Tuesday, April 19, 2016


Pasquale Civiletti, Verdi Square Monument, Manhattan. Photo by Chris Brady.
Emerged from the subway at Verdi Square (statue of the maestro of Busseto surrounded by characters from the operas, Falstaff, Aida and Otello I think, and Leonora from Forza in her last-act hermit's cowl for "Pace, pace") yesterday evening to be confronted by two intermingled mobs of Upper West Side moms, young, groomed, and fiercely organized, leafleting for their respective candidates. No fighting.

The Bernie moms were talking up the startling NBC/WSJ poll showing Bernie winning in an imaginary head-to-head nationwide contest among Democratic primary voters against Hillary by minus two points, 48 to her 50, which is not winning by the usual definition, but also well within the margin of error of 5.3%, so that he could actually be winning in the normal sense, by plus 3.3 points, though he could also be a more normal seven or so points behind, if there was a national primary, which there isn't, but none of that could dampen these moms' enthusiasm. Momentum! The tide's about to turn!

I felt really irritated by the way these nice people were imitating stupid TV pundits, and as I passed a 10-year-old girl with a Hillary sign looking defiant in the knowledge that some of her friends might think she was being dorky, I showed her the clenched fist. I immediately wished I'd given her the full fist bump, but it was too late and I had stuff to do.

I won't be voting for Hillary Clinton today—this being the New York State Democratic primary, I'll be expressing my "preference" for Clinton, but voting, Inshallah, for the slate of delegates committed to Hillary Clinton, in part because I'm starting to suffer from some of that old-fashioned radical chic spite. I'm not buying the idea that the revolutionaries are too "idealistic", I'm feeling that they're too shallow. I think they're supporting Bernie the way they supported the gay guy in American Idol a few years back (if I have the story straight, he was really good if you like that kind of music and deserved to win, I don't mean to suggest otherwise), because it's heartwarming and makes them feel good about themselves.

Sanders himself has had a colossal effect on the party. He has achieved more or less everything he could have hoped to achieve when he started this thing, radically changing the language Democrats use, mostly for the better. Above all, he has brought the issue of income and wealth inequality out of the Occupy streets and into the elite conversation in a way from which we can't back down.

But there's no reason to think he would be an adequate president. He gets fixated on catchphrases—"single payer", "break up the big banks"—and loses sight of the issues. He proclaims a "political revolution" and recruits a grand total of three congressional candidates (at least one of them, our Zephyr Teachout, really good). He adopts a theory ("if we have a big turnout I will win") and can't see the evidence that shows he's wrong. He still hasn't got a full complement of advisors, let alone anything like a shadow cabinet. I do not want to see Jeffrey Sachs as secretary of state.

I have problems with Clinton as well, obviously. If Sanders is a stiff-necked absolutist who has never seen reason to change his mind about anything (except of course gun control, crime control, military action in Libya, things like that), Clinton is a panderer whose views often seem to reflect those of whoever she's talking to—she's a typical politician, and with the typical annoying habit of trying to suggest whenever she's changed her mind that her new position is identical to the old one. Most seriously, I continue to worry that she belongs to the Stupid Shit Caucus on military action.

A word on that: it is so diametrically different from neoconservatism. Clinton's interest in invasions and bombing raids, dating back to the breakup of Yugoslavia and the Rwandan genocide and the Sudan civil war, like those of Madeleine Albright or Samantha Power, is a response to something real and important, a desire to end unspeakable suffering. You can't hear about the horrors going on in Assad-controlled areas of Syria (see Ben Taub's new article in the New Yorker) without wanting to stop them, it's the worst thing ever, abominable beyond belief, and as Albright said, what's the best military in the world for if it can't do something about these things?

Well, who knows, but you and I know that violence is always likely to make things worse, and we've seen enough evidence of that over the last 20 years. At the same time, Clinton's impulse may be wrong, but it comes from a place of compassion, and we might as well try to appreciate that.

All in all, though, especially in domestic affairs and the peaceful side of foreign relations, she is extremely well prepared to be a really good successor to Obama, to maintain and consolidate the extraordinary gains that progressive causes have made in the past few years. Also, she's got the support of just about everybody I love in the national party, together with the ones I can't stand, and she's going to win anyway.

What just began striking me last night, in Verdi Square, on that subject, is that now we know she's going to win, the vote for Bernie as a reprimand to Clinton isn't any use any longer. It's an empty threat. It was fun to vote for Bernie in Massachusetts or Michigan, when it was going to have an effect pushing her to the left, but that phase is over. It is now time to stop prolonging it, and to influence her not with opposition but support. This is a mistake the left has repeatedly made in presidential elections, ever since 1932. We have these middle-of-the-road Democratic candidates who are disposed to listen to our concerns, and we can't stop screaming at them for being a sellout and capitalist tool, and eventually they stop listening (FDR in 1937, when he triangulated his way into trying to balance the budget—thankfully it didn't last too long, but he was the last Democratic president to escape from such a state, until Obama in his "no more fucks" moment). I'd like to start showing Hillary that I'm confident she can move the ACA to 100% coverage for all Americans, and raise Social Security benefits, and make the very rich pay their fair share of taxes, and bring peace to (some of) the Middle East with some kind of minimum of killing. Then maybe she'll feel more like listening to me than to somebody who thinks she can't.

And it is time to start building up our ability to vote for her in November and convince other people to do the same.  Get partisan.

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