Hillary Clinton’s Willingness to Forfeit Crucial Rhetorical Ground

I could list you a dozen or so bullet points on why the prospect of a Clinton presidency is deeply troubling in terms of predictable impacts. Trade policy. Regime change. Accountability questions. Military spending (the surplus of which has led to trickle-down militarization of police departments at bargain basement price points). Drone strikes. Financial policy. The very real likelihood that we’ll be looking at another 8 years of seething, irrational hate in opposition to our Commander in Chief.

That’s not this post, however.

I could list you plenty about a Sanders presidency, too, if this was a post about Sanders, but it’s not. Not really. I vote on June 7th. The second-to-last day of primary dates. I’ve begrudgingly accepted, over the last couple weeks and certainly the last 12 hours, that this race is effectively over. I could choose to believe in the last-chance, last-ditch efforts that Sanders and his campaign are posturing to affect, but too much of me just doesn’t want to. Too many Bills seasons, perhaps. For a candidate who needed to run a near-perfect campaign to achieve victory against an establishment candidate in a primary built to nominate the person most-preferred by the establishment, he hasn’t. Not even close. Jeff Weaver has been a disaster – not half as cunning as, say, Rahm Emmanuel, but just as smarmy (though hopefully half as criminal) – and the tone of virtually all of Bernie’s proxies and de facto proxy-supporters has been mean, demeaning, vile, uninformed, sexist, racist, intellectually dishonest, whatever you want to say about it is probably true enough in terms of impact. More frustrating still, when given the opportunity to speak Truth to Power – say, when asked recently to name one vote or action that Clinton has undertaken due to the influence of money she’s received from the financial sector – Sanders has floundered. I’m no politician, but I’m nevertheless getting the sense that I’m more of one than Bernie, and certainly more of one than the many people he has surrounded himself with.  That’s a truly sad realization

“It’s not about her votes, it’s about the appearance of impropriety, the appearance that Goldman and others, investment shops that precipitated the financial crisis and were never truly held to account, have a friend in the presumptive nominee. Regulators and State executives should choose their friends more wisely. The ability of the Federal Government to effectively run is at all times dependent on whether elected officials are perceived to be above board. Americans deserve a government they can trust and, speaking for many of my supporters who have expressed similar sentiments, the speaking fees and campaign contributions create a palpable feeling that Secretary Clinton is friendly with the financial sector and, when called upon, will err on the side of supporting those friends rather than holding them to account for their malfeasance.”

I’m not sure why that would have been so hard. Why that wasn’t in Bernie’s back pocket at the debate and at every appearance since always is a question we aren’t likely to get answered, if we were ever to ask. It illustrates a massive political gap, though; the space between Bernie’s idealism and the questions that his idealism begs.

Even so, this is all prefatory and highly tangential. This isn’t a post about Bernie.

This is a post about the presumptive Democratic nominee, as presumptive as ever, and what she’s been willing to declare forfeit in her quest for that nomination.

“I’m not just making speeches and not just promising free this and free that and free everything,” Clinton said. Sanders, a democratic socialist, supports nationalized health care and “free” tuition to public colleges and universities. Clinton has argued that Sanders’ proposals are unrealistic.

Chuck Ross, The Daily Caller, February 21, 2016

With that deft sleight of hand (or not so sleight seeing as HRC was called out for making the same argument about Sanders that she had admonished Jeb Bush for making against her), Clinton took a path towards her nomination that explicitly adopts the Big Lie™ that the Right has been telling us for the better part of the last century – that government spending on social welfare, utilitarian good-of-all programs are rightly criticized as promising “free” things to voters – and did so for the most cynical of reasons: because it was by-and-large the most straightforward way to knock Sanders’ feet out from under him. Ostensibly, it worked.

