In the wake of the Iowa caucuses, in which Trump lost, O’Malley dropped out, and Sanders stood toe to toe against Clinton, the Presidential race has become noticeably more heated. And so has the rhetoric. At least that’s how it feels on my Facebook feed, a formerly placid Bernie bubble where friends have suddenly begun leaping out of the closet to proclaim their love for all things Clinton, along with their their condescension for all things Sanders.
The Bernie bashing comes in several popular flavors:
(1) If you support Bernie, you’re a naïve idealist. His proposals are too impractical, too pie-in-the-sky. Translation: grow up and give up. You can’t beat the system, so join it. A recent rant begins, “COOL, YOU LIKE BERNIE’S WISHES AND DREAMS APPROACH TO POLITICS. “FREE COLLEGE FOR EVERYONE AND A GODDAMN PONY.” Not only is this inaccurate (Bernie has never once mentioned ponies), but it’s an old conservative talking point. Forget about fundamental rights, fairness, justice, or compassion; liberals just want “free stuff.” [Fun fact: Hillary herself once called welfare recipients “deadbeats.”]
(2) If you dislike Hillary, you’re a misogynistic “BernieBro.” Way to undermine the intelligence and judgment of millions of women who support Sanders, not to mention feminist males who stand behind Bernie’s calls for pay equity, paid maternity leave, increased funding for Planned Parenthood, and a host of other policies that would directly benefit women.
(3) If you dislike Hillary, you’re a sucker who has fallen for the right wing’s ongoing smear campaign against her. One blogger went so far as to assert, “If you truly believe Hillary Clinton is dishonest and deceptive, then you are among the most gullible person on the planet.” [SIC]
Apparently, not liking or trusting Hillary could never be about her actual record, which speaks volumes about her values and flatly contradicts the assertion she’s been making since the first Democratic debate—before which she identified as a moderate—that she’s actually a progressive.
As I was compiling my own list of everything Hillary has done and said to prove that she is not in fact a progressive, I learned that Bernie himself had, that very afternoon, accused Hillary of only being a progressive “on some days.” His comments, which Hillary called a “low blow,” have ignited a Twitter debate under the hashtag #HillarySoProgressive. Most users have taken this phrase as sarcastic, dragging skeleton after skeleton from her pro-corporate, pro-Wall Street, pro-war, neoliberal closet, thereby making my job here a great deal easier. Indeed, this Sanders tweet goes a long way toward making my point:
To this partial laundry list we could add Hillary’s support for the death penalty, GMOs, and fracking, her time spent on the Board of Directors for Walmart, and her admiration for war criminal Henry Kissinger. Last but certainly not least, let’s not forget about her financial ties to the private prison industry and the Wall Street institutions that are bankrolling her campaign and have helped make her a multi-millionaire member of the 1%.
Hillary supporters will no doubt counter that she has since changed her mind on many of the above issues, in some cases even calling them “mistakes.” In fact, I’ve read claims that her shifts on issues like gay marriage, the Iraq War, and her own political orientation indicate a willingness to learn and grow that all but defines progressivism.
If we use this as our main criterion, we would have to call Trump a progressive, since he’s reversed his position on a number of key issues. As The Donald demonstrates, there is a fine line between personal growth and political flip-flopping on the basis of poll numbers, and one could easily argue that Hillary has managed to blur that line.
Instead of using malleability as a marker, let’s look at the moral conviction and abiding concern for justice exhibited by dyed-in-the-wool progressives like Eugene Debs, Jane Addams, FDR, or MLK, none of whom could ever have called themselves moderate with a straight face, let alone with pride. The same can be said about Bernie Sanders, who marched with King while Hillary campaigned for Goldwater and has since dedicated his political career to fighting against the unequal concentration of wealth and power.
If you’re a Hillary supporter and remain unconvinced by her record and her own claims of centrism, consider the fact that she has repeatedly vowed to continue the legacy of Obama, who will hardly be remembered as a progressive. Raise your hand if you want more wars, more drone terrorism, more NSA surveillance, more Wall Street bailouts, more Citizens United, more siphoning of wealth to the top tier, more big-business as usual.
Nobody is saying that Bernie will be able to solve the world’s problems with a wave of his democratic socialist wand, but he has demonstrated a commitment to wresting power from the oligarchs and restoring it to the people. He’s the most progressive candidate to come along in many decades, and, yes, he’s just as electable as Hillary, if not more so.
Let me be clear: I have no problem with people supporting Hillary because they like her or her policies (some of which are progressive, thanks partly to Bernie). And I will vote for her against whatever racist troglodyte the GOP barfs up. But if you support her because you think she’s a committed progressive, I think you’re fooling yourself.