Resist the Return to Normalcy

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Democratic Party

As much fun as it is to ridicule Republicans, I want to take a look at the Democrats today.  Daniel O’Hehir wrote something several days ago, during the Dem convention, that I want to quote —

This year’s DNC, culminating in the triumphant coronation of Hillary Clinton on Thursday night and her highly effective acceptance speech, hecklers and all, was a great victory for normal people. Whether or not that’s a good thing, in a country where the normal has become pathological and the pathological normal, is open for debate.

Normal people were all around me on the walk back to the subway station: Polite, practical-minded people with college degrees and good jobs; people who were well-dressed but not ostentatiously dressed. Most but not all were homeowners, most but not all were moms and dads. Most lived in large-ish cities or middle-sized cities or the kinds of inner suburban towns that have actual bookstores and actual coffee shops. Of course I’m guessing about those demographics, but I’m right. They were “diverse,” in the usual Democratic Party check-the-boxes way, in that quite a few were not white and quite a few were not straight and the ratio of female to male was about even. But there was a certain conformity in effect nonetheless — a conformity of spirit, or of vibe — and if you claim not to know what I’m talking about you’re kidding yourself. They were normal. They were pleasant. They were Democrats.

I suppose there’s nothing wrong with normal, but there’s also clinging to a fiction of normal when reality is not normal. A lot of Democrats are not seeing beyond the November election. To them, as long as Hillary wins, everything will be right as rain. The sun will shine; the bells will ring. For me, trying to relate to “normal” Democrats these days makes me feel like Wednesday Addams.

The two major factions more or less interacting within what we might loosely call Democratic Party politics are partisan party believers (the Girl Scouts) and progressives/lefties who no longer trust the party but who, because Trump, mostly will vote for Hillary Clinton anyway (Wednesday and Pugsley). For the former, nothing matters except electing Hillary Clinton. What we’re going through now is just normal politics.  For the latter, nothing is normal, and the Revolution is just beginning.

Not a factor: Former Bernie supporters who are running off to join the Greens.  Jill Stein is polling at 2 percent today. They’re big on social media but not having an impact on real world politics, apparently.

Conor Lynch wrote that the infighting between Clinton and Sanders supporters will shape the future of the Democratic Party:

In a nutshell, the former are predominately Democratic partisans who subscribe to a binary way of thinking about politics (e.g., Republican vs. Democrat, conservative vs. liberal), while the latter tend to be progressives who champion principles over party and reject partisan narratives. At the convention, the former rolled their eyes and shook their heads in disgust whenever the latter booed or chanted (nothing irks Democratic partisans quite like rudeness), and were attending for their candidate and their party. The latter, who showed up with pro-Palestinian rights and anti-TPP signs, attended the convention for their candidate, but more importantly, for their movement.

Conor Lynch cited this article by Ben Bruce Shapiro:

Elected officials, even the best and most principled, operate within the parameters of possibility that they discern in their constituency. In that sense, elected officials—and American presidents most of all—are the end of the political digestive system. Electoral politics is usually the last place change gets felt. Even a sympathetic, justice-minded president is only likely to speed reform when backed by a powerful grassroots campaign, as Lyndon Johnson did with the Civil Rights Act and Barack Obama did with marriage equality. …

… Movement politics, on the other hand, is about reshaping and redefining those parameters. Moving the goalposts. It’s not only cynicism that has moved Hillary Rodham Clinton to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and embrace a vice-presidential candidate who is far to the left of the Bill Clinton legacy on most issues. It’s her awareness—too slow to dawn, perhaps, but awareness nonetheless—that after a generation of free-trade bills and Wall Street deregulation and prison expansion, the terms of debate have changed. Thank you, Bernie.

When Bernie Sanders says the revolution continues, this is what he means. His campaign—movement politics in the guise of a primary run—has changed the terms of debate, and done so with more success than many of us who voted for him expected. Look—the previous high-water mark for a socialist in American politics was Eugene V. Debs, winning 1 million votes from jail during World War I. Sanders has won 12 million. That is historic. And the argument Sanders pushed—both within the Democratic Party and beyond it—does not end tonight or on Election Day.

