…and I do not intend to write pieces promoting my chosen candidate or speaking ill of others in the party, but let it go on record that, barring exceptional circumstances, I will be supporting the candidacy of Hillary Clinton for President. I did not do so in 2008, because I was a loyalist of John Kerry (having worked in his office), and I felt that he had been ill-done by some of her people. However, time has healed that wound, and I’m able to look at this with more detachment. My reasoning for this is a little… unconventional, although it probably should not be surprising to anyone who knows me or is familiar with the general thrust of my political thinking these days from reading this blog.
Reason one: I’m supporting her because I do not want to see the Democratic Party primary devolve into a free-for-all to the progressive left. I am emphatically not on board with the tactics and principal objectives of activist progressives these days. I believe in privacy, not just as a matter of law, but as a societal expectation, and progressives absolutely do not. For them, “the personal is political” and every individual action needs to have some kind of “social justice” importance. In the words of George Orwell,
“A Party member is expected to have no private emotions and no respites from enthusiasm. He is supposed to live in a continuous frenzy of hatred of foreign enemies and internal traitors, triumph over victories, and self-abasement before the power and wisdom of the Party.”
(This refers very aptly to hardline ideologues of any stripe, incidentally.)
Activist progressives largely focus on personal “thought crimes” (look up the word “microaggression” and read about this progressive-created absurdity if you don’t believe me) and private individual behavior rather than workable, constitutionally sound solutions to problems. For instance, the push to shame and punish non-vegans over the carbon footprint of raising livestock—and to institute regressive carbon taxes on individuals who, due to lack of public transit, have no choice but to drive personal vehicles—are great examples. (“They should just move to a big city” is no different from “they should just move to a more gay-accepting community.” Not everyone can move, but more to the point, Balkanization along political and demographic lines is not good, people. We all need to be exposed to viewpoints that challenge our own.) If the progressive left has managed to antagonize me—a moderate liberal, climate-change-accepting atmospheric scientist who strongly supports green technology, industrial emissions reduction, and community resilience—you can only imagine how much such proposals antagonize people to my right. Additionally, pretty much every Twitter-shaming campaign of a random formerly private citizen who happened to say something “offensive” was started by the progressive activist left. (I’m not talking about celebrities who made statements in interviews, by the way, but ordinary people posting on their social media accounts.)
They are, in two words, culture warriors just as the social conservative right has been for the past 30+ years. It was polarizing and toxic when the social conservative right focused on private individual behavior, and it is polarizing and toxic now that the social progressive left has started to do it. The Republican Party primary is already turning rapidly into a race to the far right, as a bevy of right-wing candidates enter the race and try to outdo each other in extreme social conservative rhetoric. I do not want to see the Democratic Party doing the same thing but catering to the extreme left, and I think the only real way to prevent this sort of free-for-all is for a candidate to enter who is a towering enough figure in her own right that she doesn’t have to rely strictly on a wild-eyed base. It is never a good thing for a political figure to be beholden to one interest group.
The other reason I am supporting Hillary Clinton is that, in the course of my scientific education, I have come to see the value of expertise in any skilled profession. Being a “regular Joe outsider” with no experience in policy or governing is not an intrinsic virtue, and we are seeing that play out in Washington and in state governments now, with a crop of new representatives who ran on a “Main Street” populist campaign platform that presented experience as equivalent to “corruption” or “being part of the problem.” They have strong opinions, but they don’t understand how things get done and don’t care to learn, because they are the virtuous non-politicians (who now hold political office) and they know best. This is why we have gridlock in Congress and an increase in stupid, blatantly unconstitutional bills introduced in state legislatures. It’s a destructive, anti-intellectual mindset. Character and skill (at a profession that isn’t inherently immoral) are completely distinct and unrelated qualities, and people need to start seeing expertise and “insider” status as a good thing again. House of Cards is fiction, people. Fantasy, even. The real world of politics isn’t like that, and having past involvement with it is not a sign of an irretrievably blackened heart.
As it happens, the two problems that I outlined both feed into the problem of increasing political polarization in America. This issue is probably the most important issue to me that is not directly related to science or environmental policy. It is destroying our soul as a nation and seriously damaging our relationships with each other individually. Now, some people might say that Hillary Clinton herself is a polarizing figure. To that I would ask, what national political candidate today isn’t? And yet, when she was Secretary of State, she mustered broad support for a political figure, at least in terms of the numbers one can expect these days. I don’t expect the 2016 electoral season itself to be less toxic because of her entry. I don’t think there’s much that anyone can do about that, at least not immediately. That would take a change in political culture, which would take time and an increase in self-awareness among citizen activists that their hardline “my way or the highway” culture-war tactics are contributing to it. But I would like to think that as president, as a civil servant working for America rather than just a candidate, Hillary could usher back in some some of that cross-partisan goodwill that her history demonstrates she can cultivate.