking the widening income and wealth gap between top earners and low- to middle-class earners, and bringing workers and young people into the fold.
2) I don’t think Bernie’s supporters will do whatever they tell him to do, as evidenced by the boos Bernie Sanders himself received when telling convention-goers amendable to his cause that Hillary Clinton must be elected the next President of the United States so as to defeat Donald Trump. I also don’t believe he would’ve asked his delegates to walk out of the Convention, and yet many of them did, escaping—if only temporarily—the Hillary Clinton love-fest inside the venue. If the events of this past week have indicated one thing, it’s that it’s not as if Bernie cracks the whip and his supporters follow. Numerous pundits and writers have commented on this situation as Sanders “losing control” of his crowd, somewhat akin to Dr. Frankenstein losing control of his creation. This implies, however, that these voters are meant to be controlled or corralled, when really, they are free to have independent thoughts and viewpoints. For those of us hoping Donald Trump never ascends to the land’s highest office, we would hope they would choose anyone but him, but let’s respect that their vote counts just as much as anyone else’s.
3) Perhaps unfairly for Hillary Clinton’s sake, the woman of a thousand pantsuits is a symbol of a political establishment that represents what so many Americans dislike about politicians: the catering to moneyed interests (real or perceived), the pandering, the umpteen policy changes which manifest in the span of just a campaign cycle. As Clinton and her campaign have been keen to mention, too, the former Secretary of State has faced unique challenges in trying to ascend in an area traditionally dominated by men, within a deeply patriarchal society, no less.
These notions aside, people still really don’t like Hillary, for various reasons. Of course, Republicans have wanted to knock her down a peg for some time now, though this appears to be largely the byproduct of her relationship with Bill. On elements of policy and decision-making during her tenure at Secretary of State (Benghazi and her E-mails, at the top of the list), meanwhile, criticisms are more than fair, as are reservations about how Hillary has gotten her funding—personally and politically. For all the obstacles she has faced, Hillary Clinton is not above reproach or above the laws of our country—nor should she or anyone else in her position be.
4) “Why in my day, we paid to go to school! And we loved it! WE LOVED IT!” Except for the notion that it’s getting harder and harder to pay for college, owing to rising administrative costs and other factors. Economists refer to the national student debt as a “crisis” rather aptly, because even conservative estimates put the total upwards of $1 trillion. While we’re on the subject of “free stuff,” let’s discuss why universal healthcare is a vital topic of conversation. Tens of millions of Americans each year have difficulty paying for medical treatments, possess some level of medical debt, or simply forgo insurance/treatment to avoid the costs. Access to viable healthcare should be a right, not a privilege. At least that’s what Bernie Sanders, myself, and others in this country believe. And, famously, the entire country of Canada. But what do those happy, hockey-loving hosers know?
5) It’s no secret: Bernie Sanders, throughout the primary season, enjoyed a sizable advantage over Hillary Clinton among college graduates/students and other millennials, and tended to perform better in states with relatively low populations of minorities—his home state of Vermont, a prime example. That said, the diversity among Sanders’ surrogates and delegates demonstrated that it wasn’t just a bunch of white kids in Bernie’s corner. Ben Jealous, Cornel West, Killer Mike, Rosario Dawson, Nina Turner, Tulsi Gabbard—these are all counterexamples to the observed trend which resist the desire to put people narrowly into labeled boxes by their race, education level or other demographic characteristic. (Either way, still more inclusive than your average Trump rally.)
As to the “Bernie or Bust” crowd in particular, which perhaps in the severest of popular challenges is accused of suffering from a serious case of white privilege, let’s explore this charge. Shane Ryan, in a piece for Paste Magazine, pushes back against the assertion that progressives who don’t wish to vote for Hillary Clinton in the general election (and presumably are whiter than a Bichon Frise in a blizzard) necessarily don’t care about those Americans who stand to be primarily disadvantaged by a Donald Trump presidency. As he writes, for supporters of a “status quo” candidate like Hillary Clinton to accuse die-hard Bernie backers of not giving a shit about Americans who are increasingly disenfranchised by economic and political systems that reward the wealthy is “a dirty trick that would make Karl Rove proud.”
