Moment or Movement.

datePosted on 20:09, August 25th, 2016 by Pablo

Barring some disaster, Hillary Clinton will win the US presidential election in November. That poses an interesting question for the US Left, because the defensive support for her offered by Sanders supporters and other progressives in the face of the Trump alternative can only be considered to be more than a short-term tactical ploy if her administration adopts progressive policies. Otherwise it is, as many have accused, continuation of politics as usual or Obama 2.0. This is, of course, at the heart of the negotiations between the Sanders camp and Clinton’s people at the DNC policy platform meetings, and it remains to be seen if the Clintonites will make good on their promises.

That brings up the perennial problem for political activists: how to turn a moment into a movement. US commentators are already using the phrase with regard to the Sanders primary run and the impact it will have on a future Clinton presidency. Some think that he has run his course, that status quo Democratic policies will prevail, and that the forces that his campaign galvanised will either go mainstream or dissipate into another pool of apathy and disenchantment. Others believe that to the contrary, the Sanders campaign has stirred new life into the American Left and that his campaign legacy will have an impact on how Clinton approaches the Oval Office.

It is a tough one to call. It is clear that Clinton needs to cater to Sander’s supporters in order to win the election. She cannot dismiss them before November 8 but could in theory do so afterwards, especially if the Democrats regain control of the Senate (they only need to win four seats) and make inroads into the Republican House majority (the Democrats would need a turnover of more than thirty seats to regain control of the lower chamber). The situation is made worse for progressives if Clinton wins by a landslide (anything over seven points) because she can point to a “mandate” that does not include them. That will be also be the case if political nihilists on the Left opt to “blow up the system” by voting for Trump or minor party candidates in large numbers. The latter will tighten the race unnecessarily (in Clinton’s eyes) and will, should she win, see her turn her back on the post-modern New Left wing of her party (I use the term “New Left” not in the sense of the 1960s Left but in the sense that post-modern progressives in the US are not in their majority affiliated with unions or other traditional organisational sources of Democratic electoral power). After all, she can say that they turned on her and she still won because the US political centre preferred her over Trump. She can feel justified in believing that she does not need the New Left to govern and therefore should not push policy initiatives at their behest.

Assuming a Clinton victory, the ideal situation for US progressives is twofold: most of Sanders’ supporters and others on the Left opt to vote for Clinton and she wins by a relatively close margin (say, between 3-5 points); and vote for Democratic candidates in key congressional districts knowing that a progressive presidential agenda needs congressional support in order to become law. That requires voter education (on the whys and hows of linking down-ballot choices to the presidential race and how executive-legislative relations can impact decisions with long-term consequences such as Supreme Court nominations) as well as mobilisation in favour of the progressive policies adopted by the DNC at the platform negotiations (and perhaps more).

In that preferred scenario, because Clinton will understand that she absolutely required a groundswell of New Left voters to win a close race, it will be harder to abandon them once victory is achieved. Even more so, it will be virtually impossible to renege on the progressive agenda if key wins by Democrats in Congressional races were owed to the participation of New Left voters.

So the Bernie “moment” in the primaries also has to become a dual proposition in the general election and post-election phases of the campaign if it is to become a movement. The New Left need to continue to mobilise in support of Clinton during the weeks leading up to November 8 and they need to continue to pressure her administration, both directly and through the elected Congressional candidates who needed their support to win, after she assumes the presidency and the 115th US Congress is convened in January 2017.

In other words, the transformation of the Sanders moment into a New Left movement requires one other “M:” momentum. That momentum has to be sustained through November and into the next administration and congressional term if the moment is to become a movement.

That is where some dark clouds arise on the Clinton electoral horizon, and they are not caused by Trump. In the purported interest of “balance” (regardless of the outright campaigning on his behalf by conservative media outlets), mainstream news organisations are delving into her emails while Secretary of State, into her relationship with Clinton Foundation donors while in office, into why she does not hold press conferences (which is patently self-serving on the news agencies part) and even into spurious conspiracy theories about her health. These investigative efforts go beyond reporting on official FBI investigations of Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as SecState and in spite of the fact that none of her activities while in office have been linked to any policy decision or personal favour offered on her part. For reasons known only to Julian Assange and his comrades, Wikileaks has targeted her communications and those of the DNC, both independently as well as in cooperation with Russian-based hackers, while neglecting to do so with those of Trump and the RNC.

Any one of these lines of inquiry have the potential to divert attention and resources away from her policy agenda and could even derail her campaign if found to contain seriously negative substance (nothing of which has been found so far in spite of the best efforts of the Trump campaign and its media lackeys). So the onus is on Clinton to re-energise her support base in the face of these dishonest and scurrilous attacks and to re-focus on the policies that she will bring to the Oval Office and share with her Congressional colleagues. That is where the New Left vote is vitally important. Just as Trump has his core base in middle aged white working class lower educated people, Clinton has a core base in urban professionals. But both of them need to expand their appeal outside of those cores, and it is the New Left that Clinton needs to court most assiduously. That gives the New Left leverage on her and they need to know how to judiciously take advantage of it.

