Selling The Sizzle When The Steak Needs Work

While Kathleen Geier is writing about feminist issues, I think this is a good warning for the left as a whole (boldface mine):

If you searched for a single headline that distilled what has been so depressing about feminist commentary on the 2016 election, you could do worse than pick this one, from The Guardian’s Lindy West, a writer I usually admire: “Hating Trump isn’t enough—we need to talk about why Clinton rules.” On the one hand, there’s the fixation on Trump’s awfulness, which is hardly a secret. On the other, there is the relentless cheerleading for Clinton, which sounds suspiciously like the desperate overselling of an underwhelming product. The piece accompanying the headline shares the defects common to the feminist pro-Clinton op-ed genre. In one short article, there are two long paragraphs about the sexism Clinton has suffered, but no attempt to probe into the policies she is proposing, or to grapple honestly with her actual feminist record….

But though you’d never guess it from West’s piece and others like it, there’s a viable alternative both to outright opposition to Hillary and the happy talk of her feminist fans—one that is at once more intellectually honest and more politically constructive. Political theorist Nancy Fraser has dubbed it “critical support”: a vote for Clinton, combined with “vociferous criticism of her policies and explicit campaigning for Sanders-type alternatives.” Critical support, says Fraser, is “a strategy that looks beyond November to the ongoing struggle to build a new American left.”

…But now, as the campaign dwindles down to its final days, it is long past time for feminists to start thinking not only about the election, but also about what should happen afterward. If Hillary triumphs in November, how can feminists realize the potential of an historic opportunity to achieve social justice for women? More specifically, how can we pressure Clinton to make good on her feminist campaign promises, while at the same time fight for a bolder, more expansive vision for American feminism?

…But absent organized pressure, Hillary Clinton is unlikely to avail herself of this opportunity. Aside from its anti-Trumpism, Clinton’s general-election campaign lacked a strong theme, which will make it difficult for her to claim a mandate for any particular set of policies or political vision. As New Republic columnist David Dayen has noted, “Democrats are at their most inspiring when they run on actual policies.”

…Unfortunately, many of Clinton’s feminist supporters have made it easy for Democrats to take them for granted. In the 1960s and 1970s, feminist activists and intellectuals maintained a critical distance from the Democratic Party…

But in recent decades, the distance between mainstream feminism and the Democratic Party has almost totally evaporated. We saw the culmination of this process in the 2016 primaries, when every major women’s group and practically every mainstream feminist pundit supported Clinton over Bernie Sanders, many of them sounding more like campaign surrogates than independent journalists and activists. Feminist pundits have argued that Clinton, by virtue of her power as a positive role model, will uplift all women. But this trickle-down feminist perspective confuses the narrow personal interests of Hillary Clinton with the broader interests of women as a class. The result is that feminists have spent far more energy celebrating Clinton’s shattering of the “ultimate glass ceiling” and shielding her from criticisms (including fair ones, like those about her ties to Wall Street) than to sweating the details on her record and policies

Feminists can’t afford to be complacent, because there’s one thing we know for sure about Hillary Clinton: In the face of political failure, her deepest instincts are to move to the right. Hillary biographers such as Carl Bernstein report that after Bill Clinton’s failure to be re-elected governor in 1980 and the GOP takeover of the House in the 1994 midterms, she was a major advocate of politics of retreat and triangulation. And today, her triangulating tendencies are alive and kicking. Clinton has actively courted the endorsements of prominent Republicans who have made it clear that they expect to get something in return for their support. The recently leaked Wall Street speeches, which show Clinton praising the Social Security–cutting Bowles Simpson plan and openly admitting that elected officials “need both a public and a private [political] position,” raise serious questions about the depth of Clinton’s commitment to her progressive campaign promises.

It’s an excellent piece–worth the whole read.

November 9th is when the real battle begins. Just as was the case with healthcare policy, the real problem won’t be Republicans, it will be Democrats. Don’t give them any love until they earn it.

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