I give Clinton more credit as a Democrat than to believe that her political philosophy is inexorably tied to the belief that social welfare programs amount to government giving people free stuff. Maybe that’s more credit than she deserves, but my present gripe doesn’t depend on defining her as a true anti-progressive villain, so I won’t. All the same, when she pokes fun at Sanders for living in fantasy land and promising free college and “free everything,” she sets herself apart from a fundamental tenet of modern progressivism, here clumsily laid out: that after all of the military spending and bank bailouts and tax loopholes and crumbling infrastructure and America’s rank in global education and the often debilitating cost of health care, there’s a BIG place at the bargaining table for social welfare spending. A BIG. FUCKING. PLACE. We’ve already paid into federal tax revenue. We’ve already sacrificed. We’ve watched as wages gaps and income disparity increase, as criminal conduct in corporate America gets a slap on the wrist and petty drug use gets protracted sentences. We’ve watched kids shot in the streets by Officers of the State and prosecutors leave their A-game at home to the benefit of their colleagues-in-blue. We’ve watched college costs skyrocket, I mean HOLY SHIT, and we’ve watched families post gofundme pages and friends create charity t-shirt ventures to cover the costs of healthcare. We’ve already identified the problems, we’re already paying in the money, and progressives want to ties those two thing together – to make the government work a little bit harder for us who need it rather than for us who already have it. Sure, people hate taxes, but people hate watching those tax dollars flushed down a military industrial complex black hole far more, I’d wager, and progressivism simply seeks to reset the spending towards citizen welfare and stability. Just a little bit.

Bernie was never talking about “free everything;” he was making the argument for progressive ideals, for reasoned investment in American welfare. No different than the social welfare conversations about national defense or the protection of corporate well-being. Clinton’s choice to take up the mantle of denigrating social welfare to the point where everything looks like a standard-less bread line, where we make no more discernment in doling out the federal fisc than a Medieval British Lord would as he gives alms to the poor, does a disservice to progressive ideals, to say nothing of progressive idealism.

Taxes are not theft. Social welfare pending is not “free everything.” They are contracts. Our fiscal decisions represent the promises we choose to make to each other, and the investment in our shared nation-state. When we talk of social welfare, the investment we make in each other, in those less fortunate, is about far more than simply throwing money at a problem so we feel better. Structured, reasoned social welfare programs accomplish myriad aims, not the least of which is fighting for an America where the ability of every citizen to make their lives better is mutually affirming to all of our lives and all of our success. Where the economy benefits from a consumer base made up of all Americans, rather than simply everyone minus those who society has left behind.

We know this, of course, because we don’t speak of programs like social security as “free stuff.” We made the choice to fund that social welfare program because it was important to us to ensure that late-in-life finances were assisted by the public fisc and we knew it would have broad social benefits for those citizens still working, as the economy benefits from ongoing income and spending among those who have retired, not to mention the assurance it gives to workers that they will be able to retire, at some point, without relying completely on the success and reliability of private investments.

Neither Social Security nor Medicare nor Family Medical Leave nor Workers Compensation nor Unemployment Benefits present an altogether complicated cost-benefit analysis, and maybe these have all become so ingrained in how we talk about American public policy that we forget that they can act as useful analogues for the decisions we presently face. At worst, they provide illustrative examples of why, when Hillary Clinton bemoans her opponent’s call for “free everything,” she’s giving up ground in the argument about why and how we decide to wield the power of government for the common good.

Make no mistake: the idea that social welfare spending is mere frivolity without any benefit beyond the direct beneficiary is a key component of Conservative thinking, and when progressives like me take issue with Clinton’s neoliberal tendencies, we aren’t just calling out her policy decisions (they’re getting better, I suppose?). We’re taking aim at her willingness, as she has done this campaign, to adopt the frame proposed by the Right and use it for her own purposes.

Taxes are not theft. Social welfare spending is not “free everything.” They are contracts. Say it with me.

Thing is, I doubt Clinton would disagree. All the same, her rhetorical choice to equate Bernie’s proposed social welfare spending as “free stuff” really puts a wrench in her ability to stake out any room for the Party to argue for all the social welfare components of Clinton’s platform. She will start her General Election campaign with yet another obstacle to consider, this time from the left, and she’ll face a Republican opponent who can simply point to her “free stuff” comment any time she advocates for federal spending on programs with any social welfare benefit.

Sadly, this is nothing new – that is, the tendency of the Democratic Party to rhetorically tack towards the Right for political wins; to forfeit significant ground in order to win, regardless of the policy cost; to campaign and govern from a place of persistent fear of loss. Yet in a primary where one of the candidates unabashedly made social welfare a priority, and made the historical we’ve-already-paid-into-this arguments and the present cost-benefit arguments over and over, it’s such a fucking disappointment.

