Opinion: How a progressive learned to stop worrying and love Hillary Clinton

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in Yonkers, N.Y., Monday, April 18, 2016.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in Yonkers, N.Y., Monday, April 18, 2016.  (ap)

Let me begin by admitting that this primary cycle has been a torturous and grueling experience for most any dyed-in-the-wool progressive. Like a good number of my peers and even a healthy number of millennials, I have had to reflect on my own cognitive dissonance over this Democratic primary cycle. 

Despite working “in the industry,” I have come to feel increasingly left out of the conversation. It’s not that I feel excluded, but that my views and aspirations seem to have been rebranded as noble but unachievable goals that should be replaced by slow, small-ball, and piecemeal change. It is frustrating seeing the clock being run out Congress after Congress, progress being undone by regression through attrition. This cycle I have been told that it’s one or the other  —  making the sacrifice for tiny steady achievements or the lunatic fringe that is today’s GOP.

The problem that most progressives have had with Secretary Clinton during this primary is that she has not been known as a lead advocate for many of these issues. Among the most progressive, there’s even a false assumption that the secretary is either indifferent or has directly advocated against these priorities.

- Daniel Ferreira

As a child of the 80s and 90s, I saw Republicans at their “peak” and Democrats taking office thru the Democratic Leadership Council and members like then Governor Bill Clinton by mimicking Republicans in a fight for the center. Much like the Reagan Administration, President Clinton focused on governing with a laissez faire attitude toward the economy and regulation, while pitching the center some moderately liberal social values on education, health care, workplace rules and women’s rights. It was an attempt to push back against the GOP’s “southern strategy” and it worked enough to help President Clinton get reelected and slow the inevitable red tide that took over the south. 

But, much like the pop-culture, times change. Today, Blue Dogs are as easy to find as a rent-controlled apartment in Washington D.C. and the issues that have shaped the political consciousness of my peers and those that followed are very different from what drove the Fleetwood Mac generation.

My parents grew up with duck and cover while I grew up seeing our biggest foe collapse only to be replaced by the chaos of failed states, Middle Eastern violence and the threat posed by countless people driven into fanaticism by poverty, ignorance and oppression. In my lifetime I have seen the market soar and crash several times, with increasing frequency. I have seen employers racing to shed themselves of what they call long-term liabilities but my parents call a well-earned pension and retirement health care benefits. Those are benefits that I know will not be available for me unless we bring about big change; and it is entirely plausible that the concept of a comfortable retirement after a lifetime of hard work will fade away for everyone except for the exceptionally wealthy.

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Last year I finally paid off my undergraduate student debt and can only imagine the extra decade or two it would have taken to pay off graduate studies. In my lifetime I have seen friends and neighbors go through the humiliation of a short sale or foreclosure, a tax lien due to debts that accumulated during a period of unemployment, and families struggling to do everything to avoid bankruptcy due to tens or hundreds of thousands in medical bills related to accidents. I myself had to come back to work a week after a serious car accident despite my fractures because the supervisor didn’t believe the letter from the hospital. I myself have faced letters from insurance companies denying health care coverage for a range of conditions, including my childhood asthma. And, I have seen employees face the threat of being fired for speaking Spanish in the workplace.

There are so many things that happen in our lifetimes that shape our outlook. Those are but a few. Bullies beating me up in a bathroom for speaking with an accent, and then the black students near my locker who rallied to my defense, became friends and invited me to sit with them during lunch; eventually inviting me to become a leader in the school’s BSA. Seeing friends kicked out of stores or getting pulled over for driving while black to facing a government lawyer who while prosecuting a friend wanted to download all my phone, email, text records under the argument, “you have nothing to fear if you’ve done nothing wrong.” 

I may have nothing to say, but that doesn’t mean I give up my right to freedom of speech, and the same goes for my privacy.

I have at times lived paycheck to paycheck, calculating times and odds of deposits, factoring the steep fees for everything, and tried to stretch every dollar as much as possible. And, when finally my income rose to a level that has allowed me to sustain a good quality of life, I then had to witness my younger brother go through so many of these same difficulties, including finding work in the middle of a recession. And, along with countless friends, I have lived thru 9–11, frantically running out of an evacuated government building, clutching my cell and desperately dialing for my family in New York.

All of that goes to say that those are some of the issues that speak most to my heart. How we need to expand and restore the economic security of working wage families, to make a secure retirement attainable, curbing Wall Street excess, tax fairness and recommitting ourselves to a progressive tax system, judicial reform, helping people in soul crushing debt find ways to start over, standing up for the consumer whenever possible, and trying our best to sow seeds of peace and resolve long standing conflicts to end these cycles of violence and war. 

The problem that most progressives have had with Secretary Clinton during this primary is that she has not been known as a lead advocate for many of these issues. Among the most progressive, there’s even a false assumption that the secretary is either indifferent or has directly advocated against these priorities.

