Back in 2011, as Republicans hard-balled Obama by refusing to raise the debt-ceiling and the president moved ever-closer to capitulating to their demands, it occurred to me, “You know who’d put up a better fight than this? Hillary Clinton.”
This, in fact, had been a central premise of her 2008 campaign: Obama was a naive optimist who didn’t understand the realities of partisan warfare, while Clinton was a hardened political veteran with no illusions about Republican good faith. At the time, a common left position was that Obama should either call the GOP’s bluff, refuse to negotiate, and let Republicans take the blame for a national default – or that he should aggressively finesse the problem with all kinds of legal maneuvers, like minting a trillion dollar coin. I wondered if, perhaps, Clinton would have the inclination and political courage to do what Obama wouldn’t; I suspected that, just maybe, she might.
Largely for this reason, I occasionally wondered if perhaps Clinton would have made a better president than Obama. Not because of any significant ideological difference between the two – as I’ve written for years, “Clinton, like Obama, is a liberal state capitalist” – but simply because Clinton, unlike Obama, is instinctively combative. Sometimes you can do better with a good negotiator who aims low than a mediocre negotiator who aims a little higher.
Since then, three things began to change my assessment of Clinton.
First and foremost came my gradual realization that the so-called “McConnell strategy” was working. This was not always a sure thing; particularly during the debt ceiling crisis, it seemed to me entirely possible that absolute obstruction could become a major political liability for Republicans, and that they would be punished for it at the polls. Yet the backlash never came, and today it seems to me that the GOP has no reason to abandon its strategy. Which means that the major difference I saw between Clinton and Obama – negotiating competence – is basically moot. The GOP’s intransigence completely negates whatever advantages as a politician Clinton may have over her predecessor, and in fact they’ve already telegraphed their plans to escalate their obstruction to unprecedented levels.
The second thing to change my assessment of Clinton has been the rise of Donald Trump and the utterly ineffectual response by American liberals. Academically, I knew that this is how it works: the postwar left was quite explicit about the impotence of liberalism before fascism, and even some of our more insightful liberals long recognized the uniquely decadent impotence of the modern Democratic establishment. But watching Clinton and other liberals victim-blame black, Latino and Muslim protesters for defending themselves at Trump rallies; watching Clinton and other liberals routinely misrepresent racism as a problem that doesn’t afflict the rich; and watching wealthy Democrats even go so far as to fundraise for Donald Trump, it’s become clear to me just how close to the precipice of fascism we are, and how little liberals will do to stop it. Democrats, of course, have tried to hype this danger as the reason we must vote for them – but even if Clinton wins tomorrow, this behavior proves that it is only, with modern liberalism, a matter of time until the next Trump wins.
The third thing to change my assessment of Clinton has been the sheer extremity of aggression of her campaign against the American left. As I wrote a while back:
Not only do the Clintons disagree with left politics – they clearly see the movement left as a political enemy that they need to actively destroy…Practically speaking, this means that Clinton is likely to invest more time, energy, resources and political capital into attacking the left than Obama did.
Perhaps most damning on this count has been mounting proof that Clinton successfully co-opted the Democratic Party itself into a campaign arm against Bernie Sanders, leaving the left with no democratic voice within the two major parties. The notion that the left ever had any road to power within the Democratic Party was always mostly a rhetorical sham, but with even the pretense of fair cooperation and competition among the liberal-left now jettisoned by party elites, it would be madness to view liberals as anything more than the enemy of an enemy.
These three considerations – insurmountable Republican obstruction, the rise of fascism, and broken faith with the left as allies – have all conspired to push me away from Hillary Clinton. It didn’t have to be this way. Had Obama shown the will to overcome the McConnell strategy instead of capitulating to it, or had the Clinton demonstrated anything more than ambivalence about winning back Congress, I might placed some value in her skill as a politician. Had Clinton and her liberal allies shown a serious appreciation for the danger of fascism – rather than simply using it as a threat to cow the left into submission – I might have some confidence in the Democratic party’s ability to ward off future challenges. If Clinton had won clean against Sanders (which I believe she probably would have!) instead of betraying the solidarity of the American left, I might have had some reason to move forward as an equal partner in the Democratic Party.
And here’s the twist: despite all of this, I still might have voted for Clinton. But when I looked at Clinton’s numbers today in my home state, this is what I saw:
And all of the drama over lesser-evilism and the privilege of people who spoil elections becomes completely academic. For the overwhelming majority of Americans, these endless strategic / semiotic debates about what one’s vote means and what it says about you are statistically irrelevant, because for most of us, our vote – as a matter of basic probability – won’t change anything. If you live in Florida, North Carolina, or Ohio, feel free to bite your nails and brood over this as much as you like. But if you live in New York, or Washington DC, or really any state where either candidate’s lead is well outside the margin of error – if you live in any of these states, and you’re feeling anxious – do yourself a favor, and let go of the paranoia that your vote is going to be the one that matters. It won’t.
Personally, I have an old Beavis and Butthead pog that I’ve taped two names to: Stein on one side, La Riva on the other. At my polling station, I flipped a coin.
Carl Beijer is a writer who focuses on the Left, linguistics, and international affairs.