Pundits have asserted time and again that the Democratic candidates’ positions on issues do not diverge.
They do. The differences are sparse, but provide a unique window into Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s respective governing styles unfettered by media lights. For lack of space, I provide only a few examples.
The first is the United States’ use of cluster bombs in civilian areas. In 2006, the Senate considered Amendment 4882, which prohibited the use of “cluster munition” near “any concentrated population of civilians.” Cluster bombs contain many little “bomblets” which are designed to explode individually on impact but often do not, leaving what are in effect tiny mines littering streets, which have resulted in over 13,000 unnecessary civilian casualties to date.
Yet, on the measure to prohibit the U.S. military from dropping cluster bombs in civilian areas, Clinton joined 55 Republicans and voted no because she feared being painted “soft on terror.” Barack Obama voted yes.
A second example, which is based not on a roll call vote but public statements — minimum sentencing laws. These racist laws incongruously punish certain forms of drugs popular among blacks, resulting in an increase in the black prison population relative to the total.
Democrats have been stiffly opposed to these minimum sentencing laws’ racism and fundamental injustice. Every Democrat who was in the nomination contest but Clinton favors retroactivity for mandatory minimum sentences. Yet, Clinton has called Obama “soft on crime” and too “liberal” for his conviction that minimum sentencing laws should be abolished.
These are not complicated issues like Iraq or energy policy legislation, where many moving parts are at play or voting records can be distorted. They are stark moral questions on which there is only one right answer.
But what bothers me is far larger than Clinton’s positions on these issues. Taken alone, they are disappointing, but not damning.
The dirty little secret is: I want to like Hillary.
To her credit, I believe that Clinton knows the right answer to these moral questions. It seems she expresses these positions because she truly believes their alternatives are too politically costly to justify the potential for justice. Indeed, Hillary supporters champion the fact that her positions on many issues reveal the extent to which she is willing to forestall the fulfillment of our shared principles in the name of “getting things done.”
This is the essence of my rage.
It is a broader frustration with a Democratic establishment committed to the philosophy of (Bill) Clintonism. I believe in my core that followers of Clintonism, including Hillary herself, remain breathtakingly correct in their values and vision, but am angered as they choose to pursue just enough important issues of the day that we must vote for them while they remain obstinately indifferent to the great, underreported inequities of our time.
I deny the charge that political calculation is always evil and Machiavellian. Yet, I also deny that it will work in our favor this time around.
First, if voters care most about terror, no Democrat will win their support; therefore, it is our job to make the case that other issues are more important, not to play the Republican game. I’ve seen Democrats play that hand in Texas. It’s not a winner.
Furthermore, it neglects the power of ideas.
As Clinton stresses the necessity of political moderation, what Democrats may gain through compromise is lost many times over on the moral high ground. Piecemeal strategies, at best, fail to communicate a candidate’s world view; at worst, they appear contradictory and less principled to voters — and rightly so.
The sacrifices implied in her “realistic solutions” rhetoric cede the ability to make a comprehensive and powerful moral appeal to the American public. Her approach surrenders territory a priori that belongs to us — the Left has reality on its side.
Some periods call for a modest conception of specific changes. That time is not now.
Unique to this election is the ability to assert a fresh moral vision to the American people – to challenge Gingrich’s and Reagan’s compelling narratives head-on for the first time. That opportunity may have not been present in 1992, but it is with us now. With Hillary’s candidacy, I fear that opportunity may be squandered.
In the same way that voters respond favorably when Hillary shows her “personal” side, I believe Democrats should be proud of our comprehensive sense of justice and morality, not mask it.
Indeed, politics is not only the art of the possible, but of making things possible. Today, the latter is more important — principled leadership is not only morally imperative but politically wise in our circumstances.
The Democratic contest should center on the qualities of sound judgment and consistent principle, not experience or eloquence. More than ever, we need a president who is right on day one. I welcome arguments that ascribe that quality to either candidate.
David Broockman is a freshman in Jonathan Edwards College.