After being proclaimed close to politically dead, Bernie Sanders resurrected his campaign with an upset victory over Hillary Clinton. Despite this win – many in the mainstream continue to portray Sanders and his allies as bordering on delusional. “Sanders declares war on reality” blared the headline of at least one major newspaper.
This plays into a recurring narrative that Clinton is the epitome of realism while her rival is at best naively idealistic and at worse dangerously irrational. There is a now almost universally accepted “truth” that Clinton is the candidate of pragmatism and her support build on these same “clear eyed” values.
However, scratching the surface of Clinton’s appeal tells a dramatically different story. It is founded instead on an unwavering belief in her progressiveness and electability even in the face of massive amount of contradictory evidence. Perhaps even more troubling is the growing orthodoxy that her brand of Centrism is the only way to achieve genuine progress.
While the majority of the popular attention has been spent on the dangers posed by Trump and his brand of populist demagoguery, not enough has been paid to the blind faith inspired by the Democratic frontrunner. Given her record of hawkishness abroad and oligarchy at home, the threat of Clinton fundamentalism has arguably never been stronger.
Ignoring Progressive Evidence
A crucial part of Clinton’s “brand” as a politician is her overwhelming policy acumen and knowledge. She admits that she is not a “natural politician” but argues that her strengths lie in competence, preparedness and commitment to serving the national interest. Implied is that a vote for her is a similar willingness to eschew idealistic “false promises” for political victories and incremental change.
Yet this argument is itself a matter more of belief than evidence. Indeed, Cinton has little record of consistently pushing for progressive causes domestically. Putting aside her often Conservative statements as first lady in support of her husband, as a Senator she voted for offshore oil drilling, took a “hands off” approach to Wall Street, publicly come out against gay marriage, supported banker-friendly bankruptcy “reform” measures, and publicly stigmatized abortion – to name only a few of her litany of conservative positions in the past. Just as tellingly, many of her supporters continue to cite highly misleading evidence to defend defend her as an “electable Democratic candidate who leans to the right.”
The dogmatic conviction of Clinton’s progressivism is even worse in light of her foreign policy beliefs and actions. She has a strong and established relationship with the international arms industry. During her tenure as Secretary she approved over a $150 billion worth of weapon deals for autocrats and manufacturers, many of which contributed to her family’s charitable organization The Clinton Foundation.
Ideologically, she advocates positions most closely aligned with neo-conservatism. Described in her own words as “muscular liberalism” she promotes the active use of American military might for spreading its values globally and protecting its national economic interests. These ideals were on fully display in her vocal and active endorsement of the Iraq War under Bush – a decision she now has famously admitted was a “mistake.”
Still such beliefs were evident throughout her tenure at the State Department. She was the leading hawkish voice in the Obama administration – the chief architect of the disastrous military intervention in Libya and a proponent of a greater armed presence in Syria. She was the primary force for legitimizing the military coup in Honduras in support of the country’s economic oligarchy. And she pushed for the global expansion of fracking – for the benefit of US energy companies – across the developing world.
A Case of Political Faith
To proclaim that Clinton is a progressive is thus to be blissfully ignorant about her past and impervious to all available evidence. It is to ignore reality in favor of her inspirational campaign promises. It is a profound leap of political faith.
This close to religious orthodoxy extends to her effectiveness as a politician. Clinton has proclaimed herself as a “progressive who likes to get things done.” It is a claim that the media and most Democrats appear to accept at face value despite having little basis in reality. As a Senator, even with a high name recognition and influence, she was the author of only three rather innocuous bills. Further, when she did try to put progressive measures through she was largely ineffective. This is especially jarring when considering that her opponent Sanders has been, despite whatever faults he may have, as one of the most active and effective progressive legislators of the past three decades.
It also clouds perceptions of her electability. She has been trumpeted as the “safest” choice for Democrats for over a year. It is repeated almost as a mantra in her favor and expressed in contrast to some vague “risk” of nominating Sanders. Yet this flies in the face of that fact that Sanders consistently outperforms her in the polls against all Republican candidates. It also disregards her close to record high unfavorability ratings among voters and her consistent lack of appeal with independents.
This willingness to forsake any and all data that does not support their beliefs appears to be a hallmark of many of Clinton's Democratic supporters. It demands casting aside any doubt about her judgment despite her “evolving” aforementioned policy positions and “mistakes.” It entails closing your eyes to a mounting email scandal and possible indictment. It means an unwavering devotion to Clinton that is inspired more by faith than reality.
The Threat of Evangelical Clintons
Of course any and all support for a candidate and political Party is by nature partisan. Pure reason falls victim to passionate attachment – especially in the midst of a heated election. Indeed, it is worrisome how little many Sanders’ backers care about his history of hawkishness when it comes to foreign policy.
Still this fundamentalism surrounding Clintons has the potential to be quite dangerous. In the short term it may allow for Trump to be elected. Closing your eyes to Clinton’s lack of popularity outside of an increasingly narrowing part of the Democratic party is not necessarily the best electoral strategy. There is every possibility that young people and progressives may choose to stay home and that independents will either do the same or flock to Trump.
Even in the likely event that she wins, her victory would by pyrrhic. Her pitch of being “ready on day one” and being a master of “insider politics” ignores the historic ways in which change in the US, when connected to a larger popular political movement, is pushed from the bottom up. A Clinton vicotry would also affirm her brand of centrism as equivalent to authentic progressivism, setting it as the “limit” for mainstream leftist politics.
The threat of evangelical Clinton supporters is real and growing. Such extremism survives through a shifting morality tale of the good candidate against the evil forces of the Right (or even the “fringe” Left). It is a crusade of true believers who are willing to put their faith above progress.