by Andy Schmookler
We Need a Democratic President Who is a Fighter
It has been clear since W was president that something has gone seriously wrong in the United States. The central ingredients of this crisis can be summarized in this way:
- a coherent and destructive force has taken over the political right, and
- the response from Liberal America has been woefully weak.
(These points are extensively developed in my book, WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST, and will not be substantiated here.)
The power of that destructive force has already grown so large that it will take all we’ve got to defeat it. But there are two important grounds for hope.
First, we see before our eyes that the Republican Party is in the process of destroying themselves. Such self-destruction seems to be a pattern for people who get caught up in such a force. (For three previous examples of this, see my essay, “Those Whom the Gods Would Destroy, They First Drive Mad” that title being a line from Euripides.)
Second, no one can be better placed to fight and defeat this force than a Democratic president who is able and willing to do so. And, as I suggested in Part 2 of this series, Hillary Clinton’s performance before the Benghazi committee gives us reason for optimism that she might have what it takes to do the job.
But I have had such hopes dashed before, the one previous time that the Republicans could have been compelled to choose between coming back from the dark side or being driven into oblivion. That, of course, was with the election of Barack Obama.
(That Barack Obama failed miserably in dealing with the Republicans is something many do not like to hear, and it is something that gives me no pleasure to say. But the truth of that is too clear to be denied, and can be shown in many ways—as I do in WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST. I continue to wish him all success, but his performance on what I’ve called “Job One” was the most profound disappointment, and most bewildering spectacle, I’ve ever experienced.)
Hillary Clinton, we know, harbors no illusions about these Republicans.
The other day on “The Rachel Maddow Show,” Rachel asked Hillary whether President Obama had been naïve in not figuring out more quickly that the Republicans were not interested in working with him to accomplish things for the country, but rather only wanted to block him every way they could. Hillary’s response side-stepped the invitation to criticize Obama, and pivoted instead to affirm how “sincere” was the President’s desire to work with both sides of the aisle to get things done.
That she understands what somehow took Obama six years to figure out was demonstrated by her answer to the question, posed to all the candidates in that first debate, as to what “enemies” they were most “proud to have made.” Her reply: “Well, in addition to the NRA, the health insurance companies, the drug companies, the Iranians. … Probably the Republicans.”
It is important to recognize when someone simply insists on being an enemy. Not interested in finding common ground. Not interested in achieving harmony. Insisting that the relationship be one of conflict, an unceasing struggle for power.
Hillary gets that.
It is revelatory that old likeable Joe Biden decided to make a dig at Hillary over precisely that statement of hers, saying, “I don’t think we should look at Republicans as our enemies,” and that Hillary’s remark was “mean-spirited” and “petty.” “We have to end the divisive, partisan politics that is ripping this country apart,” said the Vice President—as if he had not noticed that President Obama had sought in vain to do just that for six years, and all he got for it was getting skunked in the two off-year congressional elections, and having to retreat from all hopes of getting anything accomplished through the legislative process.
Biden’s remarks on this subject thus make it doubly good news that he has withdrawn from the race. Not only because it will enable the Democrats to unify more quickly, but because the Vice President has thereby shown that – despite the evidence of the past seven years – he still does not understand “what we’re up against.”
Given what we’re up against, an “end [to] the divisive partisan politics that is ripping this country apart” requires not friendly Joe Biden’s extending a hand of friendship that will only get bitten as President Obama’s so consistently was.
It require, rather, that Democrats fight against that destructive force. It requires that the force that has given us irresponsible obstructionism, wanton wielding of falsehoods, and scandals like Trey Gowdy’s Benghazi committee be made politically non-viable and thereby defeated.
Will Hillary Lead the Necessary Fight?
In the previous installment, I argued that “We Need a Democratic President Who is a Fighter.”
The one Democratic candidate that we know for certain is animated by a fighting spirit is Bernie Sanders. He comes forward with moral passion. He is unintimidated by the might of the powers he is challenging. When he says, “I will govern based on principle. not poll numbers,” we know he means it.
In Part 2 here, I suggested a way that the Spirit of Bernie could be transmitted to Hillary, the presumptive Democratic standard bearer—the better to position her to be the fighter we need.
Will she take that spirit on, and will she allow it to guide how she conducts her presidency?
I believe she will, but I have two main concerns.
First, there is the question of how thoroughly she supports the causes that have inspired Bernie Sanders and his followers—particularly when they come up against the Big Money power that is part of the force animating the Republicans, and to which the Clintons have had strong connections. Bernie seems to have compelled her to move toward him during their contest, but does she believe in her heart in those causes?
My belief is that Hillary still is driven by the ideals she had when she was younger, and/but she has embraced the reality that to get things done one has to become bedfellows with the powerful. I am guessing that she would prefer the same kind of America Bernie wants.
My fear is that perhaps she has conceded too much to the “realities” of power, and that she lacks the vision of how of the kind of popular uprising that Bernie has sought to inspire could replace whatever power from Big Money she might lose by fighting the necessary battles.
My second main concern is that Hillary may shy away from battle where it can be avoided. That would be a natural response to the kind of trauma she has experienced now for more than twenty years from the serious abuse to which this ruthless force on the right has subjected her. By the time Hillary spoke in 1998 of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” that had been gunning for the Clintons, she had already endured for years a barrage of vicious and irresponsible attacks (Vince Foster, etc.).
So the same set of experiences that gives her deep knowledge of what we’re up against may also make her hesitant – as, say, an FDR would not have been – about going after her enemies.
But I am reassured by the thought that it quite likely will not be necessary for Hillary to choose the confrontation. The evidence suggests that she can rely upon the Republicans to initiate the fight, one assault coming upon another. That was how the battle just fought out before the Benghazi committee came about: the Republicans insisted on having that fight, and Hillary turned it into a rout.
As in Aikido, someone expert in using the attacker’s force against him can win without ever making the first move.
And if Hillary does make the pledge (Part 2) to take on the battles that Bernie would have fought, had he been president, pressing those issues should suffice to assure that the Republicans will initiate confrontations in scandalous ways that she can expose.
So I am feeling hopeful. There is a plausible way this could unfold that could lead to a President Hillary Clinton ready, willing, and able to take on this destructive force. And able also to help the American people see this terrible force for what it is and repudiate it. Just maybe we can win this thing in the coming several years.
See the evil. Call it out. Press the battle.