For the past few years, I’ve observed Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders educate the public on what our society is really like and how the political system really works. Hillary and Bernie are both teachers, you know. I don’t think most people see them this way, but as an educator myself, I do. They are teachers in very different ways, though, and they teach some very different things.
I learned a lot from Bernie Sanders, but that’s a different essay for a different day. Here I’m going to tell you what I learned from Hillary Clinton—about life in the United States of America, and politics in the modern era.
First, what I learned from her is the importance of “optics.” It is very important, especially if you’re looking to win a presidential election, to have a good image. You must craft that image carefully and perfectly. You must craft it so much, in fact, that you become obsessed with it, and it becomes your primary strategy for winning votes.
Politics is unsavory. In order to maintain your image, you must have one position that is in the public view, and another that is not. Neither of these positions necessarily have to be what you truly believe, though, or what you’re actually going to do when it comes time to make the policy decisions. They just have to be what your particular audience in the moment needs to hear. That’s how you get votes; that’s just politics.
I learned about political experience and qualification. Being in positions of power for many years, and being familiar with the system enough to navigate it, is what it means to be “highly qualified” and politically experienced. Politics is mainly about technique. Simply put, the most experienced person is the fittest to serve. Anyone who questions that an extremely experienced, highly qualified candidate is a good candidate—for the most powerful political position in the world—must be a victim of bad propaganda.
I learned that America is already great, of course, and the reason America is great is because America is good. If it’s true for me, and the people around me, it must be true for everyone. Saying otherwise is unpatriotic.
I learned a lot about rhetoric. The most important thing in political rhetoric is to lead with our values. For example: We are stronger together. She is fighting for us. If they go low, we go high. This is the dignity and poise that must accompany the qualifications and experience. How politics has always been—and always will be—is that as long as we say it, whether we do it is of secondary importance. Don’t be naive.
I really learned a lot about rhetoric. Words are the most important thing in politics. The problem with Bernie Sanders’ rhetoric is that he used words to imply that big money corrupts the political process, and that politicians who take “big money” (*just a slur used by populist candidates, since big fundraising is a necessary evil in “real” politics) are likely compromised in some way.
Single speeches in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, given to the perpetrators of our unjust political and economic system, are just that, speeches. Goldman Sachs and the healthcare industry are paying all that money to see Hillary talk for 90 minutes, because she’s just that great—it’s like going to a concert to see your favorite celebrity. The difference between them and us is that they’re rich (worked hard and earned it) and can afford a more expensive ticket to the show. Since they can afford it—and it’s what they offered—well, who wouldn’t take that money?
What these paid speeches will not, can not, do not translate into, is advantageous policy for those predatory audiences at the expense of the public. This is the myth about “access” to political power (don’t be ridiculous). Hillary, especially, can overcome that—because she is brave, poised, persistent, experienced, and qualified.
The implications of corruption are a lie. And you know who made that lie mainstream? Bernie Sanders! Yes, the liar, the enemy, the petulant child. He got Donald Trump elected. By always pulling the focus back to political and economic issues, and choosing to run against Hillary Clinton in the first place, he damaged her.
And he is very much like Trump. I learned from Hillary Clinton that Bernie Sanders is a racist, sexist, misogynist, egotistical opportunist. That was decades ago when he was literally chained to a black woman in protest. That was decades ago when he organized a strike against segregated housing at the University of Chicago. That was decades ago when he transformed Burlington, Vermont, by cleaning up city government, creating cherished community programs, and leading the effort to make Burlington “the first American city of any decent size to run entirely on renewable electricity.” And since it was decades ago, these things are not to be included in his political credibility, or considered for his leadership capacity.
Virtually everyone loves Bernie Sanders in his hometown and home state, even lots of Republicans. But that means nothing, because Vermont is mostly white people. Sanders is no real fighter for civil rights, that was a campaign talking point. Obviously, he is just an angry old white man, and Hillary Clinton is more well-known in the “black community.”
That is why she got more votes in the primary, and there’s no possibility that the primary was “rigged” in any way. If it was, it was deserved, anyway, because Hillary spent many years being a real Democrat. (He should have been a real Democrat.)
