As a Canadian leftist I have become somewhat immune to the terribly defeatist "lesser-of-evils" logic. In our context it was used for many years to justify voting for the electable and pragmatic Liberal Party instead of the socialistic NDP before the NDP abandoned its socialist roots.
Then it simply became the line for those who insisted that Canadian socialists had to stick with the NDP after it had shed any meaningful semblance of what had made it not a lesser-of-evil but rather a left-wing alternative worth voting for.
It has been a very long time since the Democratic Party in the United States was an alternative worth voting for. A solid argument could be made that it has never been that alternative.
It has been a very long time since there was an actual mass socialist alternative along the lines of Eugene V. Debs or Norman Thomas running for President in the United States.
And Bernie Sanders, despite his insistence on describing himself as a "democratic" socialist ( a redundant Cold War term ) may not be that alternative in a fully realized sense. But he is far more so than Hillary Clinton who is not that alternative in any way, shape or form at all.
There have been many debates in the left as to whether or not Sanders is a "real" socialist. A fair number of these are uninteresting in the same way the medieval theologians debating the angels on the head of a pin are. Sanders' positions and ideas are, of course, open to criticism and many of them deserve this criticism. He does not, ultimately, propose a socialist transformation of capitalism as socialists in the ideological sense ultimately envision, but what he does is advocate for a government and Presidency that would intervene in the economy and in society in ways entirely reminiscent of what reformist socialists and social democrats were advocating for prior to the era of neo-liberal reaction and retreat and doing so in a way that no other American politician has on this scale in decades.
That matters and is, in the present context, a radical shift of note that is, in my opinion, worth supporting.
The same cannot be said of Hillary Clinton.
Clinton not only does not do anymore than pay lip service to "radical" ideas, she has a long and very established history of actually supporting and advocating for policies that are reactionary and that demonstrably hurt women, people-of-colour, working people and people living in poverty.
If one is a leftist this history matters and has to matter.
While many have written at some length on aspects of Clinton's terrible legacy there is not just one point to highlight and it is not really about what Clinton may or may not be saying now.
It is about the totality of what she represents ideologically.
And, unlike Barack Obama whose ultimately fake "hope" narratives led to little in the way of domestic change and even less in terms of curtailing American imperialism and adventurism, Hillary Clinton's reactionary fundamentals are well established for all to see unless they chose not to.
Bill Clinton's Presidency was one that declared war not on poverty but rather on the poor and it did so with the full and avowed consent of Hillary Clinton.
As was noted in The Intercept:
Republican presidential candidate John Kasich has promoted himself both as a friend of the working poor and as a foe of Hillary Clinton, but as House Budget Committee chairman in the 1990s, he worked with the Clintons to roll back welfare programs, helping double extreme poverty in America.And...
In 1996, the Clinton administration and congressional Republicans worked hand in hand to pass what they called the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, colloquially known as “welfare reform.”
Hillary Clinton was involved with publicly advocating for passage and implementation of welfare reform in her role as first lady. In a Newsweek cover story in 1993, she weighed in on the upcoming welfare reform debate.It must be noted here that these vicious and violent changes, which Bernie Sanders actually voted against at the time, impacted women, the marginalized and racialized communities more than anyone else and that they could only do so.
“How do we as a society address the 15-year-old mother on welfare? What do we owe her? Can we demand a set of behavioral standards from her?” asked the interviewer. “Sure, I’ve been talking about that since 1973,” replied the first lady. “You know, I am one of the first people who wrote about how rights and responsibilities had to go hand in hand.”
“When you talk about moving someone to work from welfare in two years, what happens to people who don’t want to work? Would you impose sanctions?” followed up the interviewer. “Oh, I think you have to. What happened in Arkansas is that people who refused for whatever reason to participate had their benefits cut,” she replied.
