(note to readers: Here’s a rushed analysis; please mark up the places you think should be corrected.)
For the first time this election, I gave a speech in which I predicted that Hillary Clinton would win.
It wasn’t bravery. It certainly wasn’t insight. It was the yielding to what seemed like overwhelming data: For the whole of this election, I had thought I knew just how frustrated people were with the status quo elite—with the corruption that the economy of influence in Washington had created. I had thought I knew that people would view Clinton as the essence of that status quo corruption. I had written again and again that she needed to get beyond this framing, as Johnson did with civil rights (by passing the Voting Rights and Civil Rights bills), or Nixon did with anti-communism (by going to China). (Here’s a clever piece in the WSJ ridiculing my argument.) I spoke in Dayton just before the first debate about how critical this reframing was to her campaign. But yesterday, I was asked to speak here in Berlin and to address what was going to happen in America on what would have been Aaron Swartz’s 30th birthday.
And so I yielded to the data: Clinton would win, I said, and that would be a good thing. Yet what was astonishing, I had to add—not yet completely willing to give in to the data—was that only real passion in this race was for “the socialist, and the fascist.”
That characterization upset the Sanders supporters in the audience. It upset the one—maybe only—Trump supporter that I met after the talk. But this is exactly how we have to look at this election to understand just what it means.
Bernie’s actual substantive policies are to the left of a huge proportion of the people who passionately supported him — because they saw him as an agent of change. And likewise, Trump’s actual substantive policies are far too crazy for a huge proportion of the people who passionately supported him—because they saw him as an agent of change. The common framing that united both the left and the right in this election was the demand for a real change of the corrupt system that America’s government had become—a demand that the Clinton campaign resolutely refused to even acknowledge or begin to satisfy.
This was true from the very beginning. The most amazing statistic I saw from the early days of the campaign (citation missing but coming) was a poll about undeclared voters in New Hampshire. New Hampshire permits voters not to declare a party until election day. What early polling in New Hampshire found was that the most difficult decision for many of the undeclareds was between Trump and Sanders.
From the perspective of substantive policy, that makes no sense—only trade united these two candidates, and there’s no evidence trade was a salient factor in how people viewed this election. But from the perspective of a demand for real change, this was perfectly sensible contest. If changing the (corrupt) status quo is your motive, it’s not obvious which, between Trump and Sanders, was the better choice. Both promised to blow up the system. The only question was who had the bigger bomb.
The Clinton wonks refused to acknowledge this. Rather than confront the issue, they ducked it. Rather than saying directly to the American people—you’re right, this system is corrupt, but if you elect me, I commit absolutely that it will be changed within the first 100 days—Clinton quibbled with Sanders about whether accepting millions in speaking fees was really corruption. Rather than acknowledging the writing on the wall, Clinton pretended she didn’t hear the question.
I get why that seemed like the right strategy. Against anyone other than Trump, it would have been idiotic. But against Trump, it was plausible. On every dimension of “corrupt,” any fair and balanced reading of Donald Trump would have seen him as worse than Clinton. Or so it seemed. But as opinion poll after opinion poll revealed, fair and balanced notwithstanding, America saw Trump as an agent of change, and Clinton as the status quo. After this poll came out in the New York Times (September 15, 2016), I wrote to the one sympathetic ear in the Clinton campaign that this was the issue that was going to decide it. For the first time this election, he never answered me :
So Democrats, seriously, can we please finally say goodbye to the Clintons? Bill sold us out to Wall Street in the 1990s; Bill and Hillary both showed themselves oblivious as they cashed-in after Clinton’s presidency. And now the studied refusal of Hillary to even acknowledge the fundamental frustration of America with the entitlement and corruption of America’s political elite should prove finally that they are not the future of the Democratic Party (if the party has a future). They are its sad past.
And now finally, lede fully buried, there’s Josh Silver.
Josh is the president of Represent.US. I’ve been an advisor and supporter of Represent.US, but I’ve not been engaged in the campaign they waged in this election cycle. That campaign—plus what happened in Maine—may be the only good news from November 8th. For in South Dakota, voters supported a referendum that will give candidates for state office vouchers to run their campaigns.
Washington state was another victory, but not as surprising. Voters there overwhelmingly (63%) supported an initiative attacking Citizens United. That had happened in many states before—including in the Red State of Montana. But it confirmed the continued frustration that Americans have with a system in which a tiny tiny few can spend unlimited amounts to influence an election. (And yes, I’m thinking specifically about the $7 million spent in the final weeks in Zephyr’s district, reversing a lead into a defeat.)
(The other real victory was in Maine. Maine voters have passed a ranked choice vote initiative—giving voters the ability to vote for more than one candidate, by ranking their choices. This will be a key part of fixing Congress—as will what South Dakota did yesterday, (and which Maine had done more than 20 years ago). But more on the importance of this in a different post.)
Silver, and Represent.US, of course, didn’t win this campaign on their own. An incredible team of activists in South Dakota did the work on the ground to turn out voters for this crucial and obvious reform.
But Silver deserves real credit, for placing the resources of our movement on a long-term but sensible bet: That we can win the people state by state—even Red State by Red State—even if we can’t yet win the nation.