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Mon May 30, 2016, 11:18 AM

"No, I Won't Work for Hillary Clinton: A Response to Robert Reich"

http://www.commondreams.org/views/2016/05/30/no-i-wont-work-hillary-clinton-response-robert-reich

by
Jake Johnson

I don't know Robert Reich personally, but I greatly respect and appreciate his work; his voice is an important one in the fight against inequality.

He has, however, repeatedly come down on the wrong side of one crucial issue, an issue that has serious implications for the future of American politics broadly, and for the future of the American left in particular.

Last week, Reich published a piece on his blog that reiterated a few nuggets of advice he offered on his Facebook page a week or so earlier.

While he directs advice to supporters of both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, naturally, as a Sanders supporter, I was drawn to what he had to say to backers of the Vermont senator.

Supporters of Bernie Sanders should, Reich argues, "Be prepared to work hard for Hillary Clinton if she gets the nomination."

Reich anticipated the backlash he ultimately received, writing that his advice "may be hard to swallow."

"But swallow it you must," he concluded, "not just for the good of the Democratic Party, but for the good of the nation."

He was right, of course, to expect strong reactions; I didn't like his advice, nor did many others. And I don't plan to act on it.

But as I read Reich's appeal, I was overwhelmed not by emotion, and not by a sense of outrage, but by a sense of déjà vu. I thought: I have heard, and read, this all before.

Indeed I had. Though Reich words his appeal eloquently and without condescension, it is the same appeal that has been made by the more crude apologists of "lesser of two evils" politics over the past several decades.

Matt Taibbi, in an article for Rolling Stone published in March, put it his way: Democrats "have been saying, 'The Republicans are worse!' for so long that they've begun to believe it excuses everything."

To his credit, Reich correctly predicts this objection—but he does not deny its validity.

"I can’t criticize anyone for voting their conscience, of course," he writes of the large number of Sanders supporters who say they will not vote for Clinton. "But your conscience should know that a decision not to vote for Hillary, should she become the Democratic nominee, is a de facto decision to help Donald Trump."

The latter sentence is the crucial one, and the weight of his argument in favor of backing Hillary Clinton if she becomes the Democratic nominee rests on its potency. The problem:The claim that refusing to support Clinton "is a de facto decision to help Donald Trump" is erroneous.

Perhaps unwittingly, Reich is merely rehashing—in a new context—a rather old argument, one that was made most prominently by George Orwell in his screeds against pacifism in the midst of World War II.

"Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist," Orwell argued in an essay that appeared in 1942. "This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help that of the other."

As Corey Robin has observed, the Democratic establishment, in an effort to suppress dissent and silence legitimate criticism of their favored candidate, has adopted what is effectively a Leninist posture, one that prioritizes unity and conformity over basic principles that Democrats, in other contexts, are happy to champion—all under the guise of protecting the party and ensuring victory against the other side.

According to Reich, Sanders supporters who don't fall in line behind a candidate they believe to be part of the problem, not a potential solution, are objectively pro-Trump: You're either with us, Reich contends, or you're against us.

But this is a false dichotomy, as Orwell himself would come to recognize in print a few years later.

"The key-word here is 'objectively,'" Orwell wrotein 1944. "We are told that it is only people's objective actions that matter, and their subjective feelings are of no importance. Thus pacifists, by obstructing the war effort, are 'objectively' aiding the Nazis; and therefore the fact that they may be personally hostile to Fascism is irrelevant. I have been guilty of saying this myself more than once."

Orwell was a rarity among political writers, in that he was rather quick to correct errors in his own reasoning.

"This is not only dishonest; it also carries a severe penalty with it," Orwell continued. "If you disregard people's motives, it becomes much harder to foresee their actions."

Reich, though his intentions are undoubtedly noble, is committing the same error Orwell criticized himself for making "more than once": He disregards subjective motives (which are, in the case of Clinton versus Trump, of great significance) and fails to anticipate how Sanders supporters will act in the future.

Judging by the polling data, most Sanders supporters view Trump just as unfavorably as Clinton supporters, and are unlikely to vote for him. But that is not the concern: For Reich, not actively helping Clinton—just staying home in November—is the equivalent of lending a helping hand to Trump.

But Sanders supporters have not been sitting on the sidelines; they have, in fact, been at the front of the line, protesting Donald Trump's inexcusable bigotry and condemning his phony populism while articulating an inspiring and inclusive alternative.

This is the point Reich fails to acknowledge: One can, without contradiction, both refuse to support Hillary Clinton and ardently oppose Donald Trump. Protests, engagement, organization, and civil disobedience often make more noise, and force more change, than decisions made at the ballot box.

Sanders supporters are simply not content to dilute the political revolution they have started by integrating it into the framework of the Democratic Party and by placing it within the confines of a Clinton presidency. Reich, himself, has emphasized the importance of this point.

"I endorse Bernie Sanders for President of the United States," Reich wrote in February. "He's leading a movement to reclaim America for the many, not the few. And such a political mobilization — a 'political revolution,' as he puts it — is the only means by which we can get the nation back from the moneyed interests that now control so much of our economy and democracy."

Here, Reich and I agree: A political revolution in the form of various movements working together to bring lasting change "is the only means by which we can get the nation back from the moneyed interests."

To work for Hillary Clinton would be to put aside principled stands in support of campaign finance reform, for instance, or against American aggression overseas, in favor of a candidate who has repeatedly been on the wrong side.