Hillary Clinton continued to defend the welfare cutback over the years. “Too many of those on welfare had known nothing but dependency all their lives, and many would have found it difficult to make the transition to work on their own,” she wrote in a 1999 op-ed. In a 2002 interview she said the policy has resulted in recipients “no longer” being “deadbeats — they’re actually out there being productive.”
It is inconceivable in any meaningful way to claim to support a political agenda that is allegedly on the side of women, the marginalized and the racialized while having supported, defended and having continued to defend such an outright assault on them.
Not being able or willing to see or acknowledge this represents liberal hypocrisy at its worst.
And, sadly, the story does not end with "welfare reform". As Michelle Alexander wrote at some length about, the horrific Clinton legacy is found in the underlying racism of the crime bills that Bill Clinton, with Hillary's support at the time and since, both promoted and enabled.
Bill Clinton presided over the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history. Clinton did not declare the War on Crime or the War on Drugs—those wars were declared before Reagan was elected and long before crack hit the streets—but he escalated it beyond what many conservatives had imagined possible. He supported the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity for crack versus powder cocaine, which produced staggering racial injustice in sentencing and boosted funding for drug-law enforcement.She goes on to state:
Clinton championed the idea of a federal “three strikes” law in his 1994 State of the Union address and, months later, signed a $30 billion crime bill that created dozens of new federal capital crimes, mandated life sentences for some three-time offenders, and authorized more than $16 billion for state prison grants and the expansion of police forces. The legislation was hailed by mainstream-media outlets as a victory for the Democrats, who “were able to wrest the crime issue from the Republicans and make it their own.”
When Clinton left office in 2001, the United States had the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Human Rights Watch reported that in seven states, African Americans constituted 80 to 90 percent of all drug offenders sent to prison, even though they were no more likely than whites to use or sell illegal drugs. Prison admissions for drug offenses reached a level in 2000 for African Americans more than 26 times the level in 1983. All of the presidents since 1980 have contributed to mass incarceration, but as Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson recently observed, “President Clinton’s tenure was the worst.”
Some might argue that it’s unfair to judge Hillary Clinton for the policies her husband championed years ago. But Hillary wasn’t picking out china while she was first lady. She bravely broke the mold and redefined that job in ways no woman ever had before. She not only campaigned for Bill; she also wielded power and significant influence once he was elected, lobbying for legislation and other measures. That record, and her statements from that era, should be scrutinized. In her support for the 1994 crime bill, for example, she used racially coded rhetoric to cast black children as animals. “They are not just gangs of kids anymore,” she said. “They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super-predators.’ No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”
This is not an endorsement for Bernie Sanders, who after all voted for the 1994 crime bill. I also tend to agree with Ta-Nehisi Coates that the way the Sanders campaign handled the question of reparations is one of many signs that Bernie doesn’t quite get what’s at stake in serious dialogues about racial justice. He was wrong to dismiss reparations as “divisive,” as though centuries of slavery, segregation, discrimination, ghettoization, and stigmatization aren’t worthy of any specific acknowledgement or remedy.
But recognizing that Bernie, like Hillary, has blurred vision when it comes to race is not the same thing as saying their views are equally problematic. Sanders opposed the 1996 welfare-reform law. He also opposed bank deregulation and the Iraq War, both of which Hillary supported, and both of which have proved disastrous. In short, there is such a thing as a lesser evil, and Hillary is not it.
And that is the point. Hillary is not it.
Not at all. As Cornel West noted:
He asks:The Clintons’ neoliberal economic policies—principally, the repeal of the Glass-Steagall banking legislation, apparently under the influence of Wall Street’s money—have also hurt King’s cause. The Clinton Machine—celebrated by the centrist wing of the Democratic Party, white and black—did produce economic growth. But it came at the expense of poor people (more hopeless and prison-bound) and working people (also decimated by the Clinton-sponsored North American Free Trade Agreement).
