Thursday, December 08, 2016

Delusional and Disingenuous Democrats

I find cognitive biases fascinating. Psychologists are discovering how much the Enlightenment picture of humans as perfectly rational, self-interested calculators deviates from reality because we are just not wired to be logical. Our ability to predictably deceive ourselves is stunning. And it is not a matter of innate intelligence or education. Smarter, more well-read people are even more likely to fall prey to these errors because we are inclined to believe what we think, even if we pride ourselves on our developed critical faculties. This was in full display in the recent election.

The halo effect is an error wherein we take success in one area to entail likely success in other, non-related areas. The more attractive a person is, for example, the better his/her teaching evaluations will be. (That, of course, is how I got tenure…) If there is something very attractive about someone, we will overlook and/or rationalize away any flaws – even if they are obvious and pointed out to us over and over again.

This was the case with Hilary Clinton. Would having the first female President of the United States have been a great thing? Yes. Is she smart and well-educated? Yes. Has she served in a wide-range of positions that lead to her having relevant experience and contacts? Yes. However…these points led to a far less than critical evaluation of her candidacy and likely presidency on the part of many smart Democrats.

Hilary Clinton is that best friend you had who lived next door growing up. You played every day, shared your secrets, had sleepovers. Then when you got to high school, she realized that she was pretty enough to join the Heathers and not only stopped talking to you, but would look away and say nothing when those mean girls would pick on you and make fun of you. But if she forgot her book for the big homework assignment, she was knocking on the door pretending to be your friend and borrowing your book, then returning it before school so she wouldn’t be seen with you.

Let’s put the Clintons in a bit of historical context. After the Great Depression when an unregulated financial and banking sector led to a stock bubble that crashed and took the whole economy with it, Democrats led by Franklin Delano Roosevelt brought the country back. The New Deal moved wealth down from the top to the workers and coupled with the needed spending connected to WWII, pulled the country to a stable economic equilibrium. Regulations were put in place to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. Workers were grateful and became staunch Democrats seeing who fought for them. On the heels of this came the civil rights and women’s rights movements. Having been clobbered by FDR, a surprise loss to Truman, and a close loss to Kennedy, Republicans realized that they needed to break up the working-people-based coalition that was giving the Democrats power. How to do it? Bigotry. The Southern Strategy would turn the Southeast and the Midwest against those Democrats who had turned their interests away from the working class to the oppressed non-white, non-male part of the population. So, appeal to their self-interest and biases, arguing that it is a zero-sum game and that the elevation of the downcast will put them ahead of you – and it ain’t like you’re doing all that great now, is it?

And so, we had a cultural conservative backlash, Republicans gained power riding this wave of bias and the center-right corporatist GOP became a far-right party because that was where their votes were. But underneath, there was the belief that the corporatist heart could keep the power with the man behind the curtain, but the party drifted further and further rightward.

Enter the third way, the blue dogs, the “moderate” democrats. They saw that the Republicans had abandoned the center-right and they knew that that political spot came with wealth and power. They thought, “hey, if we abandon all of our New Deal-based beliefs, stop caring about the oppressed, and make the Democrats into a center-right party, we get the wealth, we get the power, we get the votes of the middle-class Baby Boomers entering their peak earning years (never under-estimate the power of Baby Boomer self-interest) and the left will have no choice but to support us (what are they going to do, vote Republican or third party? Yeah, right.)” So, after defeating an incredibly earnest, competent, thoughtful candidate in Paul Tsongas, Bill Clinton let Ross Perot split the Republicans and the third way had its President.

The result was pro-corporate dismantling of the protections that were put in place after the Great Depression. The Democrats became the home of the Rockefeller Republicans, the moderates who were being squeezed out of their party in its move to the right, because its policies were Republican policies. And the first lady moved ultimately into the Senate and the Obama administration.
Hilary Clinton was a Rockefeller Republican when she was young and never changed. She lost to Barack Obama in the primaries when he ran to the dead center and she to the right of him. Her positions in the Senate, from the war to race to homosexuality – all traditional Republican positions.
And then there was this year. There was a real Democrat (who wasn’t a Democrat – hmmm, how did that happen?) and the result? A new Hillary. Presto chango, she’s a progressive now!

I saw lots of claims that Clinton was the most honest candidate we’ve had. It is certainly true that she did not misstate facts like our buffoon-in-waiting. But there are two ways to lie. I could tell you that your blue shirt is red or I could tell you that I like your blue shirt when I don’t. She did not tell many of the first sort of fib, but the second sort is the heart of her political being. Hillary Clinton is, to her core, a liar.

The claim that all of the dislike of her is based on right-wing smears and misogyny? Rationalization. Have there been decades of organized right-wing falsehoods designed to undermine her? Yes. Is there misogyny? Without a doubt. But I agree with David Brooks (not a clause I type often) when he said that the most important moment in the campaign was Clinton’s sudden rejection of the TPP. Clinton is a center-right free trader. She believes in these trade deals as good for the economy. She did call the TPP the “gold standard” of trade deals. She loves it. Not loved it – loves it. Yet, she was willing to throw it under the bus in order to try to falsely position her public self where the voters seemed to be. No defense of her belief, no standing up for her principles (which, of course, requires you to HAVE principles).

And it was not uncommon. She was explicitly against gay marriage…when it was polling below 50%. Once it became politically acceptable, she’s “evolved.” It was a generation-long fight and (to steal a wonderful metaphor from… I forget whom) she’s the person cowering behind the rock until the bad guy is over, jumping out when it is safe, and shooting the corpse to show how much she was in the fight. I believe that she always wanted gay marriage, that she knew it was unjust to deprive gay men and lesbians of civil rights and protections, but was willing to deny them, to side with immorality for the sake of gaining and keeping power.

The Goldman-Sachs speeches were exhibit A. The top brass at Goldman are close friends of the Clintons – if they really wanted to know what she thought, a simple phone call or waiting for the next dinner party would have sufficed. But yet, they paid her hundreds of thousands of dollars. Why? They knew what they were buying and she knew what she was selling. And why wouldn’t she release those transcripts? Because they said what we always knew was true – she told the banksters who destroyed our economy to ignore her public rhetoric because it is all lies. There is a public position that she used to gain power and a private position she would have used to govern. And guess whom the real view helps and whom it hurts? The Clintons are the nouveau riche at the country club who are thrilled to be part of the wealthy and make sure they do plenty of favors for the long-standing members knowing their status is tenuous.

The Clinton Foundation scandals? I can count the times fellow Dems waved them off as propaganda. Was there quid pro quo? Well, there was certainly plenty of quid with the expectation of quo from powerful people with foreign interests. Was there any quo or would there have been? We don’t know, but to deny the appearance of impropriety is to have your head buried in the sand…or elsewhere.
So, hands are being wrung. The future is uncertain. Worries are legitimate. But the stage was set. The Democratic machine was rigged. The DNC was an active part of one of the candidates and from the number of debates to public rhetoric, there was preferential treatment rendered by party insiders. The Clinton camp did have a mole delivering debate questions to them against the rules. And when the DNC chair was caught with her finger on the scale, who replaced her? The mole. I do fear for our country and our planet. But I also had long feared for my party. Maybe now we can regain our critical faculties. We’re going to need them.