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It matters, right? – A #CarCast Excursion

What can we reasonably expect from elected officials and Presidents when their efforts appear in context of ongoing institutional failings, at all levels, persisting with the tacit consent of We, the People? I get into it in this first excursion into audio and visual internet takery.

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On sincerely-held religious belief in the American right to discriminate. 

A writer friend of mine this week reached out for some of my perspective on recent laws passed across these United States that, in effect, codify the right to discriminate into certain State’s laws. The conversation has, bizarrely, been framed as a matter of religious liberty, and the government interest being sought framed as the protection of our personal right to hold religious beliefs. The Religious Right, in a coordinated legislative effort, has purportedly sought to further codify the spirit of the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment, but like most public policy efforts undertaken in a malaise of fear, spite, and ego, we’ve arrived several bridges too far. These States, through their effort to respect certain religious freedom, have declared forfeit a variety constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms long relied on by the macro version of the American Dream. It’s all pretty gross. 

Perhaps most frustratingly, from a religious perspective, these laws are chasing ghosts rather than true policy aims. Online and elsewhere, I’ve discussed the political propriety and legality of this brand of State action, but the religious argument against it is just as compelling. 

So when Raina posted a general query to all of her Facebook friends and then to me specifically, seeking my perspective as a Christian who opposes permissible discrimination against LGBT Americans, she centered my thinking on an aspect of this debate that I’ve not given all that much thought. Raina’s final product was published yesterday and I was honored to have my perspective as a person of (some) faith included in such a comprehensive discussion of why these discrimination-sanctioning laws are bunk. In the interest of posterity and whatnot, I wanted to republish some of the broader thoughts I shared with Raina that were always too long to make it into her piece. 

[regarding whether my personal religious beliefs are protected by these laws]: My personal life is guided by my beliefs. The social contract we live under in America is not, however; the Constitution is a better document for shared ideals of society and government, since it was (and is) intended to bring disparate peoples and beliefs under one American umbrella.

[regarding my religious identity and how my sincerely held beliefs are represented by these laws]: (a) I identify as an Episcopalian, generally from the liberal perspective of that denomination. I was was born into the Church and attend regularly still.  

For me, that identity means, most importantly, a relationship with God focused on Justice and Love through Communion. Belief that God exists, that Jesus was his son, are not particularly central to my faith except to the extent those ideas reveal the human spirit that binds us all. For me, God’s grace reveals itself in others and when I talk about Justice, it’s primarily about finding ways to honor that spirit and grace in others. 

I think the laws are primarily aimed at serving people who purport to be Christian but who have not fully come to an understanding of that shared spirit we have, and who generally fail to engage in any sort of rational undertaking to learn how rigid dogma can be destructive. Insofar as my belief is based on love for others, compassion for others and, importantly, recognition that humanity is diverse and no one person’s humanity is inherently wrong or a mistake, it’s antithetical to my faith. 

Moreover, it’s antithetical to the idea that these Christians want to be witness to – that God loves all his creation and that we were all created by his omnipotent will. The idea that God is all-powerful is not consistent with the reality of diverse sexuality and gender identities. If anything, I tend to believe that God created diversity in humanity as a challenge to us as we seek to live more fully in love; it’s easy to be compassionate when everyone is the same as you, and challenging when they are different. As a Christian, I can’t help but see the laws enacted in Mississippi, North Carolina and elsewhere as a failure of Christian principles.

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The end of times.

It was really supposed to be easier than this.

The argument, the humanity, the human instinct to feel for another; to look into another’s eyes and see spirit or God or connection; to know that the past was an untenable set of circumstances with untenable results; to know that our home was always meant to be a land of promises to ourselves and each other.

We were supposed to be able to do this better, more fully, more consistently, more lovingly.

It was really supposed to be easier than this.

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” – Albert Einstein

Men, unarmed and unfailingly other, are being shot in the streets to serve some vague end in our name; killers cloaked in the authority of our communal power, unhinged from the reality of humanity’s reach, distant from the impact of their triggers.

Women and children, seeking only answers in the face of would-be public servants yelling from the mountaintop, announcing the inevitable destruction of our nation’s promise; women and children pressed beneath the boot of men all too eager to usher in a return to what was and never shall be again; women and children, despised for their skin, despised for their insistence on simply being, despised for reasons I thought we put to bed.