The truth is that Sanders, and politicians like him, can’t get things done. Bernie insisting otherwise in the presidential debates was simply a strategy to artificially boost his image. His rallies were just a quest for personal glory. Even though Bernie Sanders was always careful to say that no single person could overcome the political establishment and force these policies on their own—that it would require millions of people engaging in the political process if we wanted a more democratic government and just economic system—he was making promises that could not be kept (like some kind of wild demagogue… cough, Trump.)
His supporters are cut from the same cloth. They were, and continue to be, a bunch of college kids—overwhelmingly white, male bros—who smoke pot in their parents’ basements, wanting the most outlandish of free stuff, like healthcare and “free” higher education (a very radical idea, despite that we used to do it in our own country and it’s common now around the world). By the way, there were some women who volunteered, donated, and voted for Bernie, but it was because their boyfriends told them to.
If the idealist millennials really wanted to change the world, you see, they would actually do their research and go run for something. I don’t see them making any real change, just like I didn’t know where Bernie Sanders was in 1993 when I was pushing for healthcare reform. (He was right behind me.)
But I digress. Bernie Sanders only cares about economics, not identity politics. He doesn’t really care about gay people, black and brown people, or women. Social justice has nothing to do with economics. Economics is a “diversion” from actually caring about minorities. Centrist Democrats have always been better on race, gender, and social justice than the “Left” (alt-left). Hillary Clinton and all her major supporters on the TV news have assured me of this. Rich people of all genders and colors can back me up on this.
I learned, by the way, that being rich and famous is still a great goal to have. It is the American dream, and there’s nothing wrong with that (America is already great). It’s not like people are kept poor and oppressed in this economic system by super-wealthy “job creators” who acquire their wealth by utilizing public research and infrastructure, socializing the losses while privatizing the profits, and keeping wages down for their workers. Everyone could be rich and famous—if they just believe, and try harder.
That’s what her presidency was about. The inspiring truth is that one lucky woman, who is also very skilled and experienced, and becomes famous by marrying an eventual president of the United States, can maybe break the glass ceiling for herself by buying into a corrupt political system and exploiting it endlessly.
And we must protect this nation, and this dream. That is why it’s simply normal for the US military to be the world police, killing a million innocent people in unjust wars, one of which Hillary voted for “with conviction” even though she did not read the intelligence report. (And I won’t forget that Hillary was not the only one to vote for the Iraq war; other people did as well. So, citing her complicity as a reason to not want her as president of the United States is a sexist double standard.)
National security, sexism, and racism, are also why I scoff at anyone who dares to question Barack Obama’s accomplishments, and anyone who finds hypocrisy in my dear friendship with George W. Bush, or beloved mentor in Henry Kissinger. This is simply pragmatism; their foreign policy decisions were about defending the American people and liberating the others. This is that thing again about qualifications and experience, and they were real good at it.
So I learned about partisanship and loyalty. There are only two political parties, after all. It is best to pick one, and stick with it, always and no matter what. You’re either with us or against us. What’s in the best interest of the United States politicians and campaign donors is necessarily in the best interest of its people. And the people around the world, too.
Most of all, I learned from Hillary about pragmatism. I learned that your political party can consciously choose to become the party of the professional class and rich elites, and pursue this strategy over the course of forty years—under the guise of pragmatism—to become complicit in the downward spiral for all but the top one percent. And somehow, the party is still fighting for all of us, especially the most disadvantaged and oppressed. Please be grateful.
Forty years of neoliberal agenda—which is just an insult, by the way—not a real thing that includes privatization of the public sphere, decimation of unions and worker rights, cutting of social services, financial and environmental de-regulation, and massive transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to the wealthiest people and major corporations. This is something to be unconditionally proud of. We are the better of two parties.
Finally, under pragmatism, we can lose to Donald Trump, perhaps the worst person on Earth to become president, and still remain proud to carry on the conventional Democratic political wisdom. I wish everyone else were, too.
I learned a lot from Hillary Clinton, and this is just some of what I learned about how the country really is, how the world works, and what is the “right” way to do politics. Now I know that the right way to go forward, and the best way to do politics, in 2017 and beyond, is to be somewhere between center-left and center-right. I know this because, since I learned from the pragmatic, experienced Hillary Clinton, I know what “works” and what doesn’t.
I learned these things from Hillary, but I don’t actually believe them to be true. Millions of Americans, however, do. And that, not sexism, is why I’ll never forgive her.