Back in early June, when Hillary Clinton garnered enough delegates in primaries to become the nominee for President of the Democratic Party, a friend (an African-American male, since identity politics is so much a part of all this) wrote on Facebook, “Hooray for the status quo!” A woman we both know responded, “I think I know what you mean, but nominating a white male is much more the status quo.”
This exchange summed up my own thoughts on the election, and I don’t know why it has taken me so long to add my two cents worth.
There are two things about Clinton that are indisputable: that she is a woman, and that she is not Donald Trump. For many voters, one or both of these facts are reason enough to cast a ballot for Clinton.
I think I understand the impulse behind a pro-Clinton reaction to both of those facts. The second point may only lead to an "anyone but Trump" vote, but the first item inspires many, including the woman who commented. More than anything else, what makes Hillary Clinton not just a candidate worth voting for but also an historic figure, is that she is a woman. Male political leaders are the de facto status quo; women leaders, by definition, are thus not the status quo.
This position relies entirely on identity politics. It does not matter what positions Hillary Clinton takes on the issues; if she becomes president, she will have broken a barrier that has lasted as long as the United States has been a country, and that is as far from the status quo as you can get.
We’ve been through this quite recently, of course. Barack Obama was equally a breaker of barriers, by virtue of his race. There is no denying the symbolic importance of the words “President Obama”, just as there will be no denying the symbolic importance if in November we end up with “President Hillary Clinton”.
So, to borrow a phrase, I think I know what the commenter meant regarding Clinton and the status quo.
But she suggests that she knows what the original comments meant, and I have no reason to doubt her on that. Which means the discussion comes down to a basic point: how do we define the “status quo”?
I would argue that in many/most areas, Hillary Clinton is fairly close to the policies of our current President. After all, she served him loyally as Secretary of State, and while I’m entering into the realm of gossip now, it would seem that Obama and Clinton forged an honest friendship in those years.
She is also fairly close to the policies of the last Democrat who was President before Obama, Bill Clinton. We are often told of how Hillary was more than just a First Lady, that she was an active participant in Bill’s government. Bill’s speech at the convention was designed, among other things, to remind us that he valued her contributions, and that her contributions were substantive.
I don’t think I’m too far out of line to claim that if Hillary Clinton wins in November, and later becomes a two-term president, we will have had, since 1993, 24 years with presidents in the White House who are mostly on the same page. We can point to that symbolic importance, we can be thankful that at last, 8 of those years will be under an African-American, and 8 will be under a woman. But the politics of Bill Clinton are not much different from the politics of Barack Obama which are not much different from the politics of Hillary Clinton.
That is the status quo.
I am not an expert on these things. I am sure we could make lists where the three Democrats differ on particular issues. But “New Democrats”, for all its haziness, is a reasonable label for all three.
You will not hear me say “Clinton is just a Republican”, or “there is no difference between the parties”. And you definitely won’t hear me say there is no difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
I have no idea how to rank Clinton, Obama, and Clinton as liberals. I do know that whoever you think is the least liberal of the three is still far to the left of Donald Trump, or George W. Bush. I don’t consider myself a liberal ... the “New Democrats” can’t count on me. But I don’t think supporters of Hillary Clinton are deluded right-wingers. Being to the right of me does not make you a Republican.
Yet I feel like all of this is irrelevant, and it goes back to that original Facebook exchange. For many people, the fact that Hillary Clinton is a woman trumps all else. Her presence represents a toppling of the status quo. If that’s good enough for you, be true to that, and support and vote for Hillary Clinton. But please, don’t pretend that the specific importance of Hillary as potentially the first woman president overwhelms all the other ways in which she, like Obama before her, is very much part of the status quo.
Yes, I’ve sometimes voted for the lesser evil; I voted for Obama in 2008 too. And other times I haven’t; I’ve also voted Green and Socialist.... If people want to tell me that Hillary would be a less horrid option than whatever profound ghastliness the Republicans throw up, I’ll listen to them respectfully. If they try to tell me there’s something inspiring or transformative about her, I’ll have to wonder what planet they’re on.
-- Doug Henwood
[I feel like I need to add two things here. One, if I vote for Hillary Clinton, it will not be the first time I have voted for a woman for President. Two, none of the above should be taken as an endorsement of Green Party candidate Jill Stein. If I’m going to “waste my vote”, I’ll waste it elsewhere.]