It was really supposed to be easier than this.

“It is the job of thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners.” – Albert Camus

Women, seeking only to give voice to the fear they encounter in themselves every day, are being shouted down every time they choose to speak, blamed for not caring about men, not caring about how men feel fear, too, how #NotAllMen pose threats; women, silenced by voices protected by power; women, badgered and intimidated by men by no means ready for a world where their choices might be questioned, might be punished, might be held accountable; women, forced to withdraw.

When America decided for itself that it would try to encounter the task of liberty, it chose for itself a path largely uncharted, full of promises that it barely recognized at the time of its birth. It chose freedom and it chose words to express that freedom in boundless ways. It chose the beauty that freedom and liberty would cast over between its borders. From the moment the enormity of those promises were enshrined into our being, America’s promise – its better angels – have been at war with the historical instincts of those who created it; a war between those who wrote the words and want them to mean something entirely different, and those who read those words and see them as the contract they most surely are.

Men gunned down in the street by officers of the law. Innocent people thrown out of rallies, pushed, kicked, beaten, for no harm other than being a person of color. Women and gays and lesbians and trans individuals being ridiculed and chastised for having the gall to demand some modicum of safety. Military force bandied about with a callousness of spirit we can certainly not support. Vets left to weep and freeze. Children left to starve. Corporations left to profit. Liberty thrown to the wolves for some while others laugh and scorn and criticize from their ivory tower of institutional, fundamentally anti-American privilege.

So you want to make America great again? You want to make America whole again?

Fuck that. I want to make America America again. Maybe for the first time.

I want the words enshrined in our soul to mean what they say and to affirm the truth that it was really supposed to be easier than this.

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The Democratic Party has a duty to act on Rahm

Seemingly impossible to imagine, Rahm Emmanuel is at it again. 

This is all so disheartening as a human, as an American, and yes, as a Democrat.

Rahm Emmanuel is running yet another massive cover up of police murder. This one even longer than the one that kept Laquan McDonald’s murderer at large, working for the CPD, for over a year. Rahm is continuing to have City attorneys, all of whom ultimately report to him, argue against the public release of more videos that, according to a retired Chicago Police Captain who was running the review board that initially reviewed the incident, show Chicago Police murdering a young citizen of color. This time, it sounds like he didn’t even have a knife.

Hillary Clinton needs to come out on this. Bernie Sanders needs to (more forefully and more directly) come out on this. President Obama needs to come out on this.

Maybe the DOJ is hoping the CPD turns state’s evidence and they can get Rahm as the big fish, I don’t know. But saying he’s not the focus of the investigation, allowing this guy to remain in power despite the knowledge that he is continuing to protect cops that kill with no justification? What message is that sending to the CPD beat cop that pulls over a 17 year old black kid tonight?

Emmanuel is one of our own. He guided a fantastic man into the Oval Office and followed it up with executive actions in Chicago that are cynically political and abusive of his power, at best, and deliberately malicious and intentionally criminal at worst. He’s helping murderous Chicago cops continue to cut checks from the public fisc. He’s helping a culture of law enforcement abuse continue undeterred and unchecked. He’s doing it all not for any official function or legal reason, but because he doesn’t want to take the political heat. He didn’t want it before the recent election, and he doesn’t want it now.

He did it with Laquan McDonald and now he’s doing it again, letting Cedrick Chatman’s killer continue to walk free while Cedrick Chatman is dead. Likely letting his killer continue to remain on the public payroll. Preventing the light of public scrutiny to force the hand of justice towards the only end that elected officials should seek.

As much as they hate Rahm, the GOP will not come out on this. It’s on us, and it’s on the politicians that we have counted on to carry the banner of #BlackLivesMatter in response to a continuing tide of law enforcement indifference to the value of black lives. Now that it’s one of our guys, we need to make sure communities of color don’t question our commitment as a political wedge to use to our advantage, rather than a true calling for current and aspiring public servants who recognize the dangers of being Black in America, living under the system of officially-sanctioned injustice we have wrought.

It has to happen, and soon. Even though it’s one of our guys. Especially because it’s one of our guys.

