U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton reacts as Democratic vice presidential candidate Senator Tim Kaine speaks at a campaign rally in Miami, Florida, U.S. July 23, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
I’m a pro-choice liberal who voted for Sanders in the primary, so it should surprise no one that Tim Kaine, a Midwestern white man who voiced personal beliefs against abortion, was not my first pick for Hillary Clinton’s running mate. But maybe that puts me in a unique position to contribute some thoughts about why I’m voting for Clinton/Kaine, and doing so with enthusiasm, after voting for Sanders in the primary.
First off, here’s why I can get behind Kaine: if your personal belief stays your personal belief enough for you to get a 100% rating from Planned Parenthood in spite of the fact that your religious beliefs go against abortion, you’re okay with me. I was hoping for Warren or Booker as Clinton’s VP pick, but then I read up on Kaine. And let me tell you: the guy with the “A” from Planned Parenthood and the “F” from the NRA, who spent nearly two decades in fair housing law representing people discriminated against because of race and disability, has my support for VP.
There are a few basic reasons for this: I don’t believe the Democratic primaries were rigged or stolen. (Neither, it stands to note–especially in the wake of the DNC email brouhaha–does Bernie Sanders’ National Press Secretary.) I believe Hillary Clinton beat the guy I voted for in the primary this year, by millions of votes. A lot of those votes were from non-white and poor southern voters whom I am uninterested in labeling “uninformed”. I also don’t believe that a Clinton presidency is anything to fear like a Trump presidency is, because I believe the fact that Clinton voted 93 percent of the time with Sanders means exactly what it means.
In short, I think asserting equivalency between Trump and Clinton, when Clinton voted overwhelmingly like Sanders and Sanders got the entire democratic platform to move farther left than ever before, is a dangerous cocktail of privileged liberal pouting and condescension to a huge swath of poor and non-white democrats.
I’m not going to tell nearly four million voters that they “don’t know the truth about what’s good for them” because they voted Clinton and not Sanders. It’s possible they know exactly what’s good for them. Black women are the single highest-engagement voting block in America, and they didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton in huge numbers by accident. In other words, Clinton didn’t win the nomination because she cheated Sanders and rigged voting machines; she won because Sanders did not gain the trust of a key nonwhite voting bloc–or any nonwhite voting bloc, really, and the horrible news cycle making clear how different it is to live in America as a person of color than a white person gives me pause about the implications of the staggering extent to which Sanders primary voters were white.
Sanders had the trust of the white, liberal left, but he failed to win anyone else’s in significant numbers. And in 2016, the year of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, the deeper implications of the overwhelming whiteness making up Sanders’ voting base is cause for some serious reflection. If so few Democrats of color voted for Sanders, maybe there’s something that we white liberals who are so certain about how it should be Bernie up there as the nominee are missing. I think, this year especially, that it’s important to cast my vote where most black and Latino Democrats are casting theirs, instead of assuming what a lot of “Bernie or Bust” people do: that a) those nonwhite voters must not know what I know (which smacks of racist condescension); and b) that if they did, they’d vote the way I do about it (which smacks of moral rectitude).
As a white Sanders fan, perhaps it’s time for me to wake up and smell the coffee: that the great majority of poor non-white Democrats cast their vote for Clinton, and it wasn’t because of a rigged machine, a purged voters list, or any other conspiracy. It’s because Sanders did not win the trust of any voting bloc but the white, liberal left of the left, and that isn’t most Americans. (Propane Jane elucidates more in her extremely well-written tweetstorm.) Maybe Jon Favreau, Obama’s former speechwriter, had a point when he wrote that “a campaign which is largely about Main St. vs. Wall St. economics is too narrow and divisive for the story we need to tell right now.” (Favreau has gone from writing unsavory things about Clinton for Obama’s 2008 speeches to stating his unequivocal belief that it’s more important to elect Clinton in 2016 than it was to elect Obama in 2008.) It was not fear of Trump that switched my vote to Clinton, or even the undeniably large margin by which she beat Sanders; it was the inescapably racial element of the demographic breakdown in Democrats’ votes, and what that racial element implies.
Another reason I will vote for Clinton is that her connections to money in America do not surprise me. Her history accepting large donations, like Obama did, does not render her unfit in my book to put her nearly 50 years of the study and practice of politics to work in the Oval Office. As Michael Arnovitz put it, “Listen, does Wall Street have influence with Hillary? Grow up, of course they do. Wall Street is one of the key engines of the American economy…[Clinton] was a two-term Senator of New York, and this made Wall Street an important corporate member of her constituency.” Sanders did the indispensable and game-changing work of showing that it may indeed be possible, in my lifetime, to win the American presidency without huge campaign donations, but that does not mean that the majority of the American people were ready to elect a socialist. And when it comes down to it, that socialist and Hillary Clinton voted together 93 percent of the time, and this year that’s more than good enough reason for me to vote for Clinton.