So I will continue to support Bernie Sanders and the movement he has sparked both because I believe it is the right thing to do, and because I refuse to fall in line behind a candidate who has, in just the past few months, repudiated basic standards of transparency, belittled those who fight for ambitious social agendas, turned her back on single-payer health care, courted Republican donors, accepted campaign contributions from Wall Street and the fossil fuel industry, and attacked the core argument against the Supreme Court's disastrous Citizens United decision.

I will also happily join Robert Reich in the fight against Donald Trump. His ignorance is terrifying and his bigotry is reprehensible.

But I will not endure lectures on how refusing to support Hillary Clinton—a candidate who embodies the right turn of the Democratic Party that has had such devastating effects on the same people Clinton now claims to be fighting for—is, in effect, the equivalent of supporting Trump. It clearly isn't.

As for Reich's concerns about the future of the Democratic Party, well, I'm with Michelle Alexander: "I hold little hope that a political revolution will occur within the Democratic Party without a sustained outside movement forcing truly transformational change. I am inclined to believe that it would be easier to build a new party than to save the Democratic Party from itself."

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Jake Johnson is an independent writer. Follow him on Twitter: @wordsofdissent

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Response to Baobab (Original post)

Mon May 30, 2016, 11:40 AM

1. Write

in is our weapon.

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Response to Baobab (Original post)

Mon May 30, 2016, 12:09 PM

2. I agree with everything you said but one. IMHO,

I think the Tea Party has shown us how to take control of a major party. If control cannot be accomplished then create another or join the Green's.

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Response to Baobab (Original post)

Mon May 30, 2016, 12:15 PM

3. A party and candidate that is willing to use the tactics of Carl Rove to win

 

Voter suppression, massive registration flipping, poll closures, flat out lies and propaganda about flying chairs etc., complete collusion by the corporate media etc. this is not a candidate or party I want representing me. I will work like hell for down ticket progressives but I will NOT vote for HER and what she represents! Fuck the emails, fuck the Clinton foundation. I don't care about them. ANY party that has to lie, cheat and steal to win because they can't win on policy will not get support from me.

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Response to OffWithTheirHeads (Reply #3)

Mon May 30, 2016, 03:06 PM

8. I have to agree. Two wrongs don't make a right, as my granny used to say.

I'm no longer willing to vote simply out of fear. This time, I'm voting for something, voting the positive path. Fuck Hillary and those like her. They can continue to drag down the nation, or they can step up and stand with Bernie.

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Response to ladyVet (Reply #8)

Mon May 30, 2016, 05:43 PM

12. Amen to that

 

Go along to get along - I've had a BELLY FULL of that. And there's only ONE WAY to end it and that's to end it.

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Response to Baobab (Original post)

Mon May 30, 2016, 12:41 PM

4. "One can, without contradiction, both refuse to support Hillary Clinton and ardently oppose Donald"

Yes.

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Response to KeepItReal (Reply #4)

Mon May 30, 2016, 04:18 PM

9. This is what I hate about the lie that not voting for Hillary is a vote for Trump

It is a dishonest argument. I hear this from some progressives as well which is disappointing.

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Response to Baobab (Original post)

Mon May 30, 2016, 01:55 PM

5. Sorry. I won't "work hard" for anyone whose policies will hurt me and those I love.

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Response to Baobab (Original post)

Mon May 30, 2016, 01:56 PM

6. I'm already following him, he's really smart.

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Response to Baobab (Original post)

Mon May 30, 2016, 02:10 PM

7. I remember a recent president claiming that

You're either with us or against us.

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Response to Baobab (Original post)

Mon May 30, 2016, 05:22 PM

10. I may vote for Hillary

but I won't stop criticizing her policies as I feel necessary. Hopefully DU will tolerate a little friendly fire.

She may end up the candidate but she's got a lot of shaping up to do.

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Response to Baobab (Original post)

Mon May 30, 2016, 05:39 PM

11. Reich needs to hear that we will NOT support her -

if we give in now and say "oh well yes there's nothing we can do" then she has won. And that is absolutely ridiculous with a candidate that is being investigated by the FBI. The party needs to take a good hard look, realize which candidate is drawing in the crowds, and talk w/their superdelegates. We are not going to going to vote for her in November. Choose Bernie instead - then you will have an amazing amount of energy in his young (and not-so-young) supporters. We WILL get him elected. We're not doing it for her.

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Response to Baobab (Original post)

Mon May 30, 2016, 08:02 PM

13. A compromise; swing state residents vote Clinton, others don’t.

Remember it's not a national election, it's 50 state elections. If you live in a swing state (FL, OH, MI, etc.) then definitely vote for Clinton if she is the nominee. Let us not have a repeat of the 2000 election. But if you are a democrat in a solid red state (TX, AL, MS, etc.) then your vote is meaningless, so send a message to the DNC by writing in Sanders or voting for the Green party. If Sanders and the Green party can get a combined 5% of the vote, without hurting Clinton’s chances, it will let the DNC know that they cannot continue to take the progressive vote for granted.

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Response to Baobab (Original post)

Mon May 30, 2016, 10:42 PM

14. The revolution should not end with the convention. If Clinton is the nominee, it will be easier to

--continue it than with a Trump presidency. Of course we would have to fight her administration on wars and pulling shit like chained CPI, but with Trump we'd also have to fight on reproductive rights and immigration. Even if Congress didn't cooperate with him, he could still do a fuck of a lot of damage with executive orders.

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