BY ANDY GOTTLIEB
WASHINGTON — Bernie Sanders’ failure to win the Democratic nomination hit home for me on April 26. Quite literally, in fact, as Sanders lost my home state of Connecticut and, to add insult to injury, my hometown.
I am a loyal Democrat and always have been. It saddens me to see the party I believe in make such a grievous mistake, one which goes squarely against its modern history. Mine is the party of the New Deal and the Great Society, not repealing the landmark Glass-Steagall Act and eviscerating the social safety net by enacting “welfare reform.” Mine is the party of FDR’s Four Freedoms and Eleanor Roosevelt’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not turning our backs on Chinese dissidents by normalizing trade with the communist dictatorship. Mine is the party of advancing civil rights, ever since Hubert Humphrey declared that “the time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadows of states’ rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights!” Harry Truman desegregated the military and Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. Mine is not the party of adding discrimination to federal law in the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. Mine is the party that looks out for the average American, not pardoning wealthy campaign donors at the end of one’s term in office. Mine is the party of civil liberties, of Truman vetoing the McCarran Internal Security Act. Mine is not the party of the PATRIOT Act. Mine is the party of principled internationalism, getting the United States to join the Allied side in World War II yet realizing our mistake in Vietnam. Mine is not the party of the Iraq War and refusing to admit wrongdoing for 12 years.
Apparently, Hillary Clinton thinks of Eleanor Roosevelt as her role model, even going so far as to hold imaginary conversations with her. Allida Black, an Eleanor Roosevelt biographer, is one of Clinton’s biggest boosters. Yet it’s hard to think of any Democrats these days who go more against the legacy of the Roosevelts than the Clintons. The Roosevelts were patricians who looked to public service as a way to help their fellow citizens, especially the poor and the figurative “little man.” The Clintons come from humble origins, but seem to view public service as a way to accrue money and power. Their net worth has skyrocketed since 2001 as they’ve raked in obscene consulting and speaking fees. Many point to other Democrats’ corporate ties in order to excuse the Clintons. It should be emphasized, though, that corporations and affiliated individuals aren’t just donating to their campaigns; with the Clintons, they’re donating directly to their personal bank accounts. Or, more accurately, to the Clintons’ shell company in Delaware in order to avoid pesky things like taxes. FDR famously welcomed their hatred. The Clintons welcome their checks.
Now, needless to say, Roosevelt, Truman and Johnson made many inexcusable choices which should not be swept under the rug, but that’s exactly the point. The Democratic Party should strive to emulate the best of what we’ve accomplished and look to history to avoid future errors. We can be so much more than “not the Republicans.” We can offer substantive solutions to the country’s problems.
People say that believing Bernie Sanders could be an effective president is a leap of faith. To me, the real leap of faith is believing that Hillary Clinton should be given the benefit of the doubt after over two decades of disastrous decisionmaking. All the Clinton policies I’ve outlined above are not evidence of political acumen and compromise; they were complete capitulations to the Republicans. For that reason, I specifically avoided mentioning Don’t Ask Don’t Tell or the 1994 crime bill, each of which were deals with positive and strongly negative elements (I still come down against both). To be sure, neither Bill nor Hillary Clinton is “a progressive who gets things done.”
And yet, after all this, I’m still a loyal Democrat. I believe that the continuum of my party’s history is bigger than any couple of bad politicians. I would vote for Hillary Clinton in November anyway, but the stakes have just been raised by the GOP’s elevation of Donald Trump to the presidential stage. The sad fact is that each presumptive nominee got their favored opponent. Trump wants to run against a corrupt establishment figure; Hillary Clinton is that par excellence. Clinton wants to run against a Republican so unappealing that she can spend all her time on the attack instead of defending her weak record; Trump’s con artistry, racism and demagoguery are appalling and so extensively well-documented that he must overwhelm opposition researchers.
I strongly believe in the idea of a popular front: the unity of the left, center and a few principled conservatives to defeat fascism. I don’t think much good will come out of a second Clinton presidency. But I know it won’t be the existential catastrophe that a Trump presidency would entail. When the history books are written, our country’s choices in the election thus far will be condemned. Our task right now is just to make sure that, in the future, we still have history books and elections.