05 February 2016

Clilnton: 'I'm fighting for people who cannot wait for those changes.'

So said Hillary Clinton at her one-on-one debate with Senator Sanders last night. I heard that sentence in isolation on the radio this morning, and at first I assumed that Clinton meant that her constituents could not wait for the changes that Sanders wanted to make -- that they needed help now, in whatever incremental form, instead of radical change that could come only after a protracted political battle. But this is what she meant:

Yes, of course, the economy has not been working for most Americans. Yes, of course, we have special interests that are unfortunately doing too much to rig the game. But there's also the continuing challenges of racism, of sexism, of discrimination against the LGBT community, of the way that we treat people as opposed to how we want to be treated. I believe that we can get back on the right track. I want to imagine a country where people's wages reflect their hard work, where we have healthcare for everyone, and where every child gets to live up to his or her potential. I'm fighting for people who cannot wait for those changes, and I'm not making promises that I cannot keep.

Arguably my first interpretation is still plausible. It depends on the rhetorical relationship of the sentence that begins with "I want..." to the rest of the paragraph. Is Clinton fighting for the people who can't wait for wages to reflect hard work, or for healthcare for everyone, or for children getting to live up to their potential? That is, is Clinton fighting for people who can't wait for those changes because those are the changes most needed, or is she fighting for people who can't wait for those changes because they need something else done now? Her juxtaposition of the economy and bigotry bugs me a little. The implication, of course, is that Sanders isn't paying as much attention to bigotry as Clinton thinks he should -- and later she expressed disappointment that bigotry issues weren't addressed more during the debate itself. This is all important to her, I presume, because those issues make up much of her "progressive" bona fides. As the Democratic contest has intensified this month, Clinton has grown very defensive of her progressive credentials, and more convinced that they should be self-evident. During the debate she scoffed that "Senator Sanders is the only person who I think would characterize me, a woman running to be the first woman president, as exemplifying the establishment." If that makes a candidate progressive, then Margaret Thacher was a progressive when she ran for Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1979, and Carly Fiorina today is as progressive as Clinton, just as Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman were when they were running in 2012. Clinton herself would acknowledge that there has to be more to it than that -- she suggests, after all, that she's more progressive than Sanders because she's "a progressive who gets things done" -- but she resents Sanders, and presumably anyone else, acting as a "self-proclaimed gatekeeper for progressivism," just as she resents any insinuation that she has been "bought" with campaign donations or speaker's fees. Clinton is, in fact, very resentful, treating just about any criticism of herself as a "smear" while, of course, she's merely "pointing out the differences" when she goes negative on Sanders. But to return from the tangent, "progressivism" has to mean something in an exclusionary way or else the word is meaningless. If we are unable to say with some confidence that someone is "not progressive," there's no point to saying she is progressive. In such a case, "gatekeeping" is an obligation not just on an allegedly self-appointed figure like Sanders but on anyone for whom the word "progress" has meaning.

Of course, "progress" doesn't mean the same thing even for all self-styled progressives, which is why the Democrats are having debates while many other progressives will be satisfied with neither candidate. Clinton and Sanders represent two strains of, or claims to progressivism. Sanders's vision is radical and universal. He wants to break up the big banks and push through single-payer health insurance, among other goals. Clinton's vision is incremental and self-consciously inclusive. It is insistent that progress include women, racial minorities, the LGBTs, etc., not only as beneficiaries but as enactors of progress. To some progressives, this seems to matter more than any material progress made by the people or the nation as a whole. Clinton practices what might be called retail progressivsm. Sanders clearly has the good of all Americans in mind, inclusive of all demographic groups, but a retail progressive like Clinton, and her husband more so, assumes that those groups like to be acknowledged by name through gestures of inclusion that might seem redundant to an egalitarian from a relatively homogeneous state, like Sanders. Again, to retail progressives, this is progress from a past defined by inequality, bigotry and exploitation, and this may be another key to the difference in attitude between two kinds of progressivism. One faction looks backward and defines progress relative to an unjust past, while the other looks forward and sets goals for progress that have less to do with the redressing the past. Inevitably, one group of progressives is accused of insensitivity while another is accused of playing identity politics. Meanwhile, there are many Americans who really can't wait for change, and many of those may have entirely different ideas of "progress" from either of those contending for Democrats' votes. Despite the ranting of some radio talkers who've tried to make "progressive" a dirty word, I doubt whether any candidate for President this year disbelieves in progress. Whether any of them will deliver progress is another story.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, Clinton has a long, proven history of using her powers to make life better for the little person. After all, I'm sure the mom & pop operation on whose servers she trusted confidential government information profited greatly.