Whether Clinton won’t flipflop back to supporting TPP remains to be seen, and whether Tim Kaine really is to the Left of the Clinton legacy is arguable, but let’s go on …

Those dropping out of the Sanders movement in favor of the Green Party are right about one thing — the two-party system is not serving us well. Neither party is in touch with the real needs of most U.S. citizens any more.  I don’t personally call the primaries “rigged,” but there’s no question Dem Party insiders managed the primaries to favor Clinton’s nomination.

Going back to O’Hehir:

… the Democrats have doubled down on normal. They have defeated or absorbed the defiantly non-normal left-wing opposition, at least for the moment, and driven the renegades out of the tent. Now they are ready to stand together, in nice pants, and save whatever can be saved of the American republic. They have built the last fortress of what Jeb Bush plaintively described last winter as “regular-order democracy,” a Minas Tirith of whole-grain wholesomeness, standing alone against the Dark Lord.

If Hillary Clinton herself has spent too long in the enclaves of power and privilege to qualify as fully normal, she remains normal-ish, a convincing simulacrum of the normal person she used to be. Clinton is not an orator in the Barack Obama class or a master showman like Donald Trump, but her speech on Thursday was well-crafted and well-modulated. She used the gendered perception that she is shrill or harsh or unlikable to her advantage, presenting herself as the unflappable adult administrator — the high school principal, writ large — prepared to make tough decisions while other people yell and lose their minds.

I’m not looking forward to the Clinton Administration. But the high school principal analogy makes me think of Ben Shapiro’s line about elected officials being at the end of the political digestive system. High school principals and elected officials are creatures of The System. They may be good at their jobs, or bad; they may hold positions you like, or not. But they tend to be too close to the system to see how it might be failing, and that’s especially true of those who’ve been in it for a long time.

And Clinton supporters and “normal” Democrats on the whole don’t seem able to see the systemic problems, either, or that the peasants are revolting. Recently Ron Brownstein wrote in the Atlantic that Clinton is having a problem winning Millennials.

… even though roughly three-fourths of all battleground-state Millennials expressed these disparaging views of Trump, the survey found Clinton drawing just 43 percent against him in a four-way race that included libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein. While Trump attracted only 24 percent, nearly as many picked Johnson or Stein, and the rest said they were either undecided or wouldn’t vote. By comparison, Obama carried two-thirds of Millennials in 2008 and three-fifths in 2012.

I ran this by some “normal” Democrats of my aquaintance, and it was pooh-poohed. Clinton doesn’t have a problem with Millennials! More of them will be voting for her than for Trump! That’s all they see. And Ross Perot attracted a lot of younger voters in 1992, and Bill Clinton won anyway! Hoorah for us!

You might remember that “Return to Normalcy” was Warren G. Harding’s election slogan in 1920.  Normalcy was fun for some people, for awhile, but didn’t last. What is “normalcy,” anyway?

I still expect Clinton to be elected in November. It’s not going to be a normal four years, if I have anything to say about it.

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17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. c u n d gulag  •  Aug 8, 2016 @7:26 pm

    Yeah, both candidates suck!

    But I’ll take the “old prune,” over that “festerig yapping yam!””

    And at least for me, that’s an easy choice!

    And any one cell in Hillary’s body, knows more than that that .festering jumbo human tangelo knows.

    My life sucks!
    But I’ll always vote for less suckitude!!!!!

  2. Bill Bush  •  Aug 8, 2016 @11:14 pm

    I keep seeng former students who were for Bernie who cannot grasp that the quadrennial unicorn is not a workable plan. They are too butthurt to get into making the Democrats responsive, which they could do. Oh, well.

  3. freetofu  •  Aug 9, 2016 @12:10 am

    God, I hated that movie. “My name is Fester. It means, ‘To rot.'” Gag. You couldn’t find something from the T.V. show?

