Progressives Should Be Thrilled About Clinton (and Warren)

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Time to get onboard.
Time to get onboard.Photo: Melina Mara

For months now, we’ve been hearing the moaning, so much moaning, from disaffected Democrats. This election marks a depressing return to lesser evilism; it’s the year of the hated, in which two candidates, both disliked by a majority of voters, are pitted against each other. Supporters of each are mostly motivated by dislike of the opposition, not enthusiasm about their choice. Though recent polls show Bernie supporters coming around to the idea of Clinton faster than Clinton supporters warmed to Obama in 2008, there’s little sense that they’re doing so with enthusiasm, in part because the holdouts remain so vocal. The New York Times’ Nate Cohn wrote on Monday of how “the background music of my life is the steady drumbeat of tweets about how Hillary Clinton stole the presidential primary from Bernie Sanders”; one Bernie-or-buster told CNN over the weekend that “a vote for Hillary Clinton is a vote against democracy.” Jill Stein, the presumptive Green Party nominee for the presidency — who in a recent WSJ poll was drawing 6 percent support — has been pushing Trump-Clinton comparisons, speaking earlier in June about how “Trump says very scary things — deporting immigrants, massive militarism and ignoring the climate; well, Hillary, unfortunately, has a track record for doing all those things … We see these draconian things that Donald Trump is talking about, we actually see Hillary Clinton doing.”

This spirit of false equivalency, of Clinton as the only slightly less bad guy, has led plenty of Clinton supporters to keep quiet about their enthusiasms, fueling the perception that no one is excited about this election.

Okay, electoral Eeyores, it is time to cheer up. It’s not just that Democrats have to better manage their worry-wart tendencies; the early part of this week has offered ample reason to begin to show some actual spirit about the upcoming election. This is not the most depressing election of your lifetime, not by a long shot; this is not a choice between two candidates, two administrations, two futures that will be anything like each other. We have to stop acceding to, and thus supporting, the narrative that we’re all just going to be dragging ourselves to the polling stations in four months to petulantly cast an unhappy vote against some monster, instead of casting a vote for a set of ideas progressives should be proud and excited to support. The fact is, we are in the midst of an election that should be extremely thrilling for progressives, because the possibility for change — for progress — is actually thrumming around us.

Over the weekend, the Democratic platform committee settled on its final draft. And though, for murky reasons, it has not been published in its entirety, it is, according to reports and a public summary, the most progressive platform put forth by Democrats in decades. For the first time, the platform explicitly calls for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of federal funds to pay for abortion services, leaving poor women, disproportionately women of color, without access to the reproductive services that are their right. It calls for the abolition of the death penalty. It calls for protection and expansion of the Dodd-Frank financial reform, an update of Glass-Steagall, and a breakup of “financial institutions that pose a systemic risk to the stability of our economy.” The platform also advocates for an expansion of social security, a $15 minimum wage, an end to private prisons and investment in reentry programs for the incarcerated, along with comprehensive immigration reform — including an end to family detention and the closing of private detention centers. (In fact, it redefines immigration as “a defining aspect of the American character and history to be supported and defended” rather than “a problem to be solved.”) No, it does not include certain progressive positions such as opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a fracking ban or carbon tax, or a pledge to enact single-payer health care — and reasonable people can debate whether those compromises made sense or not. It is also true that a party platform has little more than symbolic power in the real world. But given that just over a decade ago, the platform cautiously said that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare” (a formulation that Hillary was rumored to have devised herself), this edition feels practically like a rallying cry.

Then, on Monday, came the Supreme Court’s 5-3 decision on Texas’s Whole Women’s Health/HB2 law, blowing to smithereens not just this law but the entire dishonest sham of so-called TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws and other newfangled ways of restricting abortion access in the name of protecting women. “It is beyond rational belief that HB2 could genuinely protect the health of women,” wrote Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her efficient, two-page concurring opinion. The decision, in addition to being great news for Texas women and families, seems to finally suggest that the tide of anti-abortion laws that have washed over large parts of the country could be stemmed. It also serves as a reminder of just how transformative it could be to have several Supreme Court seats open up during the next presidential administration. Yet another reminder of how critical, and yes, exciting, this election is.

Also on Monday, Hillary Clinton was making her first campaign appearance with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. The two women took the stage in Cincinnati in front of a jubilant crowd wearing a similar shade of electric blue — by accident, according to the Huffington Post’s Jennifer Bendery. They had the look of two confident women who DGAF and could not stop grinning about it.

As someone who’s been neutral about the idea of a Clinton-Warren joint ticket (for entirely practical reasons), their appearance on Monday moved me firmly into the pro-Warren camp, not just for the strategic pop of excitement it would bring the campaign, but for the impact it seemed to have on Clinton herself. As she watched Warren tear into Trump, she looked as relaxed and happy as I have ever seen her during a campaign stop. Some have worried that Clinton couldn’t take such competition for the spotlight on her own ticket, but I think that’s a misreading of the candidate. For better or worse [cough], Clinton has long been drawn to high-wattage partners, and is comfortable working alongside them. And having Warren at her side could halve the symbolic burden of being first and only, weight that Clinton does not much enjoy lugging around.

It was also useful to see how excited Warren seemed to be. Though she has been critical of Clinton in the past, she seems to be truly enthusiastic about her now (either that or she is a great performer). Though television cameras did not catch Warren’s reactions to Clinton’s speech, Buzzfeed’s Ruby Cramer reported from the room that “Warren [was] hanging on HRC’s every line. At mention of infra[structure] investment, she mouths, ‘yes!’ At college debt, she does a little jump & dance.” NBC’s Monica Alba tweeted an image of a persuasive-looking hug between the two before they parted.

This does not mean progressives should have no issues with Clinton. There is much to be concerned about with regard especially to her hawkishness, her Iraq vote, her policies around Libya, Syria, Haiti, and Honduras, her positions on Israel and Palestine. Progressives should and will make their concerns about her foreign-policy positions clear, both during her campaign and if she should get to the White House. But behaving as though the blame for these conflicts rests entirely at Clinton’s feet is not honest, nor does it offer us a current, practical path toward better or more humane foreign policy.

Yes, leftist critique is valuable. Sanders’s remarkable success forced Clinton to take on more economically populist positions. Which she has done. It worked. This is great news. As Liza Featherstone, an energetic critic of Clinton from a socialist-feminist perspective, recently wrote in Dissent, “The goal of left politics is to make left ideas so popular that the most mainstream politicians will support them, and Clinton’s shift on the Fight for $15 shows how, by organizing, we can do just that.” The left and its most crucial movements are prevailing in presidential politics and on major party platforms, around minimum wage and criminal-justice reform and reproductive rights and the death penalty and paid leave. This is not boring.

Doesn’t the fact that Elizabeth Warren, a progressive firebrand who has led the party toward stronger economic policies before and since her election to the Senate in 2012, can feel so excited — can jump and dance and holler and clap and hug — about Clinton mean that maybe it’s time for the rest of her party to start expressing a little enthusiasm too?