I am a Democrat because of Socks the Cat.
Okay, there’s many other reasons than that, but that’s where it started. When you’re a seven-year-old kid with a black cat and the new President has a black cat too, that’s reason enough to support a political party.
As I grew up, the values I developed of fairness, compassion, equality and economic justice aligned with the Democratic Party, and I’ve stayed there since. I’ve volunteered for Democrats since age 16 and have worked on their campaigns for the last decade.
The reason I bring up this story is this: if Hillary Clinton wins election and re-election to the presidency, she will finish her second term two months shy of my 40th birthday. From the moment I first developed a hint of a political consciousness to the precipice of entering middle age will have been dominated by the Clinton family.
Is that a good thing or bad? For some, the Clintons’ longevity in American politics is enough to take a pass on another nominee named Clinton. There’s legitimate reasons to feel that way. New blood and fresh ideas are useful in any movement or industry.
And yet something feels off about that, and the entire end of this campaign in Iowa seems odd. It’s like we’re back to the same 2008 dichotomy once again. Judgement versus experience. Optimism versus pragmatism. Hope versus realism.
As I’ve spoken with people who are wavering in their candidate choice or leaning toward Bernie Sanders, I hear the same thing over and over again. Sanders makes them feel something. His message and candidacy gives them excitement. Sanders is inspiring and Clinton is not. Most importantly, they believe that a vote for Clinton is one for a cynical acceptance of the way things are.
I do not understand this.
Hillary Clinton is one of the most successful public servants in America. She has helped expand economic opportunity and rights at home, while improving America’s reputation abroad after the Bush administration. And yet people somehow see her record and promise as a president in a cynical manner.
My question to them is this:
What is not inspiring about a little boy getting the health care coverage he needs thanks to Clinton’s leadership on the Children’s Health Insurance Program? What is not moving about an Israeli family who’s alive today because the ceasefire Clinton negotiated stopped rockets from raining down on their house? What is not stirring about the women’s rights movements sparked around the world from Clinton’s 1995 Beijing speech?
If these things do not inspire you, perhaps you should reconsider why you are interested in politics in the first place.
I have spent the last decade working on campaigns. I lived for months away from my wife, went through long bouts of unemployment and debt waiting for the next gig, and drifted apart from old friends I never saw during my 80-hour work weeks. I didn’t do it so I could personally feel a part of something bigger, or to have fun waving signs at a rally. I did it so that my gay friends could still get married and so that kids wouldn’t be crammed 30 to a classroom because Republicans cut school funding.
And at the end of the day, the sacrifice has been more than worth it because I know my work made a little bit better the lives of so many of the people who I met in person on their doorstep.
Which leads me to Bernie Sanders.
I love the guy. I love nearly all of his message and policies, I love his screw-the-system personality and I especially love his campaign’s rejection of the failed consultant- and number-driven political tactics. If he wins the nomination I’ll happily go all-in to see him to victory and will really enjoy watching his operation remake how Democratic campaigns are run.
But I have my doubts. For one, whether it’s that wise to nominate a 74-year-old, self-described “Democratic Socialist” who’s spent the last three decades in D.C. The polls make his chances look good now, but that’s well before the other side spends a billion dollars scaring voters about “socialism” and his far-left policy proposals.
That being said, unlike some other Democrats, I truly believe he can win the general. I do think he’ll turn out a wave of new voters, and I think he’s already shown that he can bat away tough criticism with his blunt, honest speaking style.
What I worry most about, however, is what would happen after he’s elected.
Throughout his campaign Bernie Sanders has promised the moon. Free college tuition. $15/hour minimum wage. Single-payer health insurance. $1 trillion in spending for our cities.
Republicans will retain control of the House no matter what thanks to gerrymandered districts. And they will not pass those proposals. Sanders might get a little bit here and there, but my guess is they stall. And Republicans will try to shift the focus to any foreign policy missteps from a Commander-in-Chief who has shown little interest during this campaign in issues non-domestic.
And then what happens? This massive coalition Sanders has built of young people and those disenchanted in democracy who believed this time was really different will get depressed and discouraged. And they will not show up in the midterms in 2018, and Democrats will once again get obliterated on the state and local level.
It’s already happened. Obama drew from the same wells of youthful enthusiasm in 2008. Then his voters abandoned him in 2010 after his promise to remake politics stalled, and that was even after he signed the Affordable Care Act. Many states around the country experienced a net-rightward shift under Obama thanks to newly-captured Republican governors’ mansions and legislatures.
Why is this time different? Already Sanders has shown little to no interest in building up local Democratic parties to deepen and support his movement once in office. People think the optimism he’s produced will see his supporters through, but what he’s really tapped into is the feelings of cynicism. The type of cynicism that dismisses the real progress we have made because it didn’t happen fast enough or wasn’t 100% pure ideologically. The type of cynicism that thinks Hillary Clinton is evil and untrustworthy because they saw a meme on Facebook with flashy graphics. When Sanders’ promises fail to quickly come to pass in the White House, will these people be convinced that it’s just politics-as-usual again?
Some will dismiss my opinion here because I worked for Clinton as a field organizer in 2008. The smart question no one ever asked is why I didn’t want to work for her this time. The reason is because I wasn’t sold on another Clinton run at the beginning. I thought her campaign might make the same mistakes as last time and that the party needed new leadership to face new challenges and an evolving electorate.
I really like what I’ve seen from Martin O’Malley, and do think he would make an excellent president as well (and I hope his hard work results in a good showing on Monday night). And for a time I wondered if maybe Sanders would provide a new path forward.
But I’ve covered Clinton at countless events the past nine months, and saw up close her improve as a candidate as she took in Iowans’ stories and connected with their problems. It’s undeniable that she knows more in-depth details on every policy there is than pretty much any other politician or public servant. Most importantly, it’s clear she knows how to get things accomplished in these crazy political times. She’s still standing after decades of Republican attacks, and she’ll force them to the table once in office.
That’s what’s really important in this election: how we get progressive priorities accomplished.
To “Feel the Bern” is just that, to feel. Excitement can be fleeting. If you know Sanders can’t get all of his very idealistic policies passed through a Republican House, why contribute to false hope that will let so many down? Especially when the alternative is not a cynical acceptance of the status quo, but a commitment to fight and win and make progress on the issues we all care about.
True inspiration doesn’t come in chanting slogans, waving signs or enjoying a candidate’s soaring speech. Real inspiration happens in the real lives we change through progress born out of grueling, hard-won fights. I, for one, thought that’s why we’re all in this fight in the first place.
Hillary Clinton has been fighting for children, for women, for working families during my entire life. That is a feature of her candidacy, not a flaw. For all the trials and battles she’s been through, she’s still the one who can make a real difference.
I look forward to standing in Clinton’s corner on caucus night. I hope many of you will do the same.
by Pat Rynard