  4. maha  •  Aug 9, 2016 @12:13 pm

    Freetofu — I loved the Addams Family movies and the old Charles Addams cartoons; the TV show was tolerable. IMO if you didn’t get Charles Addams’s humor you must be hopelessly normal. I pity you.

  5. elkern  •  Aug 9, 2016 @12:17 pm

    The one thing which really scares me about Madame President is her Foreign Policy. Democrats brag about her being “the most qualified candidate ever”, but her stint as Sec State should disqualify her – except that the Republican “candidate” is just batshit crazy.

    In terms of domestic policy, I expect to be approximately as disappointed in her as I have been with Obama – but only because I think that we have dragged her to the left a bit. The first Clinton administration was an important defense against the tide of right-wing CRAZY that washed over this country following the “Reagan revolution”; HRC’s political habits are rooted in that time. But I believe that her instincts are more ’70s, so she could be swayed by strong progressive pressure (Keep it up, Bernie!).

    But her Foreign Policy “experience” scares be real bad. She seems to have sold her soul to the Neo-Cons, to get the money she needed to be President. How can we pressure her on this front?

  6. grannyeagle  •  Aug 9, 2016 @12:30 pm

    Normal is boring. That’s why we humans have to dredge up so much drama. Me, I prefer boring (although I probably wouldn’t be considered normal) and like to get my drama in books or suspenseful movies or TV shows. Guess that’s why I’m not very social. I can’t get into all the drama floating around this apt. complex. However, if I want some gossip, I know who to go to.

  7. Tom Elliot  •  Aug 9, 2016 @2:48 pm

    Barbara, what this excellent commentary alludes to but doesn’t mention “A lot of Democrats are not seeing beyond the November election. To them, as long as Hillary wins, everything will be right as rain.” is the Democratic reflex to focus only on the Presidential to the exclusion of the local, as if that will fix everything. They illustrate this every time they ignore “down-ticket” races (even the term is dismissive). Howard Dean had the right idea with the 50 State strategy but Obama scotched that by replacing him.

    Democrats need to be willing to compete in all districts in all States nation-wide, forget the “red/blue” characterization. By running competent candidates in States they consider firewalled Red they can initially force the Republicans to run saner candidates. We have a Congress full of crazies because it is easy for them to get through their State primaries and elected in the general because of either no or a pathetic Democratic candidate on the other side. Yes, Democrats will lose initially but people are getting tired of the crazies and are as likely to vote for a local Dem when the alternative is a nutcase if the Dem is credible, especially after this election cycle. Democrats need to be willing to lose honorably to gain the respect they need to win honestly in the future.

  8. maha  •  Aug 9, 2016 @6:10 pm

    Tom — My issue with the 50-state strategy is that when it was tried, we ended up with a bunch of Blue Dogs in the House and Senate who were as bad at obstructing progressive policies as Republicans. That’s why it was scrapped.

    The DCCC and DSCC both have a tendency to support centrists and undermine progressive candidates even in blue and purple districts. It isn’t good enough to just elect Democrats. We need progressive Democrats who can be counted on to support progressive policies. But that’s not going to happen until there is a thorough housecleaning in the DNC.

  9. goatherd  •  Aug 9, 2016 @2:57 pm

    I’ll try to resist my usual word salad, this article does raise some questions and point out a very real problem in an interesting way. Normalcy seems preferable to the alternative available to us at this moment but, the times that are coming will be anything but normal. We’re headed for an accelerating climate crisis, we’re stuck with some “zombie” economic ideas (q.v. Krugman), widening income inequality and the rate of technological growth is near the point of making most of us obsolete or redundant. Most of us agree that normal is better than crazy, but if neither is able to come up with solutions, crazy is going to gain an advantage; desperate times call for desperate measures, and it’s more entertaining. We might have just one good shot at making a better future, but, to quote a wise cartoon character, “We’ve tried nothing, and we’re fresh out of ideas.”