This is patently untrue! It is a false conclusion built from the strength of our convictions but also from suspicion, paranoia, ignorance and, in some cases, a touch of misogyny. Like many of the friends I’m trying to persuade, we worked in Congress or in public policy during these votes, and they are complicated. The lead up to war alone was emotionally charged and hard to cast, especially for someone representing New York City. We cannot allow ourselves to think that simplistic sound bites can ever replace the ability to govern through complexity and with nuance.

Why did we fall so hard for Bernie off the gate? Well, there we can blame Secretary Clinton, or, more precisely, her campaign. The campaign saw a clear field to the general and began hugging the center. Strategically it made sense, especially with Republicans abandoning the center for the far right field, and then leaving the stadium altogether for the right parking lot. It was all well intentioned, but it made progressives wonder how good of a steward Secretary Clinton would be to President Obama’s legacy. The Secretary and her team had begun distancing themselves from the President after all.

Many progressives that, like me, helped build the President’s campaign and many others wanting to expand his legacy suddenly found ourselves questioning if we could find an alternative. The Clinton team eventually did what it does best  —  acknowledged its mistake and repositioned. But, not before Senator Sanders came on the field and, running unopposed for progressive votes, began to snowball. This Aristotle called horror vacui and it applies to politics, “power abhors a vacuum.”

The present administration has been an awkward time for some Clinton Alumni, a fair number of whom work in the private sector and resented President Obama’s restrictions on lobbyists. For some it created a feeling that the president went too far left and to others it led to a case of unrequited love. It didn’t help that this administration, despite all its incredible achievements, admirable temperament and enviable style of governance, has been more than aloof when it comes to helping build Democratic institutions and supporting the party faithful in outside roles. 

More than a fair number of nostalgia-filled admirers of President Clinton’s administration found themselves for the last six or seven years in the desert, alone, meeting with twenty-some and early thirty-some appointees that seemed far younger than we ever were, and who sometimes had little regard for their experience.

Despite these differences, when I sit down and talk to these fierce supporters of the Clinton administration and now of Secretary Clinton’s campaign, they support those very same issues. They have evolved along with rest of us. Their politics aren’t frozen in time. There were certainly disagreements and some passionate discussions over public financing of elections, the treatment of Edward Snowden, military use of drones, warrantless surveillance of international communications, etc. These are important areas, but overall we agreed a lot more than we disagreed.

We especially agreed on the perspective that Republicans have been winning a lot more battles than they are credited. That is because we need to score every stalemate, obstruction and delay in fixing the mounting and innumerable number of issues that need serious reform as a victory to our foes. 

Every year we delay investing in the kind of educational system that our children deserve is an opportunity lost on yet another crop of our youth. Every year we allow money to shape the political dialogue, we turn the eye to elected officials tripping over each other positioning to support whatever corporate mergers or well-funded issue of the day. 

Every year we fail to clean our political system, voters become more disengaged and elected officials become far more beholden to those who fund their elections.

Yes, we need a political revolution, but far more important is to build a movement that knows how to fight against all these well-funded foes that draw no distinctions between protecting shareholder value and using their financial wherewithal as a means to corrupt of our governance. We need an administration that will restore our party, strengthen our institutions and help us dig out of this madness that is increasingly spilling over beyond Congress into our state capitals and even at the municipal and local level. 

President Obama and his team, for all their strengths, saw nearly 1,000 Democratic state legislators lose their seats to Republicans, which further helped the agendas of ALEC and those that try to govern in the dark.

What we need is a brawler. Someone who is good in the close in knife fight, because “they” will not give up the ground they’ve gained without a fight. If you hate partisanship, hold on tight because when it comes to erasing the corrupting influence of money, the toothpaste is out of the tube — and putting it back in will be the nastiest fight of all. 

This is a time when Democrats need to be united to face these challenges, and  –  in my opinion  – Senator Sanders is a decent man, but possibly too decent for the road that lies ahead. I will not let my paranoia of a resurgence of DLC Democratic values cloud my judgment, because society has caught up and I know that Democratic voters will not stand for it. Nostalgia cannot roll back the clock on progress we have made on health care, the environment, marriage equality, etc.

Secretary Clinton isn’t perfect, but there is no perfection in government. These are institutions that operate on the basis of human talent. Otherwise, they are just hollow shells made of brick and mortar. In Secretary Clinton we see someone who can be nuanced and can dig deep into policy. In Secretary Clinton we find someone who is exceedingly loyal to Democratic institutions and wants to help them grow and succeed. 

In a bare knuckled running game when we are going to fight for every inch, I want Hillary Clinton on my side. Can she be partisan and sharp elbowed? Yes. Can she be calculated, making sacrifices for strategic value? Yes. Yet, all of those things help her to be the president we need now. We need a political wartime president, and that’s why #ImWithHer.

David Ferreira is a government relations and public policy professional in Washington DC with nearly 20 years of experience in the field. You can follow him on twitter @ferr_start

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