This Idea That Bernie is Somehow Making Hillary More Liberal. . .
You frequently see this concept floated in the dozens of monthly thinkpieces, oftentimes even plainly stated as if it’s somehow incontrovertible that Bernie’s campaign will “at least” result in Hillary having to adopt some of his platform for her general election run. Like he’ll rub off on her or something.
The problem is that it’s utter bullshit, and it betrays whichever you think is better: a) a smarmy, patronizing disingenousness, or b) a frightening and shameful naivete conerning the reality of 21st century politics. If you haven’t learned the pandering game by now, you were either born yesterday — I mean literally that you’re young and forgivably ignorant, born in the last twenty years or so — or you have been viewing political proceedings through a blindfold for the last few decades.
It’s a phenomenon that everyone old enough and aware enough has seen before: primary season is for the base, so the candidates go extreme to the ends of their respective spectra. (Incidentally, on the Republican side, years of this pandering to the most extreme elements has finally culminated in the ongoing disgrace that is Donald Drumpfism.) Then, once they have the nomination sewn up, they perform the notorious Pivot, where they essentially abandon their base — they shift their pandering from their base to the newly interested moderates, independents and undecideds.
There’s nothing controversial here. It’s widely acknowledged, accepted and excused. It’s even difficult to meaningfully argue that it should be any different. It’s just the way our political process works. Without spending too much time to check I would imagine it has worked this way for decades, even generations.
In this context then, everything Hillary is saying right now is more liberal by several degrees than what she will be saying in a few months. Depending on which Hillary you accept as “real,” it’s more liberal than what she actually believes. Her record definitely indicates that she is much more conservative than she has been sounding around Bernie. Regarding foreign policy, she is as hawkish as most Republicans. Regarding Wall Street. . . well, I think people who have been paying attention pretty much know what we’re getting with Hillary and financial regulation. Regarding criminal justice, the two biggest factors I can see are her support for her husband’s horrendous reform bill 20 years ago, and the fact that she received about $130,000 from the private prison lobby (which she has since returned, likely as part of her pandering efforts once it got exposed).
In fact, Hillary is actually only “progressive” in a few domains, at least in the sense that many progressives understand the word. One of these is health care, where she likes to trumpet her efforts in the 1990s to pursue Universal Health Care. She has backed off that goal considerably since then, which is almost certainly related to her accepting millions of dollars in donations from the pharmaceutical and insurance industries since her first Senate run in 2000. If you asked her about the correlation I’m sure she would deny it in mock outrage, just as she accused Bernie of “impugning (her) character” with relation to Wall Street donations. Impugning character, or stating a fact and then drawing a logical conclusion from that fact? You say tomato, I say to-mah-to.
With regards to health care these days, Hillary is only “progressive” in the sense that she doesn’t want to repeal Obamacare. In other words, she’s not a rabid industry shill like the batshit insane GOP, so she’s therefore liberal. That’s a false dichotomy folks. In actuality, the only areas that Hillary is truly progressive anymore are with respect to women’s rights, immigration, and gun control. Of course her position on immigration is “evolving,” to quote the fashionable parlance, as just a couple years ago she was advocating for the deportation of child refugees from Central America, and just this year refusing to state that she would not do it again. She’s still more progressive, however, than Republicans on the issue, and immigration along with women’s rights and gun control are admittedly significant areas. But they’re not more significant than income inequality and starting wars, and in most other fields Hillary is barely distinguishable from one of the few remaining moderate Republicans.
So let’s consider this idea again, that Bernie will somehow force Hillary to be more liberal. I’ve even seen arguments for him staying in the race until the convention just so the DNP will be forced to include Bernie’s items on their official platform. In anything other than the immediate, temporary sense, this is obviously mistaken. Hillary is wearing the progressive mantle like she’s a spokesperson at a photo op — she can’t wait to shrug out of it and relax at home in her center-right bathrobe. In fact, the pivot has already begun, with her speeches beginning to eschew progressive rhetoric in favor of attacks on Donald Drumpf’s divisiveness.
Regardless of how one feels about Hillary, the Pivot is something that happens with everyone, all but the most virulently ideological politician.* Even the outrageous Drumpf has shown signs of pivoting lately, occasionally tying on psuedo-civil rhetoric to see how it hugs in the crotch. Given this, everyone should know that Hillary, in the next few months, will become significantly more moderate. Even Hillary’s opponents recognize how capable a politician she is, and she’d be a very incompetent politician indeed if she weren’t planning to pivot, and soon. Exactly which of Bernie’s raging liberal policies do we expect her to take with her on this upcoming journey?
This would all be problematic enough if there weren’t also significant evidence that Hillary was never that progressive to begin with. From foreign policy to prison reform, Wall Street and trade (where she supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership before Bernie cajoled her into opposing it, and after which she will almost certainly support it again)**, it is abundantly clear to those who care for facts that Hillary has only been saying progressive things for the last several months in order to appeal to Bernie’s voters. When those voters are out of the way she won’t have to pander to them anymore, and she can go back to being her center-right self.***
The point is, Bernie is not pushing Hillary to say anything right now that any other liberal candidate would not have similarly achieved. And the amount of time he remains in the race will mean precisely nothing come summertime. Will some of the progressiveness that would have slid off her had he exited in March now somehow “stick” because he hung around another month or two? Will Hillary, a highly intelligent, 60-something person suddenly realize she hasn’t been progressive enough her entire life, and engage in a reflective re-assessment of her political views? Or will Hillary just go back to being the person she’s been for at least the last two decades and probably longer? Which is more likely?
The root of the issue is that many choose to see Hillary as a liberal-at-heart who has to frequently disguise herself as a centrist in order to Get Things Done. The truth, however, appears to be exactly the reverse: Hillary’s core is precisely how it has appeared through her actions for the vast majority of her political career; the leftist disguise is what she puts on every now and then, when she has to go trolling for progressive votes. Actions speak louder than words, folks.
I understand the urge to seek a silver lining in Bernie’s demise. Or perhaps it’s an urge for rationalization among Hillary’s more liberal supporters. But the bottom line is that both camps are fooling themselves. Hillary is and will be who she always has been: an ambitious, craven public servant who will say whatever the polls and her donors tell her to (but probably not in that order). In other words: a superb politician. And a superb politician don’t let no Bernie Sanders throw her off her game plan.