Rahm needs to resign. He needs to be indicted. And it needs to have happened yesterday. All I want for Christmas is to see his perp walk on national television, the snake.

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Pausing for a riddle

a retribution revolution,
confusion fusing,
surging, further loosening up
my grip not what it was.
lines etched in reverse,
places of peace now terse,
cursed with plagues and failure,
human nature neglected, nurtured
hate skilled at deconstructing,
our feigned efforts supportive of
darkness shifting, stalking, plucking
any sense of calm from where it sits.
the ubiquity of despair fits
far too well.

fear we sell –
fear insistent, fear persistent,
america as object lesson
community of stress in numbers.
the riddle merits pause –
nation declaring itself to be built on laws,
no laws built for our own sake.
no safety,
no freedom to stake
our lives upon,
our voice to song,
anthems of hope long past,
hymns of praise to cast
over those dark corners of hate,
our shared fear we’re too late
to do much of anything, to brace ourselves and clutch.
reassign our grip.
reassure our grip.

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Giving Thanks in America, 2015

We’re having ham tomorrow. Turkey on Friday. My sister, the doctor, won’t eat either, and that’s ok. The kids may eat nothing at all, and that’s ok, too. Family will feel right, will feel like home, will do me the solid of permitting me to avert my gaze from the otherwise captivating horror that is the state of things.

Beyond the grace that has settled over my immediate perimeter – enough to throw down a mighty gauntlet of humblebrag as I give thanks this week, if I were to so choose – it’s difficult to frame Thanksgiving in a way all that different than a funeral. I may have much by which to feel personally blessed, but if I open my eyes and look out, much more by which to feel utterly bereaved.

Today I give thanks for the opportunity to live in a nation that purports to be free, but I grieve its failures and the failures of its members to seek freedom for all.

Today I give thanks for the opportunity to live in a nation that purports to be safe, but I grieve its failures and the failures of its members to value the safety of all, always.

Today I give thanks for the opportunity to live in a nation that purports to be great, but grieve its failures and the failures of its members to seek greatness of thought, greatness of love, and greatness of achievement beyond the ringing delusion of superiority.

If there’s a God in all of this, in our midst and in our hearts, taking account of what we say and do and feel and hope for ourselves and for others, I often have a hard time considering the depth of God’s own grief. Sometimes I simply hope that God is not, so that there need not be any guilt at our failures that, for God, would be nothing if not uniquely personal.

America may have always carried more value as an ideal, than as an actual place. After all, the things we used to lay claim to as our strengths are barely discernible as qualities, let alone qualities at which we excel. So what is this place we call home if it has stopped being a place where bravery outlasts fear? Where freedom outlasts security? Where compassion outlasts selfishness? Where our collective commitment to the ideal – not because we chose it, but because it our fucking birthright – outlasts our commitment to ourselves? Where those that would seek our votes for the varied offices in our government, for us and by us, do so with due deference to civility, to democracy, to reason?

The heartbreaking conclusion I often come to is that our America, right now, is shell of its former self, or at least what it sought through the very fabric of its institutions. It is a reality to mourn with every Muslim called a terrorist and made to fear for her own life, every person of color beaten and kicked for daring to open his voice, every unarmed protestor sprayed with bullets or tear gas through the guns of citizens and the State, every woman struggling to make ends meet for her children while being told she’s a Welfare Queen, every corporate CEO that exploits another loophole to line his pockets and the pockets of his investors, every kid that goes to bed hungry far too often and once is too much come the fuck on, every family debilitated by medical issues, every person of color kept from the voting booth through sophisticated and unsophisticated methods of suppression, every child taught that they have a ceiling and that they must accept it or perish, every man, woman or child put behind bars as we breathlessly seek vengeance for crimes real and perceived, every education budget shouted down, every creative idea threatened out of existence, every face that looks out on what we have wrought and wonders how is this possible? How is this what it is?

We have much to mourn, whether we stand or sit or kneel or sleep through dreams ravaged by a simply unbelievable reality, and mourn we must. There is a difference between the humanity we have been given as stewards of ourselves and each other, and the inhumanity with which so many are callously treated under the boot of indifference, oppression and worse. There is a difference between the way things are and the way things ought to be.

Today I give thanks for being able to tell the difference.

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