July 13, 2016

Why I’m voting for Clinton anyway

Sam Smith

I grew up before politics became a religion. Before Kennedy and Reagan turned it into a political version of American Idol. Before it became one’s personal license of virtue.

It was a time when a ward heeler stepped into the curtained voting booth with my uncertain aunt to pull her levers for her.  When a Cambridge councilmember told this college journalist that he didn’t know how to vote on a police pay raise because he figured each of these guys were making several thousand dollars on the side. When an FBI agent came to our house to quiz my father about a Democratic pol he knew. When Lyndon Johnson and Adam Clayton Powell got more good legislation passed in less time but you wouldn’t want your daughter near either of them. When, as his media guy, I helped Marion Barry get started on his career only to watch it disintegrate.

It was a time when politics was not the road towards salvation but - if you made the right choices – a tool of survival. And when voting for the lesser of two evils was not considered misguided, but much of the time about the best you could do.

Having experienced and covered political corruption all my life, I came to regard it as a feudal arrangement. The politicians got power but were expected to do things in return. And they did.

But today this reciprocity is no longer necessary. Thanks to rule by dollars, politicians can get away with doing little or nothing. Or stealing from those to whom one used to give. One example was Marion Barry who I dubbed the last of the great white mayors because he was of the older tradition. He provided a great new summer youth program. After he had gone to prison and our politics had turned its back on service in favor of financial contributions, another prominent DC politician was caught stealing a couple of hundred thousand dollars from a youth program. Another example was Arkansas where its governor was making his way to the White House doing hardly anything for his constituents. It just no longer mattered.

Television was a major factor in the change. Once you could buy your way into office with advertising, who needed to do all those favors for actual citizens? In fact, who needed parties, the things that used to define one’s politics? Only nine states even allow straight ticket voting anymore and 11 have done away with it in  the past 20 years.

Thus the voter has been transformed from a constituent to a member of a fan club.

But the parties still exist, as do their programs, whether the current election idol says anything about them or not. For example, vote for the Democratic candidate for president and you are also voting to help preserve programs such Social Security, federal insurance for bank accounts, welfare, unemployment insurance, child labor laws, bargaining rights for labor, restrictions on overtime, a 40 hour work week, a minimum wage, regulation of the stock exchanges, the Soil Conservation Service, national parks and monuments, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Small Business Administration, civil rights legislation, Head Start, Job Corps, the national endowments for arts and humanities, Teacher Corps, anti-poverty programs, nutrition assistance, Medicare and Medicaid.

Add to that four potential open seats on the Supreme Court and a Senate that may have to rely on the vice president for decent legislation to be passed, and you come up with a pretty strong argument for voting for the Democratic candidate whatever her faults.

As I put it once: “It is hard to descend from the mountain top of exquisitely constructed ideology into the thorny, rock-strewn valley of politics. But in the end, the only test of faith is when it is put to work. It is a test that is graded on a curve -- not by its proximity to perfection but by its improvement over all previous, surrounding and potential imperfections.”

But what about a third party vote? As a co-founder of both he DC Statehood Party and the national Green Party, it’s something I have reflected on for a long time.
When I compare the two – DCSP started in 1970 and the Greens in the 1990s – I am struck by a cultural difference. The Statehood Party was formed in the wake of the 1960s which had excluded traditional politics from its tool box in favor of action and issues.
Our leader, Julius Hobson, for example, had run more than 80 picket lines on approximately 120 retail stores in downtown DC, resulting in employment for some 5,000 blacks. He initiated a campaign that resulted in the first hiring of black bus drivers by DC Transit. Hobson and CORE forced the hiring of the first black auto salesmen and dairy employees and started a campaign to combat job discrimination by the public utilities. Hobson directed campaigns against private apartment buildings that discriminated against blacks and conducted a lie-in at the Washington Hospital Center that produced a jail term for himself and helped to end segregation in the hospitals. His arrest in a sit-in at the Benjamin Franklin School in 1964 helped lead to the desegregation of private business schools. And he won a suit that outlawed the existing rigid track system, teacher segregation, and differential distribution of books and supplies that led, indirectly, to the resignation of the school 'superintendent and first elections of a city school board. 

Those of us starting the Statehood Party were trying to expand our capabilities with politics. But our core remained action, issues and the local. For 25 years we had a seat on the city council and/or the school board.  

The Green Party seemed quite similar at the start. But it was a different time and even though most major change still started with the local and the non-political,  Greens became increasingly infatuated with running a national candidate for president.
I didn’t like it, though, writing once:  

“The Greens have vastly overrated presidential campaigns at the expense of real grassroots organizing. Given America’s perverse election laws, the best any third party can expect at the top level is one shot. In the past century, only five third party presidential candidates have gotten two digit results; only two of those – LaFollette (17%) and Debs (11%) - were left of center. Third parties that worked from the bottom up – such as the Populists and Socialists – truly affected the politics of America.”

