In 2000, the very first year I was old enough to vote, I turned to Ralph Nader. I was a young voter and fairly liberal, but Al Gore just wasn't inspiring me. Nader, the Green Party candidate for that year, spoke my language with a passion that I could really get behind. Of course, since I was living in Arkansas at the time and the state would certainly go to Bush, I didn't feel my vote would tilt the outcome in the election. But, looking back, if 500 Nader voters in Florida had broken for Gore instead, history would be very different.
In 2004, I really loved Howard Dean for the Democratic nominee. For a second there, it looked like we were going to have him ride a populist wave into the contest for the White House. Then it fizzled when he lost an early primary, screamed in this really weird way, and then everyone just thought he was crazy. Still in Arkansas, which held its primary after the contest had all but been decided, I voted for Dennis Kucinich because he was the only candidate in the field that really pushed ideas I had believed in. I wasn't on board the Kerry train until I saw his acceptance speech at the DNC that summer; I was crushed when he lost handily to W.
In 2008, come on -- if you were a liberal person of color, how could you not vote for Barack Obama? Same in 2012. He was my guy, he is my guy, he will always BE my guy.
Now, in 2016, after six years of a Republican congress doing everything it can to block the agenda of the President and refuse to work with him on pretty much anything, we live in a country that is angry about the state of our government but also so worn out trying to work within the system we're ready to abandon it altogether. The two big anti-establishment forces that dominated the conversation in our major parties made a lot of noise over the past year, to different outcomes -- for the Democrats, Bernie Sanders lost the fight to the establishment choice of Hillary Clinton; for the Republicans, Jeb Bush and every last hope of the party lost out to apocalyptic outsider Donald Trump.
I go over my Presidential electoral history to let you know that for pretty much the entire time I've been involved in politics, I've belonged to the further-left wing of the Democratic Party. I've encouraged it to pull further away from the center-right towards actually liberal policies that address the needs of our minorities and most-disadvantaged citizens. I've been frustrated with the direction the party has chosen, and I've been disillusioned by the choices they've made on how to best use their considerable power as the dominant voice in liberal politics.
Which is why Bernie Sanders was such a natural fit for me. He was a "radical" liberal like Kucinich wrapped up in the temperament of a firebrand like Dean. He has Kerry's vision for the good that government can do for its people, and he's able to marry a clear, logical vision to a passionately emotional pitch like Obama. In so many ways, he's the total package. He gets people -- especially the young -- excited about politics again. And his ideas are some of the most liberal policies I've heard voiced on the national stage in a long time.
As this extraordinarily long and contentious primary season wore on, however, I noticed the tone of Sanders supporters shift worryingly. Instead of directing their anger at corporate interests who want to break the backs of the working poor and middle class to line their pockets, they turned it towards their fellow liberals -- people who supported Clinton and even Hillary herself. More and more, I saw my camp direct feverish animosity towards their own, using tactics that Republican operatives have honed and refined over a generation to paint Hillary as shrill, as a sell-out, as politically craven, as fundamentally dishonest.
The rancor with which Bernie's base treated their centrist allies was a gut-check for me. The vitriol and sexism -- both underlying and shockingly blatant -- made me reconsider my allegiance and question not only Bernie's stances, but his ability to actually work from the Oval Office to be effective. After all, a similarly populist wave ushered in the Obama Presidency and look how that's turned out -- he had two years to make the Affordable Care Act happen, lost Congress in his first mid-term, and has not been able to work effectively with them ever since.
How would Bernie handle a rabidly obstinate anti-liberal legislative branch? What could he possibly do to bring a consensus together in order to make the government work again?
These question marks, along with the treatment of Clinton supporters by my fellow Bernie fans, pushed me towards Hillary a few months ago and I've been with her ever since.
I totally understand why Bernie inspires such passion and loyalty. He's built a long career out of fighting for the right thing, even when it would be politically expedient to just go along. His principles aren't something he's willing to compromise on, and how many candidates on the left do we have on the national stage that actually have that quality? His entire platform proves that he understands the struggle of the left and the desperation we feel to make actual changes that fix some of our government's most fundamental problems. He gets us. In a way that very, very few politicians do these days, he gets us.
On the other hand, Hillary feels like she was grown in a lab to fit into the political system we have today. Every bit of her is managed and polished and staged, from her pantsuit to her hair to her cadence to her speeches. She doesn't do a single thing unless she believes it will help her do the thing that she wants to do. I still remember the bile that Hillary fans spewed on Obama in 2008; who wouldn't? It was ugly, vulgar, and racist -- both subtly and shockingly blatantly. Hillary and Bill haven't had the best track record in dealing with people of color, and her political career has been blemished with one scandal after another. For better or worse, Hillary is a perfect politician. She is a Washington insider who knows how the game works inside and out, and she's brilliant enough to play it better than anyone.
For an electorate that's fed up with politics as usual, this is just the thing that makes her impossible to like. And I get that. But let me try to frame it another way.