    Maha, you made me think I was crazy for a moment. When I saw Ben Shapiro’s name there, I asked myself what he could possibly have written that you would link. I felt even crazier when I was reading the article. It seemed so surprisingly lucid and reasonable. I was so taken aback, I had to double check. That should be BRUCE Shapiro. I might be losing my mind, but, at least I can deny it for a while longer.

  10. Bill  •  Aug 9, 2016 @3:02 pm

    IMO, normalcy is where most people are intolerant of systemic rot in large organizations of which they are a part, and will fight against it, so that the culture rewards integrity.

    NASAs space shuttle was really cool, but was also the most expensive cost-per-pound into low earth orbit launch system devised. And dangerous. Soyuz is far less expensive and dangerous, mostly developed by a Communist system (WTF?). But the totally private company SpaceX claims it will eventually beat everybody anywhere for cost-per-pound into LEO.

    What’s the pattern here? IMO, the organization with the least amount of total systemic rot will create the best product, dogma be damned. To me that’s normal.

  11. maha  •  Aug 9, 2016 @6:06 pm

    Bill — My definition of “normalcy” is the opposite of yours. Normalcy is when people tolerate systemic rot, even pretend it isn’t there, rather than deal with it. Dealing with it is “revolution.”

  12. Bill  •  Aug 10, 2016 @1:47 am

    Yeah, I never did fit in. At least in the corporate world. Maybe people tolerate and pretend with the systemic rot because it levels their own playing field. It gives them more opportunities to cheat (because, ya know, everybody’s doing it). And then it’s, but look over there! Vince Foster! If only all of us true normals had gyrocopters.

  13. maha  •  Aug 10, 2016 @11:33 am

    Bill — Ah, you see, Bill, those of us who don’t fit in are not the “normals” as I’m using the word. Normal is conformist; it promotes psychological denial. Don’t aspire to be normal.

  14. Bill  •  Aug 10, 2016 @1:51 pm

    A goal I have is to try and figure out how practical methods for sucking the poison out of the current “normalcy” of which you speak. Some people are born to integrity – they don’t have to learn it. But I sure hope that the majority of citizens won’t have to go through tough adversity, the way the greatest generation did, just to acquire it within themselves. I prefer to think there are other ways…

  15. Sondra  •  Aug 13, 2016 @9:56 am

    I surrender. You have just described me and my little group of friends as we walked out of our last local Democratic Club meeting. Although my “normal” gay friend just died so I will have to replace him in order to fit your model the next time – oh well.
    So you win. I am no longer the pesky peasant. I am the establishment. You are peskier and more of a peasant than me.

    Congrats. I’m almost 70 and even though my pantsuit is jeans and a teeshirt, it’s still a uniform – I get it. I pass the torch to you.

    BTW would you be available to do my job as District Captain this GOTV cycle? Because I’m tired. Seems like I’ve been doing this too long and even though I’m just an Indian and not a chief, for you I’m too normal to make a difference anymore.
    So you win. I surrender. Have fun.

  16. maha  •  Aug 13, 2016 @3:53 pm

    Sondra — I’m almost as old as you are and don’t want your torch. But if you and your friends were among those who treated Sanders supporters like vermin these past few months, I am not sympathetic, either. Enjoy your pity party.

  17. Procopius  •  Aug 15, 2016 @9:44 am

    I don’t know who this Shapiro dude is, but if he thinks Pence Kaine is to the left of Bill Clinton he’s as clueless as David Brooks Thomas Friedman. I’m completely in agreement with Elkern up at #5. Hillary scares the hell out of me, especially with her chasing the love of war criminals like Kissinger and Negroponte. She’s already aligned with and endorsed by the same neocons who brought us all the policy failures in the Middle East for the last 15 years. She seems to endorse the idea that we can fight and win a nuclear war with Russia. Why else the provocations over the years? Who promoted Victoria Nuland?



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