Bill apologized for the effects of his crime bill, after devastating thousands of black and poor lives. Will Hillary apologize for supporting the same measures?And yet we know she won't when we see her daughter standing in as a circuit surrogate calling out Sanders' stated aim of ending the American culture of mass incarceration as him being both "unrealistic" and seeking to act as a king!
The "unrealistic" jibe is one entirely typical of liberals and do-nothing social democrats or mainstream labour leaders and is reflected in Clinton's statements that Sanders' plan for a universal version of medicare, as exists in every other developed country in the world, is "unrealistic". This capitulation on her part alone should disqualify her from any serious consideration by leftists. It is ludicrous to support a politician who does not believe that health care is a universal and achievable right and still claim to be supporting a leftist candidate.
This aspect of Clinton's false "progressivism" is reflected as well in her opposition to a $15 an hour minimum wage (which Sanders does support) despite the best attempts of her labour movement apologists to claim otherwise and to gloss over the fact that they are campaigning for someone who opposes what they claim to support and against someone who supports it! Although this kind of convenient double-think is, in fact, nothing new for the labour movement leadership in North America.
It is impossible to ignore the established and proven record of Clinton as a paid speaker for Wall St. including her having given what amounted to a rousing pep talk for one of the very worst of America's capitalist predators, Goldman Sachs, for a fee of $675,000.
After having sold out so many she has claimed to have represented for so very long, I am sure it was gratifying to be paid so well to sing the praises of those who have benefited the most from the economics of the last thirty years.
One of the last defenses of Clinton that her supporters turn to is her "experience" in foreign policy -- as if this could be remotely framed as a good thing in the American context.
Clinton has experience indeed. And it is largely terrible.
While foreign policy is something of an Achilles' Heel for Sanders whose positions are neo-imperialist in their own right, Clinton's are aggressively imperialist and while one suspects that Sanders would focus on the domestic and be a relative isolationist internationally (which in the case of the United States would be a good thing) there is no reason to feel the same way about Clinton.
Her experience includes such moments as helping to enable the coup in Honduras and having totally distorted her own and the American role in the civil war in Syria. When Sanders called her out for seeing Henry Kissinger as a foreign policy mentor it was a rare moment where a prominent American politician actually acknowledged how horrific Kissinger's disgraceful and criminal record was. Her praise of Kissinger is as telling as one needs.
She has been a part-and-parcel of Obama's relentlessly violent foreign policy legacy and this is absolutely nothing for anyone opposed to imperialism or American militarism to point to as something that makes her deserving of support.
It is, indeed, a case where "inexperience" trumps "experience" at least insofar as in the latter case we know exactly how awful Clinton will be.
One could note, also, that Hillary Clinton and others seemed to lose track of something of their moral compass when it came to Bill Clinton's disgraceful and misogynist behaviour as President -- in ways that they clearly would not have for anyone else or for anyone on the right.
What it amounts to, however, is that no matter how one sees Sanders and his "socialism" from a leftist perspective, there is absolutely no way to frame Clinton as representing anything other than epitomizing American liberalism in all of its terrible and reactionary, imperialist and phony hypocrisy.
Sanders faces a very uphill battle to win the Democratic nomination and he would only represent perhaps a shift towards sanity in American political discourse if he does. But that remains, whether you would chose to vote for it or campaign for it or not, light years ahead of what Clinton represents.
And what she represents is everything the socialist and anti-capitalist left has fought against while she and her family became millionaires doing the opposite.
Sanders has made the Democratic nomination battle relevant again and has put actually left-wing ideas back into the American electoral discourse. If Clinton wins the nomination this ends and the Democratic Party will revert entirely to the right-of-centre socially liberal wing of capitalist imperialism that it is and has been.
Hillary Clinton will be nothing more than the latest standard bearer of this.
See also: It's Not Over -- Bernie Sanders releases campaign ad unlike any you have ever seen
See also: America deserves to dream big...and it needs Bernie Sanders -- An Open Letter to Democrats from a Canadian socialist