It’s been awhile since I wrote about US politics. The thing is I was torn between Bernie and Hillary, and I wanted to analyze this juxtaposition of Bernie’s idealism vs. Hillary’s practicality. I don’t think it’s an either/or proposition.
Many on the left see the problem with Hillary is that she oozes Establishment. We are usually presented with a list of ‘crimes’ that her husband and, by association, she have committed in the 1990s. Bill Clinton passed a series of bills that made an emphasis on personal responsibility while at the same time weakened the call of duty to the larger, more socially and economically influential entities, like business and government. But the thing is we were all neoliberals in the 1990s. We all thought that we have arrived at the ‘end of history’ where liberal democracy and the invisible hand of free markets will guide the humanity till the end of times. This is what we were taught in the universities and business schools. I haven’t heard of Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn until I was about two years into my financial industry career. (I don’t remember how I came across those.) And even then I thought that things couldn’t be as bad as they describe it. How the hell was I supposed to discern that what I was taught was an economic fairy-tale concocted by Reagan voodoo whisperers with a self-serving ends? If the world’s leading intellectuals are wrong, what’s to expect from the little guy? I, too, like Clinton and Fukuyama and a horde of neoliberal intellectuals, from Larry Summers to Art Laffer, thought that this is it. This is where we end up. I, too, thought that all you have to do to succeed in life is work hard and then expect everything else to magically fall into place, like they said. I was sincere in my belief. The reason I’m describing my neoliberal background is to demonstrate that it is possible to acknowledge your past mistakes when you are presented with the new evidence. I’ve done it, therefore it would be disingenuous of me to deny the same benefit of the doubt to the Clintons. I think today Bill regrets signing the Crime Bill and Welfare Reform and the loosening of financial regulations. But let’s remember that back in the 1990s all those laws seemed like a good policy in line with the prevailing economic dogma. I think Hillary understands all of that, which is why she shifted left on many issues. But she can’t do a full Bernie without being accused of being an opportunist. Is there even a room, in our current political process, to allow a politician to change his or her mind?
I think Hillary is made to go through contortions, which we interpret as insincerity and opportunism, because no matter what she does she can’t appease the other side. She’s accused for being a shill for Wall Street because Bill and her were always friendly with financiers, but the moment she tries to utter a populist message she’s made into an unprincipled opportunist. Stuck between the two losing sides, she’s not fluid enough in personality to handle it with Trump-like nonchalance. Such inability is actually a sign of intelligence and thoughtfulness. She strikes me as someone who doesn’t like to show emotions in public, but is forced to by campaign consultants and generally by the society. “She screams too much”, we often hear. But then, if she spoke normally, she would not be heard at all. Women just happened not to have the bellows that men have and that is often held against us. Attempts to speak louder are also held against us as undignifying. What a girl to do? I know this predicament from trying many times to have a conversation at a crowded bar: it’s impossible to talk without scaling into some kind of high-pitched screech. Hillary’s signature wide-eyed crazy-lady screams with pointed index fingers at someone in the audience, and her carefully chosen words during the interviews are all manifests of those expectations. So yes, she comes across as unauthentic. But it’s not her fault.
I’m willing to give Hillary the benefit of the doubt on policy. I think she understands that times are different now and require a new worldview and new solutions. That’s my assessment of Hillary and if I turn out to be wrong, a few years down the road, if she stuffs her economic advisors team with old Clinton hands and sends troops to ‘spread democracy’ to third-world countries, I’ll admit my mistake. But I think I might be right here. She’s not what she’s made out to be.
The fact that she’s a policy heavyweight outweighs all other complaints. Hillary simply knows her shit, as evidenced by a policy and fact-heavy discussions during the debates. And what about Bernie? Bernie knows his shit too, but his shit is on a different political and philosophical plane.
Bernie is an idea, a revolution, a conduit for rebellion that exists in all of us in varying degrees. He’s a release valve of the anger on the left, just like Trump is a release valve of the right. I’d totally want to see him in the White House if only as the stick in the Establishment’s eye. I’m glad he’s in the race, but he’s more than a presidential candidate. He’s at the vanguard of a movement, and the inevitable constraints of office, were he to be elected, would dull the message and disappoint his supporters. Just like what happened to Obama. Therefore I think it’s better to have Hillary in the White House and Bernie as a leader of a movement. It will guarantee that his message will continue to resonate.
A few words about Trump. I like what he does to the GOP, I’m happy to see him as a frontrunner. He’s the bitter medicine that forces all that sordid yellow bile, brewing inside the GOP ranks for decades and activated by the dog whistles during elections, to come out in public in the most undignified, Exorcist-style way. Especially revealing was Trump’s win in South Carolina. SC was supposed to provide a firewall for Cruz as the state’s voters are heavily evangelical. Trump’s win there exposed that those evangelicals are not evangelicals at all, if they preferred a loud-mouthed buffoon with “New York City values” – a disparaging term in right-wing circles – to a Bible-thumper Cruz, a man born to peddle prosperity gospel on late-night TV who, in a grotesque twist of fate, ended up in public office. I just love the implications of Trump’s win there. The GOP elites thought that its voters love Jesus (and thus will prefer Cruz) and trickle-down economics (and thus will prefer Rubio) but they overwhelmingly voted for the guy who has never shown any religious piety and who clearly advocates for tariffs and protectionism. The irony works in mysterious ways.