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Saturday, October 22, 2016

I argued last week that left-of-center pundits who are demanding someone in the Democratic Party pose a challenge to Hillary Clinton are not offering arguments. Instead, they are expressing anxiety. Fears, not reasons. They worry that Clinton won’t earn the party’s nomination, but instead seize it as a birthright, which runs afoul of liberal commitments to merit, competition, and fair play.

Because the Republicans have no such concern (despite Jeb Bush’s urging to the contrary), I argued that the stakes are too high for restarting debate over first principles. Unlike 2008, Hillary Clinton now stands alone with no significant opposition in sight. That may change, of course, but for now, she is the best choice for maintaining Barack Obama’s broad voting coalition and for protecting the hard-won progressive gains of the president’s administration.

It was a cold-blooded analysis, perhaps made colder by the fact that I wasn’t writing from the heart. I was instead writing as a voter, and voters must, I contend, try to pierce, as much as possible, through the “hologram” of American politics, as the late great populist Joe Bageant put it. So I’m getting in line behind the Democratic frontrunner even though I personally prefer a dialectic over values, issues, and ideals; even though I personally believe that ideological duels among like-minded partisans is healthy and good; and even though I personally dislike Hillary Clinton.

I realized this dislike in 1991 when I was 17 years old. Arkansas governor Bill Clinton was running for the nomination against Jerry Brown (who had been, and is once again, governor of California). Brown had accused Clinton of “funneling money to his wife’s law firm for state business.” Pressed to respond, his wife said: “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession.”

This comment is usually seen as an artifact of the “culture wars” and the “debate” over the legacy of second-wave feminism. But there’s more to it than that. At the heart of Clinton’s “cookies-and-tea” comment was a kind of rank classism that drove a wedge between voters who would otherwise find common ground in advancing mutually beneficial agendas. Labor is labor, whether done in public or in private, but the Ivy League-educated wife of a presidential up-and-comer was too elitist to see the truth of the matter. The result was stay-at-home mothers — like my own housekeeping mom — splitting from the Democrats and running into the waiting arms of GOP conservatives.

Even so, I believe Hillary Clinton would make a decent president, maybe even a good one, despite her elitism leaving a memorably bad taste in my mouth. People are usually surprised to hear that. They are surprised, I suspect, because the parties and the media, consciously and unconsciously, encourage voters to view candidates as if they were products — as a brand whose image embodies a vast web of psychological phenomena. This despite the fact that familiar candidates like Hillary Clinton are mere mortals whose views and policy positions have long been known. Even so, if you buy a product, the assumption is that you like it. And indeed, candidates have been “sold” to voters for decades. In The Selling of the President, a classic of the 1968 presidential election, the late journalist Joe McGinnis wrote that once politicians and ad men “recognized that the citizen does not so much vote for a candidate as make a psychological purchase of him, [it wasn’t] surprising that they began to work together.”

Since 1968, that profitable alliance has grown in size and sophistication. Anyone can see that. What we can’t see is our political blindness. As Joe Bageant put it, we don’t see the candidates; we see their “hologram.” “All things are purchasable, and indeed, access to anything of value is through purchase. Even mood and consciousness, through psychopharmacology, to suppress our anxiety or enhance sexual performance, or cyberspace linkups to porn, palaver, and purchasing opportunities. But most of all, the hologram generates and guides us to purchasing opportunities.”

The hologram draws much of its power from the fantastical desire for the perfect candidate. Case in point: Barack Obama. He was going to bring change to Washington. How wonderful! Though he did try, the president soon learned he could not transform politics as usual. No way. Indeed, the man who promised to overcome partisanship became, thanks to total Republican obstruction, a pure partisan.

Democratic voters must try to pierce through the Hillary Clinton Hologram, as much as they can, to see the person. The mere mortal. The flawed, maybe tragic, human being. The woman who once thought herself too good to bake cookies at home. She has baggage and can be found ideologically wanting. But none of that matters. What matters is that she’s a Democrat who will protect social-insurance programs, defend higher taxes on the wealthy, and continue peace talks with Cuba and Iran. And what matters is that her campaign has become a juggernaut that has the potential to roll over her Republican opponent.

In comparison, the fact that I don’t like her is irrelevant.

