Thursday, March 17, 2016

Defensive Responses to Critiques of Hillary's "Misstatement" About Reagans and AIDS: What Do They Portend for Future of Democratic Politics?

I've been noticing an interesting (yes, that word again) thing lately in comments in my circles of Facebook friends. I'd like to think out loud about this interesting thing now, in dialogue with any of you who might care to respond to my meandering thoughts here.

What I notice is a stepped-up sharpness among supporters of Hillary Clinton when anyone — but especially Bernie Sanders supporters — dares to criticize Hillary Clinton. The reaction to Clinton's "misstatement" about Nancy Reagan's AIDS legacy brought this stepped-up sharpness to my attention.

It did so, in part, because I myself posted links to a slew of statements taking Clinton to task for woefully misrepresenting the Reagans' AIDS legacy, which was not, as she stated, an opening to wide public dialogue about AIDS, but the precise opposite: ugly, ominous silence (attended by laughter [video link]) that eventually had to be broken not from the top down, by political leaders like the Reagans, but from the bottom up, by courageous, loving activists and caregivers who refused to let the nation continue to turn its back on people living with HIV and AIDS. This is the story captured so inimitably by Larry Kramer's "Normal Heart" (and here), which, as a Facebook friend of mine has suggested, Clinton might do well to watch.

Now whether I'm pro-Clinton or anti-Clinton, it seems to me that, as a citizen, I have an obligation to vet her as a candidate for the highest office in the land. As a citizen who also happens to be gay, it seems to me I have an uncontestable right to make known my views about an issue that has so affected my own community — and to challenge falsehoods about something so important as the story of how U.S. political leaders dealt with the AIDS crisis.

And so I can't say I fully understand the vituperative way in which some Hillary Clinton supporters have responded to any criticism at all of what she said recently about Nancy Reagan and AIDS. The gist of some of the responses I've been seeing (and some of those directed to me personally) on Facebook is that all of us just need to suck it up and stop mouthing off about Hillary, or we'll be sorry: the danger of putting Trump or Cruz in the White House is too great to permit this kind of critical analysis among one wing of Democrats. And Hillary's wonderful and has done far more for LGBT folks than her critics are willing to say . . . .

This response strikes me as a political miscalculation. If this shut-up-and-shut-down response is being dished out to me when I've told Facebook friends that, though I support Bernie Sanders and would like to see him elected, I will vote for Hillary Clinton as the lesser of two evils (the other clear evil, to my way of thinking, being represented by a Cruz or Trump presidency), I can only imagine what these Clinton supporters are dishing out to diehard, intractable Sanders supporters — who may well sit the election out if Sanders is not the nominee and if this kind of hounding of critical voices within the Democratic party continues after Clinton becomes the nominee.

It's a political miscalculation to divide a party that is already rather bitterly divided into two wings clearly represented by two leading candidates for its presidential nomination in this election period. That division has been growing within the Democratic party, in part, due to dissatisfaction (understandable dissatisfaction, in my view) with some aspects of Barack Obama's presidency — though I have defended and will continue to defend President Obama from the filthy attacks of those who refuse to give him any credit at all for his considerable accomplishments as president. More and more Democrats, including a large proportion of younger voters, have had it up to here with the centrist games of Democrats we've elected in the expectation that they'll be about hope and change — and then we discover that they intend to govern from the center (or, in that ludicrous phase so beloved by lovers of the centrist posture, we discover that they wish to lead "from behind").

We discover that they take the status quo for granted, and that they intend to keep it largely intact, tinkering with it to make it somewhat more malleable to the needs and concerns of those on the margins of U.S. society. When, for many of us, the problem is the status quo itself: the needs and concerns of those on the margins of society simply cannot adequately be addressed within the context of the status quo.

So it's a political miscalculation, it seems to me, to drive the already existing divisions within the Democratic party even deeper by trying to shut down the growing number of Democrats who strongly want some other kind of political calculus than the social-justice-lite calculus offered by President Obama or by Hillary Clinton. If the wild perseverance of Donald Trump and his faction of voters has proven anything during this election cycle, it's how entrenched and determined one wing of American voters intends to remain, election after election, until it either wins and coerces the rest of us to accept its fascist dictates for our future, or it's decisively trounced by a growing progressive majority which informs it that it represents a minority path for the nation that most of us consider not viable.

If large numbers of diffident Democrats including disaffected younger voters sit the coming elections out, it's entirely possible that that entrenched and determined wing of angry right-wing voters will come out in numbers sufficient to elect either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz to the White House. It's possible, in fact, that some of those angry voters will include angry Democrats who are furious that the Democratic party has not offered them any viable option in offering them Candidate Clinton — and that they'll be egged on to vote for Trump by stolid Clinton supporters who do not understand the depths of their disaffection and the reasons for it. This eventuality — a Trump or Cruz victory — would make the decision of pro-Hillary Democrats to chew defensively away at Sanders supporters (should Sanders not win the nomination, and I don't expect him to do so) tragic.

For the entire world . . . .

But there's one more aspect of this story of political dysfunction that, in my view, also demands careful attention. This is the untenability, the lack of wisdom, of the strategy of shutting out critically important voices at a time when those voices are, in fact, so critically important — for the future of the Democratic party. For the future of the nation. For the future of the world.

How and when did the imaginations of some of us who vaunt ourselves on being "liberal" thinkers become so stunted, that we imagine the valid responses of LGBT citizens to a clear and malicious "misstatement" about the Reagans' AIDS legacy are beside the point as we vet a political candidate to occupy the highest office in the land? What do defensive Clinton supporters who have sought to shut down the conversation about her misguided praise of the Reagans imagine they are accomplishing in telling a whole wing of the Democratic party — its growing wing, by all measures — to shut up, sit, down, suck it up?

What future do we expect to have when we throttle our imaginations and trample down necessary conversations about our future? I'm asking, because I'm genuinely perplexed by this reaction to critiques — I'll repeat: necessary ones — of Hillary Clinton's statement about the AIDS legacy of the Reagans.

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