Curb Your Ideological Enthusiasm

[I’m catching my breath now that my 15 minutes are up. As you may have noticed, the whole thing caught me a little off-guard. I’ll definitely have more to say in the coming weeks about issues directly related to the petition, but for now I need to just get back to writing whatever the hell I want on any given day. To that end, here is my first post-petition post.]

First, a little background…

Despite what has been written about me in recent days, I have striven, not always successfully, to remain more-or-less neutral in the matter of Hillary vs. Bernie. I donated $25/month to Sanders last July thru December out of a sincere fondness for the direction in which he seemed to be nudging the Democratic Party.

As 2016 rolled around, I became concerned about the tone emanating from some segments of the Bernie fan club—concerned enough that I was uncomfortable being associated with it. His odds of securing the nomination were roughly as remote then as they are today and it felt important to support the likely nominee. Fortunately, this involved no real compromise on my part.

Even then I harbored no particular ambivalence toward Bernie Sanders himself. I like what he stands for. I like the political-demographic shift he appears to be a harbinger of. I would like to live in a country that might someday elect a candidate like Bernie Sanders. I just don’t think we’re there yet, in part because of voters whose attitude toward our sort of-Democratic process amounts to “give me what I want or I’m taking my toys and going home.”

Politics is incremental and if you don’t or won’t understand that you’re probably part of the problems you’re railing against.

The chief complaint lodged by Sanders’ most annoying supporters against Hillary Clinton is one that I am superficially sympathetic to, namely that she gets lots of cash from lots of corporate backers. Believe me, I get it. I am no great fan of our capitalist overlords and the stench of their grimy money is as foul to me as that of Chris Christie’s underboob sweat. Here’s the problem: I live in the real world and do not have the luxury of indulging in dilettantish ideological purity just because I saw a shiny thing and maybe can get laid at a rally if I tattoo “Feel the Bern” on my dick.

Pragmatism aside, what we’re really talking about when we talk about political donations is, first and foremost, the political speech being exercised by donors. Sure, we can talk about the deliverables they expect to receive in return from the beneficiaries of those donations, but that is ultimately a secondary issue that cannot be turned into an attack without impugning unknowable motives (beyond the motivation to win an election—an essential motive for all would-be officeholders). I don’t see how we fix the problem by focusing on beneficiaries who are locked in a financial arms race wherein unilateral disarmament would spell electoral doom.

But here’s the crucial bit of nuance I really wanted to get at: without being naive about it, I don’t think it’s a stretch to presume that the majority of corporate donors have ROI expectations that diverge drastically depending upon which party they donate to. Overgeneralizing and idealizing only slightly, I would argue that corporate givers likely donate to Republicans specifically to get them elected, knowing they’ll have a firm ally, while they donate to Democrats to soften the blow and ensure they have a seat at the table.

In other words, if Wall Street could write a check and make it so, Republicans would likely hold every elected office in the land. Recognizing that they can’t quite accomplish this, the money men endeavor to cultivate positive working relationships with Democrats. Yes, even a generous reading of this analysis implies that Democrats have an incentive to take their foot off the gas on any number of economic issues, but if given the choice between a) taking too long to get somewhere I want to be, b) not getting there at all, or c) driving in reverse, i’ll take eventually getting there every time.

Painting Clinton as just another puppet of the oligarchs ignores this distinction. It also pretends that Sanders would not have had corporate backers if he had wanted/accepted them. And that is the real problem. Only regulating the supply will curb this particular behavior.

I would like nothing more than to see the money driven out of politics, but as things stand, the money is very much all up in the politics and the candidate who handicaps him or herself by being overly particular about where it’s coming from is likely to find him or herself fighting an uphill battle against the delegate and/or electoral college math.

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