Then there was the sort of nonsense that blamed Nader for Gore’s 2000 loss even though the polling data shows this was patently untrue.

The one tool early third parties had – being allowed to share candidacies with major parties – was so successful that most states banned it. Today, the best hope for a good national third party role is ranked choice voting.

But today, to vote for Jill Stein – wonderful as she is – or to stay home on principle is to also give a helping hand to perhaps the worst major presidential candidate in history. And what if, as a result of your vote, you help to starve hundreds of thousands who lose food stamps under Trump? Where is your virtue now?

Those Sanders supporters considering not voting should also consider another factor. Your candidate created the strongest progressive political movement in decades. And when he lost the nomination he didn’t give up, jamming into the party platform issues it didn’t want to touch.

Now, despite his endorsement of Clinton, the movement is still alive. If Clinton wins, I suspect we will soon be talking of the Bernie movement again, a force that would have no impact on a Trump administration but could continue to redefine what it means to a be a Democrat. Further, a Trump loss would be a major defeat for a stunningly negative generational constituency and a further opening for the younger generation that has waited too long to succeed it.

Yes, Hillary Clinton will be in office. But so will new senators, Supreme Court justices, and lower level officials aided by the Trump collapse. Yes, Clinton is corrupt, a liar and con artist, but like the corrupt mayors and governors of the past she is only part of the story. And, in this case, there is a young movement off to a remarkable start that would be tragic if abandoned.

I started revealing the Clintons’ corruption a quarter century ago.  But much earlier than that I had already  learned that politics was not religion.  That you had to lay your best card on the able at the right time – keeping your cause and your values but not letting them take precedence of the realities of the moment.

We live in a two mob town called America. And faith aside, we still have to figure out which mob  will do the less damage to the least number of us. In this case it is the one that nominated Hillary Clinton.

So take your airplane barf bag to the polls, vote for Clinton and the next morning, start to help get the movement for something dramatically different going again.  


Anonymous said...

Sam, you're a fool in a condition of denial. Have any imagination to conceive the damaging implications of Clinton's signing TPP/TTIP/TISA? Or are you delusional enough to believe Clinton experienced some authentic road to Damascus moment on TPP and is really going to uphold her campaign suggestion that maybe she's against it? If so, why all the pressure on the platform committee to language to that effect out of the document? Also note, how in true nuanced Clintonian doublespeak she's been triangulating all along in saying nothing about TISA and TTIP---let those fly under the radar, shuffled on, and eventually signed, sealed, and delivered. Once done with that, a couple of word changes and suddenly TPP is once again her 'Gold Standard'. That done, and in economic terms the United States becomes officially fucked as a sovereign entity.
That's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg and plus, it's really not going to matter for long because Hillary is a foreign policy genius who'll have the planet exploding at the drop of a hat. The US of late has been exhibiting a fatal hubris with its playing about. We're like some impish child stabbing at hornet's nests with a long stick thinking we'll prevail. Sam, a vote for Hillary is practically a guaranteed call for the cataclysmic destruction of the planet through savage nuclear exchange. "We came, we saw, everybody died"---except there won't be anyone around to give the psychopathic cackle at the end.

xilii said...

On the other hand, if you believe American governance, culture, society, etc. are in a state of irreversible decline and collapse, might as well vote for Trump and get it over with sooner.

Boffin said...

Clinton is the war candidate. She's been cheerleading for military action in every crisis since the bombing of Belgrade. She voted for the AUMF. She voted for the Patriot act. She drove the destruction of Libya, and currently advocates for an active war in Syria. She's the darling of the military-industrial complex.

Anonymous said...

Without sovereignty, what's the use of having a representative democracy?

Ask the EU.

She is worse on jobs, trade, war, and the medical monopoly bleeding us all dry.

I'd rather roll the dice on Trump than vote for 'ol snake eyes Hill.

Barbara Jarvis said...

I remember how astute you were about
Obama, way back when. Nevertheless,
I voted for him; I have voted the
Democratic ticket all my life.

This year I'll be voting for Donald
Trump. I believe he offers the best chance
of limiting further wars (especially a
nuclear war with Russia) and the best
(albeit small) chance of bringing general
prosperity back to the country.

Yes,Trump's vulgarity is offensive, but
weighed against his goals and strengths
(and Hillary's goals and weaknesses) his
boorishness is trivial.

KM Rossman said...

"Yes, Clinton is corrupt, a liar and con artist, ..." Sadly, Sam, this kind of broad sword undercuts your influence with the True Believers who truly believe nothing ought to have more influence on their vote than their urgent need to assuage the pain of encountering the world of actual human politics.

KM Rossman said...

Let's hope the jejeune comments here are not reflective of the majority of Sam's readership.

DejaBlu said...

