Watching the Rachel Maddow show for a moment last night, I learned that there was some disagreement among the Democratic candidates for President and their supporters over who the "establishment" is. It seems that Senator Sanders, in an attempt to dismiss the endorsement of Hillary Clinton by several gay-rights and reproductive-rights groups, described the leaders of those groups as part of the "establishment." Clinton quickly took offense on their behalf. How could Sanders believe that these groups representing women and gays in struggle against those who would deny them their rights were part of any "establishment," when it was self-evident that the true establishment was what they all were struggling against? Sanders responded by clarifying his distinction between the groups, all of whom had worthy agendas in his view, and many of whose grass-roots members supported him, and their leaders.
The easy answer to the question is what Sanders probably meant in the first place, which is that anyone who supports Hillary Clinton is part of an establishment. Yet I feel certain that his opponents and critics, from Clinton herself on down, are sincere in their denials. While others have the power or the potential to deny women full reproductive rights, or deny homosexuals full civil equality, it's understandable that activists see those others as the establishment and themselves as insurgents. At the same time, Clinton and her feminist fans see themselves on the outside looking in at the establishment that has excluded them from the highest levels of power and honor. For them, so long as there is resistance to the idea of a woman President -- and many see this resistance as inseparable from all specific resistance to Clinton -- it's absurd to consider even Clinton herself as part of the establishment. To them, the establishment is self-evidently male, just as for other Clinton supporters it is self-evidently straight or Christian. As long as someone else is in a position to judge them, without equal accountability to them, those others are the establishment, and those opposing them cannot be. That perception reveals the parochial limits of their worldview. Outside of these circles, who really thinks that the establishment, if one truly exists, is defined today by attitudes toward women's rights, gay rights or reproductive rights? To think that is to fall for the Democratic scare campaign that claims that the Religious Right really rules this country, or is on the brink of taking over, when few of the really meaningful decisions -- those that matter to Americans regardless of gender or sexual preference -- have any input from that hateful entity. Not to see Hillary Clinton as part of the establishment is to wear a certain set of ideological blinders while disdaining others. At the very least, even if you deny the premise, it should be clear that Clinton wants to be part of the establishment, and it should also be clear that aspiration, in this case, amounts to virtual membership. Sanders, on the other hand, talks as if he has no interest in being part of the establishment in the way that Clinton is or wants to be. One can be of it, as Sanders arguably is as a U.S. Senator, and still want to do away with it, but it's unclear whether that's what Clinton wants.
I'll save further thoughts on the meaning and function of an establishment until my Part Two post, which will address the early endgame for the Republican party, in which, depending on whom you read or listen to, the "anti-establishment" candidate may suddenly become the establishment candidate to stave off a worse-feared fate for the GOP.