Bill Clinton rose onto the national scene as the coolest President we've had in a long time. He played the saxophone on the Arsenio Hall show. He "did not inhale". He embraced pop culture in ways that we couldn't even imagine after twelve years of Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush. He was a dude we could go out and have a beer with. We loved him. His wife, though…
In many ways, Hillary Clinton was a majorly progressive figure on the political scene as well, reflective of the changing reality for professional women in American culture. Unlike Bill, though, she was a lot more vulnerable to attacks from the right for transgressions against traditional values. Remember when she said "I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession...which I entered before my husband was in public life."? She was attacked, not by Republicans -- but by Jerry Brown, former and current CA governor. The electorate turned on her almost immediately. Her comment reeked of "smug bitchiness," and the media's reporting of it -- without the full context of her statement -- fanned the flames of that first gender-biased political scandal.
The full quote, by the way, is this:
I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession...which I entered before my husband was in public life. The work that I have done as a professional, a public advocate, has been aimed to assure that women can make the choices, whether it’s full-time career, full-time motherhood or some combination.
Right out of the gate, she was subjected to scrutiny not based on her ability or character, but on our perception of how she should conform to gender roles. Everything that she's done since then -- from her ruthless, aggressive ambition to her distance from the media to her incredibly frozen public image -- feels to me a response to that. She doesn't have time for the image game, and she doesn't have the tolerance or temperament to thread the needle of what we believe a woman should be. She has to get things done.
She worked extensively on health care issues during her time as First Lady, even though her signature initiative failed at the time. She was instrumental in the creation of the State Children Health Insurance Program; she promoted nationwide immunization for children (something that her biggest liberal rival in this election, Jill Stein, continues to indulge anti-vaccinator sentiment against); she played a leading role in the Adoption and Safe Families Act and the Foster Care Independence Act; she successfully fought for an increase in funding for the study of prostate cancer and childhood asthma at the NIH; she worked to investigate the set of illnesses that eventually came to be known as Gulf War Syndrome; and she created an Office of Violence Against Women at the Dept. of Justice.
She was the first First Lady ever to hold a Senate position, and in that position she helped secure billions for the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site; introduced legislation that eased the burden on soldiers in Iraq by increasing the size of the Army (I know, I know, but it's making the best of a bad situation); advocated for retaining and improving the health benefits of veterans.
As Secretary of State, she helped to repair the damaged reputation of our country around the world, visiting 112 countries and increasing the diplomatic presence of the US in many, many regions. She's been a tireless advocate for women and children's rights here and around the world. And, despite her support for Keystone XL, has been an activist for dealing with climate change for a long time.
Of course Hillary isn't perfect. As I mentioned before, she has a rocky relationship with racial minorities; she's a little too hawkish with foreign policy; and her track record with LGBQT rights is disappointing. And to me and so many of my friends, that's a big deal. But there are other ways we can hold her accountable for that.
I've voted for a third-party candidate before, and Floridians who made my choice made the difference in the Bush vs. Gore election. Say what you will about voting irregularities and the Supreme Court decision, but the fact remains that less than 300 liberals in one state changed the shape of our nation. And instead of getting the outcome they wanted, they got George W. Bush.
Our choice in November is even more stark. Hillary Clinton, for all of her faults -- and yes, I know they're there -- is on our side, fellow liberals. She cares about women, the disadvantaged, and our threatened environment. She believes in the value of science in shaping public policy. And she is willing to listen when presented with new information and evidence, changing her mind where she's been wrong. Even if you hold to the cynical belief that she only changes her mind when it's politically safe to do so, you have to understand how and why she developed that behavior. When she speaks her mind, she is punished by being called cruel. When she appears too hard, she's punished by being called bitchy. When she softens, she's punished by being called craven and opportunistic. There is almost nothing she can do without being criticized for it. And while a lot of that criticism is legitimate -- I have no doubt we'd say the same things about any career politician -- the tenor of it is sharper, crueler because she is a woman and not a man.
Those of us who flocked to Bernie because we were frustrated with the shape of our politics may not have pushed our guy into the race for the White House, but we have started a conversation that we now have the chance to continue. Instead of taking our defeat as a sign that the system is hopelessly broken, or that saying Clinton is just as bad as Trump (which is an insane statement I won't dignify by refuting here), we can instead take a look at what we can still do to help Bernie continue to voice his conscience in 2016 and 2018.
That means electing Clinton, who will be far more likely to work with us and for us than Donald Trump. That means helping Clinton effectively implement liberal policies -- and hold her accountable for decisions we disagree with -- by electing liberal Representatives and Senators to Congress. And, if you're actually serious about increasing the legitimacy of third parties, that means researching and supporting those candidates on the state and local levels. We aren't going to actually make the Green or Libertarian Party a national force until we make them a local, state, and regional force first. Minor parties are going to need to build an organization from the ground up, and installing them in our city councils, mayor's offices and judges seats will establish a foundation of experience, knowledge and connections that will allow them to do so.
Bernie supporters -- I know you're disappointed. And I know that you're wary of Clinton. But she is our best chance at continuing the work that Bernie has started here. Stein will not be elected, and your protest vote could be one of the things that gives Trump the presidency. This is a painful truth, but it is the truth: in order to get closer to our goal, we need Clinton to win. She is one of us, and she deserves our support. She's worked hard for it, she's earned it, and I trust her to do the right thing.
Let's make sure she gets the chance.