Photo: Steve Rhodes via Flickr

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  • Theodora30

    The problem is that all too often the hologram we see is the one created by Republicans and the “liberal” media. Al Gore was projected as a serial liar by twisting his words. Karl Rove and company – the guys who admit they create their own reality – were able to get help from the media in this effort. It is a favorite tactic to take a candidate’s strength and turn it against him or her so they decided to make Gore’s very important role in getting the internet created (he pushed Congress to fund it) by making it into a joke. When Gore mentioned his role as part of a wide ranging conversation Republicans and the media misquoted him as claiming to have “invented” the Internet. This was just one of many distortions they sold to the public. They did the same with Kerry’s record as a genuine war hero. it is bad enough that Republicans are so willing to use deeply dishonest smears to win but it is extremely damaging to our democracy that the media willingly plays along when a candidate is not “cool” enough for those wanna be sophisticates.

  • jenn

    cookies. Don’t forget what her comment was in response to. It was some
    jackass asking why she chose to have a career. He might as well have
    asked her why she didn’t leave the house. This is someone obviously ahead of her time being pissed that that was actually a question.

    Also keep in mind, by that time she had co-founded the family and children advocate center of AK, I guarantee you she had *no* elitist ideals over women who were full time
    parents. It was the idea of someone asking her why she decided to not leave the house, essentially, why wasn’t she in the home barefoot, pregnant and by the stove, that she was reacting to.

    • johninPCFL

      Very good points. This was, after all, redstate Arkansas, where 14 is pretty old not to be married with a baby in arms. That Hillary chose another path must have just dumbfounded them.

      • ericlipps

        Well, now. Arkansas isn’t Dogpatch, you know, and wasn’t even when Hillary Clinton was newly married. Or even when she was born. Now what was that about elitism?

        (Just to be clear, I’m from New York. I just don’t like presenting a cartoon of a state as a realistic picture.)

  • John West

    I really enjoyed this article’s honesty. I know, as a rabid Hillary supporter of many years, that not everyone is as enthused as me. I’m glad the author acknowledges Hillary is a human being flawed and tragic, a public servant with successes and failures, a candidate and a hologram as the author brilliantly pegged. Interestingly, I find her having such flaws and record of shortcomings to be her strength and the reason I support her so much. Like me, she has been knocked down repeatedly and gets back up, because as American’s, that’s what we do.

    • jenn

      She really is practically superhuman to keep getting back up. either that or slightly crazy. Either way, I think it is a lesson in resiliance that everyone could learn from. I find her really inspiring.

  • Clifford Terry

    People should think very carefully about Hillary Clinton before voting for her. She is owned by many large and dangerous corporations such as Monsanto whose influence in the government is causing the immense damage to our form government that will be so difficult, if not impossible, to undo. Worse still, we do not yet know the full extent of her government connections and I for one would not be surprised to find her ultimately being strongly connected to the Koch brothers.

    • jenn

      re: Kochs, that’s just bs.

      The rest i would say, agree with how many large and dangerous corporations stand behind her. Sadly, she will never shake those ties, but I will still vote for her 1000x before ever voting R. (and for people who think there is no difference, think back to Ronald Reagan).

      • Clifford Terry

        I am not saying that I know her to be tied with the Kochs. I am just saying that the more I learn about her ties to corporations, banks, and the like, the less I would be surprised if such a connection could be demonstrated. People, and especially politicians, are like icebergs. They hide much more than they show and when you run into the hidden parts you may see your hopes sink.

        • jenn

          I’ll give you this, i’ve learned to not have too many illusions with centrists, hopes sank with that a dozen or so years ago.

  • Fleagus Gustafario

    Bernie Sanders is a decent choice…Hillary is not going to take on the 1% for sure…Look at who she gets her money from compared to Bernie Sanders:

    • jenn

      Well, looking at that list i can tell you what he *won’t* win… a general election.

  • R Michael Maddox

    Very well put, John. I do agree. I am not crazy about her either. But I agree 100% that we CAN NOT ALLOW ANY OF THOSE NUTS ON THE RIGHT TO GET IN THE WH! All you have to do is look at what they have done to their own states. I do like Bernie, I like O”Malley as well. But I am not very confident that either one of them will get the Progressive thinking voter off the DAMN couch and to the polls.

    • 788eddie

      I’ll second that, and I’m a registered Republican. I think she’s the best choice I’ve seen so far (from the “electables”).