Editor’s Note: Tikkun does not endorse any presidential candidate.
I’ve been voting in presidential elections for 40 years, most of that time in cranky opposition. Rare is the time when there was a candidate I could actively support. Inevitably, I settled, casting my ballot in glum resignation for the marginally less objectionable candidate in the primary, then voting in the fall to try and throw somebody out, or keep somebody out, rather than put somebody in.
Democrats have controlled the White House for 28 of the past 64 years, only 16 of which also saw Democratic control of the House and the Senate. Even then, 12 of those years date back to the 1960s and 1970s, the waning era of conservative Southern dominance under the old seniority system. From a progressive standpoint, it seems quite remarkable in hindsight that we ever got anything done. That we nevertheless managed to do so is, of course, a tribute to both the tactical skill and unapologetic brute force of chief executives skilled in the ways of Washington. Bluff and bluster, threats and flattery, cajoling when possible, bullying when necessary. And always – always – bearing in mind that politics is the art of the possible.
In this highest of high-stakes games, there is no time and no room for naive sentimentality. I learned early on how well that worked out. I cut my teeth, after all, as an ardent teenage volunteer in the 1972 McGovern campaign. Fired up with youthful idealism, blind to political reality, we were absolutely convinced that the moral purity of our candidate, the undeniable righteousness of our cause, would somehow overcome the conservativism of the electorate, the skepticism of the press, the suspicions of organized labor, the power of money and the influence of interest groups.
McGovern’s defeat – an epic blowout in which he carried only the state of Massachusetts (losing even in his home state of South Dakota), and lost the electoral college vote 520-17 – was shattering, and heartbreaking. Had I been paying any real attention to the news, I would have been better emotionally prepared. But then, had I done so, I would most likely have given up and packed it in months before.
While some embittered veterans of that traumatic campaign understandably turned their back on conventional politics, I took away a different lesson: pragmatism is no sin, and compromise is nothing to be ashamed of. Losing nobly is still losing. Out of power, you’re out of the game, in no position to materially effect the changes you sought.
There are those content to jeer from the sidelines, secure in the knowledge they will never have to own a result, reveling in the luxury that comes from a complete lack of political accountability. But for anyone who truly cares about trying to solve the problems facing the country, this is as incomprehensible as it is irresponsible.
Today, despite clear progress in some policy areas – notably the economic recovery, health care expansion, protection of LGBT rights – we still face a host of challenges, from global climate change and an increasingly violent and unstable Middle East to increasing racial polarization, rising inequality and homelessness, and an unwelcome spike in crime rates at home.
As we did, in fact, back in 1972, when the Vietnam War was still raging, the Soviet Union was a major adversary, and the American economy was reeling under an unprecedented “stagflation” in which prices were rising as people were losing their jobs in a recession. Air and water quality were major concerns, coastal protections not yet in place, and endangered wildlife species not yet protected by federal legislation. In that pre-Roe v. Wade era, abortion was entirely illegal in 30 states, with only limited access in 20 others. Not to mention the gathering storm clouds of a constitutional crisis that would soon engulf the presidency. And I firmly believe the toxins released into the political bloodstream in that era continue to poison and debilitate our democratic system today.
This year, I support Hillary Clinton for president. Not as a default candidate, but as an affirmative choice with hope and enthusiasm, and without reservation. As a former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State, her command of foreign policy is plainly superior to the rest of the presidential field in both parties. As First Lady, she had a substantial role as a domestic policy advisor, and I believe she learned the right lessons from her visionary but unsuccessful effort in the early 1990s to expand health care coverage. We can wish she had come out earlier in support of full LGBT rights, but the same can be said of virtually the entire national leadership of both parties, and she is undeniably progressive in diversity and human-rights issues.
Personal toughness, stamina, and grace under pressure are not negligible considerations. She survived one of the most humiliating ordeals imaginable during the course of her husband’s widely publicized philandering and subsequent impeachment. She has taken more of a beating politically at the hands of political opponents and enemies for a longer sustained period than virtually any other modern political figure I can think of. Yet the fact remains that they have barely laid a glove on her; in interviews, debates, congressional testimony and public appearances, she is invariably poised, cheerful, responsive and articulate. I can’t think of a single instance where she ever lost control or suffered even a momentary meltdown.
In Hillary Clinton, we have a candidate of extensive experience and exceptional gifts. She’s not perfect, nor would anyone claim so, least of all Clinton herself. But we don’t have to fall in love with and idealize our candidates, nor should we. They are only mortal, and quite obviously vulnerable to the same foibles and weaknesses as the rest of us. Politics is, after all, nothing more than the same human interactions we all experience every day, but played out on a vastly greater stage with vastly greater stakes. Politicians are not gods, and we can’t expect them to be saints.
Who among us hasn’t indulged the fantasy of traveling back in time to offer the hard-earned wisdom of age to our impetuous youthful selves, hoping to rectify or avert a terrible mistake? But let’s turn that around: having made that mistake and experienced the dreadful consequences, what advice would that 17-year-old McGovern supporter I once was possibly want to share with me today?
I think he might caution me that revolutions, if they ever come, aren’t all they’re cracked up to be; that nobody’s got a monopoly on virtue; that adversaries deserve, if not deference, at least a measure of respect; and that political campaigns, particularly presidential ones, are no place for indulging ideological crusades. They are about responding to people’s needs with practical, workable solutions, and failure carries long-term consequences.
For all those reasons, this year, my choice of Hillary Clinton is clear. I gladly embrace it.
Joel Bellman recently retired from the County of Los Angeles after 26 years as press deputy for three Supervisors representing the Third District, which includes the Westside and the San Fernando Valley. Before entering politics, he was an award-winning radio documentarian and newspaper editorial writer and columnist. He has served since 1988 as a member of the Board of the Greater Los Angeles Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
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