Progressives must rescue the Democrats from their strategic errors, such as choosing Tim Kaine as their vice-presidential nominee. Our movements will have more space to grow and better chances to enact reforms if we avert a Trumpian police state.
By Joe Wainio
Hillary Clinton’s choice of Virginia Senator Tim Kaine as her running mate is a slap in the face to progressives and a strategic error. It confirms Senator Bernie Sanders’ criticisms that Hillary represents Wall Street, and is reminiscent of past tone-deaf vice-presidential choices of the mainstream Democratic establishment such as Michael Dukakis’ selection of Lloyd Bentsen or Al Gore’s pick of Joe Lieberman.
While Clinton’s decision is certain to make her path to victory in November more difficult, it behooves progressives to work for her election anyway.
The Sanders campaign forced Clinton to change her position on issues like support for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), building the Keystone XL Pipeline, Social Security, health care and to more strongly emphasize economic inequality. The current Democratic Party platform was hammered out between, on the one side, Clinton appointees and representatives of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and on the other, Sanders’ representatives.
The resulting platform is very progressive in many areas, although the Sanders forces did not win on issues such as a ban on fracking, opposition to TPP (Clinton’s side said they could not openly oppose it since President Obama has not given up on the treaty), and supporting Palestinian rights.
With the selection of Kaine as her vice-presidential running mate, Clinton chose someone who has a reputation and record of being Wall Street friendly, in favor of “right-to-work” laws and was on record advocating for the TPP until the day after she chose him.
While reportedly a nice enough person, one who has stood up for some important issues such as gun control, fair housing and immigration reform, Kaine will not excite the Bernie wing of the party. Rather, it sparks anew progressives’ cynicism about whether Clinton would actually try to implement any of those platform planks should she be elected.
The DNC email scandal was not very surprising to many Bernie supporters, as it was obvious during the campaign that party leaders favored Hillary. Nevertheless it provided fresh reasons for some Bernie supporters to distrust her.
The choice of Kaine demonstrates that Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party leadership are taking people of color for granted, as well. Just as in the campaigns of 1988 and 2000, the vice presidential pick expresses the party leaders’ decision to prioritize the inclinations of white voters, and especially elusive white “swing” voters.
This is a strategic error. Progressive author and acute political observer Steve Phillips soundly debunked this thinking in his recent book, Brown is the New White. Phillips shows, with exhaustive research, that it makes much more sense for Democrats to focus their resources on organizing and representing the “new American majority,” which he defines as the coalition of people of color and progressive whites that supported President Obama. He calls for the party to dedicate substantial resources to register new voters in communities of color and organize them to sharply boost voter turnout.
A June Pew Research poll showed that among white voters, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump leads Clinton by a 51%-42% margin, while 91% of Black voters support her. Solid information about where Latino voters now stand in a Clinton–Trump race is harder to find, but a Fox News Latino poll in May gave Clinton the edge 63% – 23%.
Given this situation, and the fact that democratic socialist Sanders just ran an impressive campaign motivating many progressives and young people to participate in the system, it’s hard to fathom Clinton’s decision not to choose a person of color or a progressive such as Elizabeth Warren. It all seems to make sense, however, in light of what Phillips calls being “blinded by the white,” that is, considering white voters’ preferences to matter more than those of voters of color.
It is easy to see why some progressives, like Dr. Cornel West, have decided to campaign for the Green Party’s Jill Stein rather than support the “neo-liberal disaster” of Hillary Clinton. Choosing the Green Party, however, which won less than 0.4% of the vote in 2012, carries risks. The main risk, of course, is the frightening prospect of President Donald J. Trump.
Trump’s campaign clearly represents a break with previous Republican (and Democrat) dog whistle racism in favor of a return to the robust and open white supremacy of yesteryear. He has declared himself the “law and order” candidate and promised to end crime and violence, praising police while condemning and maligning members of Black Lives Matter.
Vincent Warren of the Center for Constitutional Rights characterized Trump’s recent convention acceptance speech this way on Democracy Now!: “a perfect intersection between structural racism and abuse of state power … the message to communities of color was to buckle up, because if Donald Trump becomes president, he’s coming for you.”
Former KKK leader David Duke recently praised Trump while noting the high degree of political unity he enjoys with him. In fact, Duke has been so inspired by Trump that he just announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in Louisiana.
Many different progressive political movements have been increasing in strength over the past several years: the fight for a $15 minimum wage; to make Black Lives Matter; to combat climate change; to reduce student debt; for immigration reform; to recover lost voting rights; to end the “war on drugs;” to curb the influence of big money in campaigns; to struggle against economic inequality; for LGBT rights; etc.
While we should not have any illusions about what Hillary represents, if she were president, these movements would have at least a marginally better chance at winning reforms than they would under Trump. Also, she is likely to nominate better judges to the Supreme Court, which would have a long-standing effect on our country.
The current presidential campaign provides an opportunity for progressive whites to show solidarity with people of color by openly opposing Trump and his blatantly racist appeals. Bernie is organizing a new group called Our Revolution that could be a vehicle for some of this activity. By consciously weaving this anti-racist strand into our work, it could help address one of the main weaknesses in his campaign – it’s overwhelming whiteness.
Sitting out this election because our preferred candidate was defeated would be short-sighted and self-defeating. There clearly is a difference between establishment Hillary Clinton – even with her many flaws – and neo-fascist shape shifter Donald Trump, who could transform our country into an ugly police state. While Chris Hedges might not see any difference between Hillary and Trump, the KKK does.
For those who say, “there’s no way Trump can win,” just consider the extremely unfavorable odds all observers gave him a year ago of winning the Republican nomination. He is a cunning and dexterous opportunist who has been able to convince a majority of white voters that he, and he alone, can “save” us.
Besides, the issue is only partly one of keeping Trump out of power. Perhaps even more important is soundly defeating the open racism of Trumpism which, if not crushed now, could surely lead to widespread violent hooliganism (we’ve already witnessed this at Trump rallies) and a repressive political climate.
Joe Wainio is a San Diego activist not affiliated with any political party. He voted for Bernie Sanders and donated $35 to his campaign.