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When no one runs on progressive values, many voters holding progressive positions simply drop out, ceding the election to the fearful, the bigoted, the greedy, the intolerant, and the passionately ignorant. (Photo: flickr / cc / Mike Mozart)

Backing Hillary in 2016: Bad for Progressives and Bad Politics, Too

John Atcheson

A closer look at the 2014 mid-term elections shows why the “inevitability” of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic presidential candidate is not only ethically questionable, it’s bad politics as well.

Here’s why.

First, it would be a mistake to think of 2014 as a typical mid-term election in which turnout favored the Republicans.  The real story in 2014 was that“none of the above” won in a landslide.

This was no normal midterm slump – it was the lowest turnout in 72 years (and it was lower in 1942 only because folks were a little busy with a World War). 

Second, “none-of the above” won because voters were denied real choices: What the 2014 no-shows signaled was the growing awareness on the part of progressives and independents that government is owned by the uber-rich and corporations and that voting for Democrats doesn’t change that much.

Let’s face it, the Democratic Party has become a pale doppelganger to the Republican Party.  They pursue job wrecking trade agreements in secret; they engage in foreign wars cavalierly; they are limiting our civil rights; they cozy up to Wall Street and the big banks; they contribute to the grotesque income inequality that is destroying the economy both passively – by not directly opposing Republican fiscal plans – and actively -- by proposing their own deregulation such as repeal of Glass-Steagall.

As a result, only a little over a third of the voters showed up, and those who did were motivated by fear, greed, anger, hate and bigotry which were integral parts of the conservative campaign.

Bottom line, many progressive and independents feel like they have no real choice in elections – and if Democrats don’t embrace a progressive candidate like Elizabeth Warren who offers them a real choice, progressives won’t show up in 2016, either.

Third, if you stand for nothing you can get beat by anything.  Quick, try to characterize what the Democrats stood for in 2014.  About the only thing that comes to mind is “We’re not with the black guy.”  Ironically, whatever glimmer of good news the country had going into the election came from policies Obama pushed on those rare occasions when he wasn’t preemptively capitulating to Republicans.

The thing is, for the last 30 years, Democrats have been too focused on chasing corporate dollars to formulate a coherent set of values and policies, let alone run on them.

As a result, the national debate has been framed on two nation-wrecking myths – “the myth of the magic markets” (which states the a deregulated market will solve all problems by pure serendipity) and the “myth of the bumbling bureaucrat” (which comes from Reagan’s pronouncement that government is the problem, not the solution)

The empirical result of having these myths dominate our policy and political discourse has been to cause the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, to create the worst disparity in income since the year prior to the Great Depression, and to turn the country into an oligarchy.  

A close look at Hillary Clinton’s positions on trade, foreign affairs, fiscal and financial policies shows her to be in lock step with these myths.  

Fourth, when offered a choice, voters overwhelmingly approved progressive ballot measures like:

  • increases in minimum wage;
  • pro-choice measures (including rejecting “personhood” for fertilized eggs in a red and purple state);
  • opposition to box stores;
  • registration for gun sales and transfers;
  • limits on fracking

These votes occurred in red and blue states; they come on top of earlier votes in three states to overturn Citizens United and they confirm extensive polling that shows the majority of the American electorate to be left of center in their political preferences on an issue-by-issue basis.

But when no one runs on progressive values, this preference can’t get translated into votes for candidates, and many voters holding progressive positions simply drop out, ceding the election to the fearful, the bigoted, the greedy, the intolerant, and the passionately ignorant. 

Fifth, no-choice could once again trump pro-choice in 2016 – Which brings us to 2016 and Hillary Clinton, the ultimate DLC Democrat.  Talk about a doppelganger – take away the Party label and her positions on Wall Street, corporatism, war, trade and fiscal policy are indistinguishable from even the far right wing political spectrum.  If there’s one thing this election revealed, it’s that being a little less insane on social issues won’t cut it.  Demographics may favor Democrats in national elections, but if the Dems run Hillary, progressives and many independents will once again stay home in droves.  On the other hand, if they ran a progressive like Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, they’ll get a record turnout, a resounding victory and a mandate for progressivism.

Yet the Oligarchy has its hooks so thoroughly sunk in both parties that another no-choice election seems inevitable. 

Bottom line — There’s a broad and potentially powerful progressive majority out there, waiting to be seized.  Sadly, it seems unlikely that Democrats will take advantage of that, and even less likely that a leader with sufficient charisma will emerge to lead the electorate away from the current no-choice oligarchy we live in. If it is to happen, it requires a level of citizen activism not seen since the 60’s.  But don’t hold your breath – it looks like our modern-day bread and media circus will keep us fat and dumb, if not happy.


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John Atcheson

John Atcheson

John Atcheson, 1948-2020, was a long-time Common Dreams contributor, climate activist and author of, "A Being Darkly Wise, and a book on our fractured political landscape entitled, "WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track". Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson. John was tragically killed in a California car accident in January 2020.

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