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Voices / Column

The stakes are too high for progressive political posturing

Hillary Clinton carries so much baggage, but a desperately important election is not the time to take risks

Elayne Clift (elayne-clift.com) writes about women, politics, and social issues.

Saxtons River

Last year, when author Marianne Williamson posted an open letter to Hillary Clinton, many left-leaning Democrats nodded in agreement.

“I want a woman president,” Williamson wrote, and “you’d know what to do from Day 1.” But, she said, “none of that is enough to get the vote of a lot of people.”

“Stop cozying up to the banks, the chemical companies, the military-industrial complex, the party machine, and all the various financiers who make up the plutocracy now ruining this country,” she continued. “If we have a sense that you’d be just another puppet of the elite, then I don’t believe you will win.”

Williamson’s message resonated.

I’d chosen Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton when he won his first term, much to the consternation of my feminist friends. But in addition to being against political dynasties, right or left, there was too much about Hillary that worried me, including her relationship to corporations, Wall Street, and an inbred group of “experts” who would likely become her advisors.

I was reminded of that time of testy political discourse during a recent online conversation with a group of women I hold in high regard.

One woman wrote, “We’ll never get out of the two-party system, and we’ll never get out of big-money politics unless we can demonstrate that we will no longer play their game. I get frustrated hearing that I ‘have’ to vote for the Dems or else the Reps will win. It just continues to support the current paradigm. We have to reframe the game.”

Another woman added, “Not even entertaining the idea of another party, or independent, is why we are in this mess. If we don’t change how we do things, we are doomed to the same result.

“Change is needed: Truth to power!”

* * *

I appreciate the point these women are making. But, as I responded, “I just shudder to think of having one of the Republican Neanderthals as president. I would like to see Hillary get elected [if she is the Democratic nominee, now that Bernie Sanders is running] and then hold her accountable in the choices she makes as president.

“In light of current realities, that’s the time to hold her feet to the fire, in addition to asking tough questions when she is campaigning, but we just can’t lose this one!”

After more comments ensued, I added, “I really get scared when progressives (like me) divide the vote because of what I will call ‘political posturing’ at crucial times, thus handing the result to Republicans. That’s how we got a Republican governor in Vermont, and it’s how we got a disastrous Republican president when Gore lost.

“It’s so important to be realistic about the political world,” I continued. “Yes, we need to change the system, and I hope we can somehow, but the fact is that we are a two-party system (controlled by big money).

“In light of that reality, we must be smart about how and when we work for change. A desperately important election is not the time to take risks because we always lose ‘the game’!

“Please, let’s be careful. In my view, neither Bernie Sanders nor Elizabeth Warren has a chance of winning, and we need to keep the White House!”

* * *

To those arguments, I would add that we are living in a time when dangerous demagogues are rattling sabers, revealing incipient racism and other prejudices, and exerting a newly malicious misogyny.

The actions of some Republican governors and members of Congress during recent weeks and over the course of the Obama administration shine a terrifying light on what would likely become law in the United States should a Republican win the next election.

And it’s not just about the legislative branch of government. We would be choosing the administration that, in turn, chooses federal judges and Supreme Court justices. We would be voting on the future of the planet. We would be deciding not if but when to go to war, and where.

And that’s just for starters.

That’s why I am pleading with my progressive friends to be realistic and to get behind Hillary Clinton, assuming she does emerge as the Democratic candidate.

* * *

This is not a time for political polemics. Neither is it a time to be divided among ourselves or to engage in brinksmanship.

Rather, it is a time to be forward thinking, street-smart, united, and decisive. That might be an argument for the lesser of two evils, but we don’t have a lot of choice right now.

The time to take on Hillary Clinton and her party will come, and it should. I just hope we don’t end up shooting ourselves in the foot yet again before then.

Like Marianne Williamson, I’d love to clamor for Hillary, to work for her, to cheer her on, and to see her “name the real problems so we can trust [she’d] provide some real solutions.” But I, too, have reservations.

I just have a lot more of them when I envision any of the Republicans on the horizon moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

The very thought of it chills me to the bone.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #304 (Wednesday, May 6, 2015). This story appeared on page E2.

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