Step away from the Clinton koolaid, please. I'm a Bernie fan and have been for years. I'm not making any decisions about anything until after the convention because while he had to endorse to keep his credentials and a chance to speak, he did not concede and he has not suspended his campaign. I cannot and will not vote for either Clinton corruption or Trump crazy/hatred. Gary Johnson has said he would support the TPP which tosses him out for me. If all hope is lost at the contested convention (and that outcome is possible considering the election fraud that no rational person can dismiss)... then Jill Stein if supported with a focused pro Bernie and anti Clinton/Trump vote has a real chance. I felt the Bernie burn, admittedly... the Jill thrill I'm not feeling so much BUT she is anti war, anti TPP, pro election reform, pro alt energy and pro environment & she is the least scary of the options. Is she a long shot? Maybe but this is an election that has been filled with the most unlikely things occurring with surprising frequency. With a focused vote on anyone but our two most scary options I believe an upset is possible and maybe our only chance at salvation.

DejaBlu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I agree with the first comment but i know you are not a fool just old like me.
That is an awful thing, getting old and even worse if you have already had stage four cancer like I have had. I am in disbelief that we do not see this election for what it is and what it is is we are being led to slaughter.
I would feel safer living under the drug cartel than in an america run by hilary. I have known for a long time she will be the next president but I got a ray of hope from bernie foolish as I was to have thought it would come to anything. We are doomed and the police shooting is proof of the doom coming.
It is easy to see both sides of the police shooting. Completely understandable. No one has the balls to say this truth. I am a white union member and I am scared of the police/gov.. We have npot had any choice in a long time. Did you believe anyone could be worse than bush? I did not yet wow was i wrong. Bush was the shadow govt taking the mask off and obama was the best face they could show and hilary is the last face they will wear.

Anonymous said...


Sad; but perhaps you've finally lost it. Electing Clinton will most likely mean a nuclear WW3, in which we will probably all die, or t least have a nuclear winter to deal with. It will mean a continuation of the terribly corrupt Clinton Foundation and a return to the White House of Mr. Bill, the philanderer/ rapist that Hillary defended and enabled.

Is that what you really want?


Tom Puckett said...

If everyone would now focus their support $$ on Dr. Stein's campaign the election landscape might look quite different by November.

The Green Party's primary season ends August 6th and so do Federal matching funds. Contribute early and often, to at least give voice to the progressive view.

I've read this post and Sam's post on preparing for the worst election in our history (see sidebar link).

One of the ideas in both posts is that the Democrats sponsor programs that benefit regular less wealthy citizens and that a vote for any candidate that's not a Democrat would erode those benefits.

In the case of a vote for the Green Party, which could still be led by Bernie Sanders, post Dem convention, I take it the objection is not that they wouldn't support the social safety net programs if elected but that they don't have a chance of getting elected.

Why not try as hard as possible until the day before the election to help get the Green agenda before the country so we all have an informed option other than paper or plastic? Then on Election Day make your choice.

Don't say I'm with Hillary when you're not! Thanks to the commenter who pointed out that Bernie said what was needed to keep his foot in the door at the Dem convention. Don't settle the election this early- remember, starting price is safest - see what your real choices are in November...

Cheers, Tom

Paul said...

Well-written as usual Sam -- and you're one of the few bloggers I can think of who can credibly discuss the electoral prospects (or lack thereof) of the Greens/third parties.

But I'm afraid you're off in saying "If Clinton wins, I suspect we will soon be talking of the Bernie movement again, a force that would have no impact on a Trump administration but could continue to redefine what it means to a be a Democrat."

That'd be nice, but what's more likely under President Hillary is what happened when Obama took office: nearly all the Dems (and of course MSNBC) switched to defense. That's what gave Bernie his opening in the first place.

And kudos to Bernie for keeping up the fight so far, but I fear both he and Warren and going to tone it down and become team players. Granted, Bernie has nothing to lose so there's a good chance he embraces his role as movement leader. (Wouldn't you, if you could draw crowds like that?!)

But Warren needs to play ball with a Clinton White House, and needs to keep her standing in what looks to be a Dem-majority Senate, so don't look to her for leadership for at least four years.

Bottom line: be immensely thankful to Bernie for moving the Overton Window and expanding the definition of what it means to be a Democrat, because it's going to pay off when today's college kids replace the Boomers in political office. But don't expect the Dems or their policies to change any more radically under Hillary than they have under Obama.

Anonymous said...

Think of the aftermath of Obama’s presidency: the huge disappointment when none of the campaign promises that got him elected were kept. The disillusion and frustration as the median wage continued its downward trajectory. The backlash produced Sanders AND Trump. After Clinton, expect a more egregious right-wing demagogue to emerge, and one smart enough not to blabber his way to mass unpopularity. With economic elites and the Deep State against Trump, the damage he will be able to do will very likely be less than what we can expect from Clinton. I’m afraid Sam’s reasoning would have a Democrat in the White House every 4 years.

Tyler Healey said...

I think we should promote Jill Stein as much as we can to get her up in the polls and in the debates. People need to know that there is a great candidate for the presidency.