To be sure, the GOP is working to separate the New Left from Clinton. It may not get the attention that trying to divorce Trump from down-ballot GOP candidates has received from the RNC, but Republicans clearly want the Sanders crowd to alienate from Clinton whether or not they vote for another candidate like Jill Stein (Green). For the GOP, getting the New Left to stay at home rather than vote is just as important as getting them to adopt the nihilist approach of voting for spoilers.

This is made interesting by the fact that Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson is polling at around 10-12 percent and has received financial backing from erstwhile big GOP donors, while Jill Stein is polling around 5 percent. Usually third party candidates barely receive 10 percent of the vote in a US general election, so the fact that these candidates could receive 15  percent or more changes the dynamics of the presidential race quite dramatically. That reinforces the need for Clinton to get out the New Left vote on her behalf in significant numbers, something that will allow her to build momentum in the run up to election day and which in turn means that she must accept the fact that the Bernie moment has become a progressive movement. This will annoy her backers on Wall Street and corporate America, but they also can see the dangers of having a populist demagogue with Tea Bagger tendencies occupying the White House. For them as well as many on the New Left, she is the lesser evil.

It will be interesting to see how things play out over the next 9 weeks. Two things are certain: every vote will count this time around and what is now a moment of opportunity can only be transformed into a sustainable movement if the New Left puts, however reluctantly or sceptically, its collective weight behind the Clinton campaign in order to build the momentum of progressive change beyond election day.

Let’s hope that I am not wishful thinking.

13 Responses to “Moment or Movement.”

  1. Sanctuary on August 25th, 2016 at 23:14

    “…or reasons known only to Julian Assange and his comrades…”

    Clinton has been secretary of state during Assange’s time as a…*ahem* guest of the Ecuadorian embassy. Since Assange seems to have become somewhat unhinged in recent times, it is probable he see her as part of what he would say is the conspiracy to stitch him up.

    Wikileaks kinda lost the high moral ground a while ago – https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/aug/23/wikileaks-posts-sensitive-medical-information-saudi-arabia

    One thing is for sure. Clinton is already a hawk, she won’t forget any role the Russians have played in the hacks of her emails.

  2. Sanctuary on August 25th, 2016 at 23:18

    On the wider campaign, I think Clinton is going to run a small target campaign and focus on attacking Trump’s patent unsuitability for the job. Also, I predict Clinton will be a one term president after a low turnout making for a close Trump loss, claims of fraud, and four more years of an even more frantic Republican insurgency leading to complete legislative deadlock.

  3. E.A. on August 26th, 2016 at 08:20

    I feel that Clinton is going to win big given that Trump seems to be melting down in slow motion and that such a win will lead to the abandonment scenario that Pablo noted; meaning she will not be embracing much if any of the Sanders agenda.

    As for how many terms she runs, who knows what the GOP will field in 2020, probably Yosemite Sam or some other cartoon character.

  4. James Green on August 26th, 2016 at 14:05

    @Sanctuary: I think Hillary is a “hawk” because of the Rwandan massacre, I doubt email theft would make too much of an impression on her.

  5. paul scott on August 26th, 2016 at 14:17

    How Pablo could @ Wishfully think for the infliction of corruption unlimited and unmitigated, which is Clinton [ and Clinton foundation ] takes some imagination. The Clintons are both sick spiritually, and in body. We know that much.
    Known facts about that foundation are awesome and filthy, and it only takes an hour or so to find out.
    Previously she has virtually given Iran a death by destruction promise, now a good excuse, after her idiot Kenyan boss allowed them Nuclear weapon development .
    So the Military complex can start gearing up even more.
    A little more help from the media swamp and the Clinton evil should be just about ready.
    But then, soon she will die herself. She will die or become incompetent in office. Another Clinton dead body.
    USA debt to 30 trillion dollars,

    Watching Julian Assange on TV, tells us how damaging his life has been to him recently. Imagine never having the opportunity to walk in a park, look at a river, and see children playing. All at the bequest of an ugly and evil witch.
    There is no Hillary jail info coming out of Wikileaks, and there is no good evidence, I have read, that Russia is involved in hacking.
    I hope Russia is involved because if so, there is still hope for USA. I would rather see USA with Yosemite Sam. He sounds like an American to me.

  6. Pablo on August 26th, 2016 at 17:12

    Sanctuary:

    I find Clinton’s liberal interventionist foreign policy approach to be the least desirable part of her candidacy. And too pro-Israel to boot. She relies too much on the US military to resolve conflicts (and they seldom do), which is a sad comment for someone who has been SecSate.