Ryan goes on to address the notion of whether or not Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump would be worse as President, and his answer—which you likely will dismiss as crazy talk—is that Clinton is not automatically the better choice. Before you ready your tomatoes to hurl at the screen, hear Shane out. The argument is this: an awful Trump presidency has a good chance of spurring a wave of progressive influence in politics and helping lead back to a Democratic reclamation of Congress, while Clinton could not only invite a conservative backlash, but voting for her stands to reinforce the belief of establishment Dems that they can ignore the little guys and girls among us and get away with it. By this logic, Shane Ryan asks rhetorically, “Why should we make any decision that would simultaneously undercut our growing power and subject us to total Republican domination in four years’ time?” Then again, Donald Trump could just get us all blown to smithereens, so take all this for what it’s worth.
Of course, this line of thinking doesn’t make for a nice narrative.
“THE FIRST WOMAN NOMINEE! EVERYONE LOVES HILLARY!”
“But wait, what about all those protestors outside the gates, and all those boos on the first day, and all those delegates who walked out after the roll call vote?”
“THEY’RE A FRINGE GROUP! WE DIDN’T SEE THEM ON TV!”
“Right, because they didn’t show it on the television news shows. But it happened.”
“NO ONE CARES! HILLARY JUST SHATTERED THE GLASS CEILING! SHE IS POISED TO BECOME THE FIRST FEMALE AMERICAN PRESIDENT!”
“If she beats Trump. But that’s no guarantee. Especially after the revelations about the DNC as part of Wikileaks’ E-mail dump. She’s been the subject of numerous investigations lately, and now the IRS is reportedly looking into the workings of the Clinton Foundation.”
“REPUBLICAN BALDERDASH AND RUSSIAN TRICKERY! PUTIN IS TRYING TO HELP TRUMP WIN!”
“Maybe. Maybe not. It still doesn’t change what occurred in those E-mails, though. And there are other concerns some of us have about Clinton’s policies and allegiances.”
“OH YEAH? LIKE WHAT?”
Well, for one, rumor has it that Ms. Clinton will switch her preference to support the Trans-Pacific Partnership if elected president.”
“DON’T LISTEN TO THAT! TERRY MCAULIFFE IS A F**KING MORON!”
“Wow. OK. Moving right along, this story in The New York Times—”
“LISTEN, IF IT’S ABOUT THE HILLARY VICTORY FUND AGAIN—”
“Would you let me finish, please? This story by Nicholas Confessore and Amy Chozick talks about how big-money Clinton donors are living it up at the Democratic National Convention. Drug companies. Health insurance companies. Lobbyists. Yes, even Wall Street. Gatherings at the Ritz-Carlton, made possible by people in suits and with expensive handbags, who arrived in fancy cars and limousines. How is this getting money out of politics? How does this evidence the notion Hillary Clinton’s values aren’t compromised by money and that she won’t turn her back on progressives if she wins? I mean, is she trying to lose the election?”
As great as it is that a woman is (finally) a major-party nominee, and as infinitely more inspiring in tone the Democratic National Convention was compared with its Republican counterpart, through the excitement and pageantry, important questions remain about the Democratic Party nominee, and I think it’s wrong to pretend like the dissenters and dissent don’t exist, or otherwise try to badger, insult and shame them into voting submission. Whomever is the next President of the United States, he or she will preside over a nation that faces many challenges and problems; the list is a long one.
Thus, for all the warm fuzzies that abounded inside the Wells Fargo Center this past week, the raucous protests which unfolded inside and outside the arena tell a more nuanced tale. Accordingly, for as quick as pro-Clinton types are to deride Bernie’s supporters, and while they might be right that the unwavering Sanders faithful will “come around” or “get in line,” you better believe that Donald Trump, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein are lobbying hard for their votes, and what’s more, they are really listening to this frustrated group of people. If Hillary and the Democratic Party don’t change their tune fast, the first-woman narrative will likely lose its luster when Trump takes the general election.