Clinton has occasionally cast votes that disenfranchised already marginalized groups; I’m aware of that, but so is she, and so, probably, are her minority voters. My sense of Clinton’s career is one of nearly 40 years of unglamorous compromise, occasional mistakes, and slow, indefatigable, center-friendly progressive steps in the face of doggedly horrendous and often subliminally sexist public scrutiny. She is privileged and wealthy. She has been strategizing the way all politicians do for decades, and that, to me, is the business of politics in America and not a strike against her. If I want the business of politics in America to be different than that, I believe that calls for a different kind of work from me, as much as from her. She worked within the system as it is, and I do not fault her for it. If enough of us clamor for a change, I believe she will listen: I think flip-flopping is the sign of a sellout sometimes, sure, but also of a listener willing to evolve lot of the time. Example: one of the ways Kaine is not like Warren? He didn’t vote Republican for many years like Warren did. Talk about a flip-flop! Sometimes flip-flops are good. They mean progress. Warren voted Republican for years, and now she just gave a rousing speech at the DNC, all because she flip-flopped. I don’t think she’s a false or bad person for it, any more than I think Sanders or Clinton are false or bad people for the ugly things we’ve seen in their campaigns.
And there has been ugliness. Sanders’ staffers hacked into Clinton’s donor database late last year in a “massive ethical breach“. Last week, 200 out of 20,000 leaked DNC emails showed some short email chains throwing around ideas to paint Sanders in a negative light using his religion. But I do not begrudge either Sanders’ staffers or the DNC for these grave missteps as much as I believe that the political game is dirty, and that one person would never have been able to clean it. This is another reason I accepted Clinton’s win in primary season: I see political corruption as a systemic problem and not one specific to a certain candidate. That means I don’t think Obama is any more corrupt than any other major party politician, and I think his presidency was both flawed and worth being proud of. And like Obama’s, Clinton’s flips-flops and compromises do not faze me; I think changing one’s mind and changing course are what politicians do who are trying to listen and account for constituents who don’t agree with each other, yet also win the support that is sadly still needed to head one of America’s two main parties. (I certainly didn’t begrudge Obama for courting that support.)
I don’t have any friends who have changed course since making their choice when Sanders endorsed Clinton. They either heeded Sanders’s call for a unified party or they say “Never Hillary”. But I do have conservative friends who are voting Democrat for the first time in their lives. Kaine was a choice that appealed to many of the people who hadn’t already decided against Clinton no matter what, and from that perspective her choice was “boring” but sensible. “Frustrating” in that he is a male Democrat who is not Sanders, but sensible. A “throwback sellout” because he is a white Midwestern man famous in Washington for quietly progressive steps that don’t alienate people on the other side of the aisle, but sensible. A “missed opportunity” for short-term progressive optics in favor of a long-term practical choice: how very like her career.
What differentiates me from the “Never Hillary” folks is that to me that’s a compliment, not an insult. I believe being a liberal means understanding that most Americans (center plus right) disagree with me. Building a democracy means working with and listening to those people who disagree with me, not calling them stupid or uninformed (or throwing a tantrum about voting fraud because a lot of poor, nonwhite Democrats didn’t vote like I did). Clinton/Kaine is a major party ticket, not a Green one. There is therefore a lot to take issue with, but there would have been if Warren were Clinton’s VP pick, too: there’s a lot of work to do to build a nationally visible and viable third party. But my personal belief is that no lasting political change will occur through the refusal to listen and compromise. I see that refusal on the far right and the far left this year.
Even if Sanders had won, he would not have been able to dismantle systemic injustice and money in politics in a few years. Warren or Stein would not have been able to do so, either. No one person would have solved the issues with climate change or come up with a morally spotless policy about Syria. (And Sanders would probably not have swayed an entire Republican House and Senate on, ahem, gun laws.) The issues I have with corruption in the political structure as a whole are systemic ones, which means the work for change will take my lifetime. I’m here for it.
I know, love, and respect people who believe that work begins with a vote for Stein. Or a write-in vote for Sanders. I believe it begins with a vote for Clinton/Kaine. Good thing this is a democracy where we can all vote. Let’s protect that democracy from a racist, bigoted, sexist, bankrupt real estate developer, shall we? However we think that begins.