    As for Wikileaks, I agree that they seem to have lost their compass. I am not as much concerned about the back and forth over Assange and believe that he has been hard done by by the Swedes, UK and US, but the one-sided and myopic nature of their leaks is a disappointment.

    I think that Clinton’s campaign strategy is premised on getting out the defensive vote against Trump. In that light, is it fear-mongering if the picture she paints is real?

    James: I am not sure how Hillary is a hawk because of Rwanda. She held no office at the time of the massacre, so unless you think that as First lady she had decisive influence on foreign policy, she had no role to play. Moreover, it was the UN that refused to act. Kofi Annan vacillated on whether the reports of genocide were true in spite of good intelligence telling him that it was. The first Clinton administration had a policy of seeking multinational cover and UN sanction for military interventions, but at the time the genocide was in full swing it could not get the UNSC to pass a resolution to authorise the use of force. The GOP opposition in Congress was against the move in any event, so Clinton was forced to take the moral low road and adopt a realist approach to the conflict: since it did not involve essential US interests, it could be ignored.

    I know that because I was working in the Office of the Secretary of Defense at the time and was privy to some of the discussions surrounding the dilemma posed by a non-intervention policy when confronted by a genocide that the UN, or at least the UNSC and Secretary General, wanted to ignore.

    One thing is true: that experience was formative in the development of Clinton’s liberal interventionist views as well as the adoption of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine as an axiom of modern international relations.

  7. Lawrence Rocke on August 26th, 2016 at 18:17

    This is a bit late and shows you don’t live here. For instance, you don’t include Sanders bringing back Weaver to run his PAC and most of the staff quit. They still tried to hold a nationwide meet-up but attendance and enthusiasm is way down. Also, he chose only a handful of candidates to back, so his influence would be minimal, if at all. And then there’s the refusal to release finance information since he’s no longer running (his media strategist was his wife’s company, so that will eventually look embarrassing) I don’t even think HRC’s campaign is asking him to campaign; Obama is way more requested. Look, she’s campaigning on one of the most progressive agendas in US history, she’s following the 4th most progressive president, and she’ll probably be as progressive if not more depending upon the House elections (if not ’16, then 20). Until then, she gets to appoint district judges that have been held up (76 and still rising) and has policy papers out on reorganizing the regional Federal Reserve Banks (which, though obscure, would be huge in changing the hard money/inflation hawks bias of the fed). But do prattle on, Pablo, it’s always interesting.

  8. Pablo on August 26th, 2016 at 21:26

    Sorry Larry, I was writing for a broader audience and do not have space in a blog post to pour over details. Plus, my point was not so much about Sanders himself but those who supported him and a progressive alternative to status quo Democratic politics. In any event thank you for getting to the nitty-gritty, insult notwithstanding.

  9. James Green on August 26th, 2016 at 22:36

    What I mean was that I think the Rwandan genocide had a big effect in making her into a very pro-interventionist hawk. I put hawk in quotes because apparently wanting to help people in other countries by using military force makes you a hawk under any circumstance now.

    Anyway my understanding was that the USA-UK and France were having a proxy cold war over Rwanda prior to the genocide with UK-USA backing the Tutsis from Uganda and the French backing the Hutus who were in power. France lost that one after Kagame killed the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi sparking off the genocide.

    Kagame went on to kill millions and recently became President for Life and is well praised in America.

    Anyway my point is I’m sick of reading about this election and how awful the candidates are. This show is already over, Hillary will win* and by the way she’s not perfect, but she’s not actually a monster either. She will do precisely what the median Democrat wants with a dash more foreign intervention.

    *A glance at FiveThirtyEight’s snake graph prediction will show how far ahead she is. Remember that US Presidential elections are 50 indirect state elections.

  10. Pablo on August 27th, 2016 at 12:38

    Thanks James, for the clarification. But if the US-UK were having a proxy war with France in Rwanda, I did not get the memo.

  11. Sanctuary on August 29th, 2016 at 09:28

    @Pablo, If you could find time at some stage to do a post on the evolution of thee concept of the Responsibility to Protect I’d be fascinated. International law as a very idea is sneered at by right wing exceptionalists yet to me things like the Nurumberg laws are seen as holding some legal as well as moral weight with the majority of the public, and for small countries like NZ that can only be a good thing.

  12. paul scott on August 29th, 2016 at 12:43

    Yes, I agree with Sanctuary.
    We have a moral duty to protect Nations from grotesque Emperors like the insane Juncker, Merkel and the EU.
    As well of course we must help demolish the United Nations Commission of the New World Order.
    We can establish our own alliances, with countries which have a sense of Nationhood, including USA.

  13. Pablo on August 29th, 2016 at 12:54

    Thanks Sanctuary, that is a good suggestion. You may recall that I suggested R2P was the best justification for the NZDF to send troops to Iraq, but not in the role that they are currently engaged in.

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