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Monday, February 29, 2016

The Progressive Case for Hillary Clinton

Posted by on Mon, Feb 29, 2016 at 10:35 AM

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Editor’s note: The author, David Faris, is a professor of political science at Roosevelt University in Chicago. The views expressed herein are his own and not necessarily those of the university. Tomorrow, if all goes to plan, we’ll be publishing a Bob Geary–penned case for Bernie Sanders. The
INDY’s endorsements in this and other primary races will be released Wednesday. 

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Since the Iowa caucuses, Democratic primary voters have reminded everyone that the GOP isn’t the only party holding together a political coalition with staples and cardboard. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent initially given Kucinich-level odds to derail the campaign of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, effectively tied her in Iowa, clobbered her in New Hampshire, and finished a close second in Nevada. While the candidates themselves have maintained civility during their substantive debates, the race is causing enormous rancor on the political left. Facebook friends accustomed to chorus-like agreement on the evils of Republican policy are using invective with each other that they usually reserve for Donald Trump, or the people who canceled Freaks and Geeks. Supporters of Hillary Clinton are starting to accept the fact that she will not be unfurling any Mission Accomplished banners in the near future, and backers of Sanders who regard Clinton as a demonstrably nefarious neoliberal sellout have had to reckon with the fact that the former secretary of state has committed partisans who support her not just because they think Sanders is unelectable, but also because they genuinely like her.

I am one of those Clinton partisans. Bernie Sanders has run a superb campaign—one that has energized the left and brought young people into politics in numbers not seen since the meteoric rise of Barack Obama. He has been invaluable in pushing Clinton to adopt better progressive positions. His popularity among millennials—based largely on his policy positions but also his perceived incorruptibility—should be seen as an incredibly positive sign for the future of progressive politics. For older progressives steeped in a reflexive antipathy to full-throated leftist policies, the overwhelming support that young voters have given Sanders should serve as a wake-up call. Yet putting Bernie Sanders forward as the Democratic nominee in 2016 would be a grave mistake, one that would jeopardize not just the progressive gains of the Obama years but also usher in a nightmare scenario of New Deal rollback whose damage would take a generation to repair. Bernie Sanders is unelectable in the America that actually exists in 2016, and he would not just get trounced in a general election—the galaxy-sized negative gravitational pull of a socialist candidate at the top of the ticket could take enough Senate seats down to allow a GOP president to bring back what the Ammon Bundy crowd calls the Constitution in Exile, eviscerate the safety net, and hand the Supreme Court to the conservatives until most Sanders supporters are nearing middle age. Last month’s death of Antonin Scalia and the looming showdown over his replacement only underscores the need to present a general election candidate who has appeal beyond the Democratic Party base.

But there are two progressive cases for Hillary Clinton, and only one of them is about the electability of Bernie Sanders. The other is about Clinton herself—a much-maligned, misunderstood public figure whose twenty-five years in the public gaze, role in her husband’s presidency, and relationship to finance capitalism have transformed her into a symbol for everything the Democrats’ left wing loathes about its right. Without glossing over her weaknesses and past mistakes, is it possible to argue that Bernie Sanders is doomed in the general election while simultaneously supporting Hillary Clinton with enthusiasm and a clean conscience? I think it is. Here we go.

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