The Narrative of Blame: When Democrats Betray Democracy
I don’t read The Huffington Post to have my opinions challenged. I read The Huffington Post to have my opinions confirmed. Or at least massaged with a recap of the latest SNL sketch or last night’s rant from Samantha Bee. So imagine how I felt when I started reading a piece from HuffPost that began with a warning. It read:
I know this is going to piss a lot of people off, but so be it.
U-oh. That certainly did sound like trouble, now, didn’t it? Here was hard hitting journalism that refused to pull its punches. The Huffington Post wouldn’t be massaging any of my left-of-center prejudices. Not this time. Thus, I’d been duly warned. Yet I decided to ignore that warning. And that’s where my troubles began.
Well, that’s not entirely true. My troubles actually began with the piece’s title: Things I Blame For Hillary Clinton’s Loss, Ranked.
With the 2016 presidential election more than a month behind us, it is incredible that anyone’s still looking for someone to blame for Hillary Clinton’s upset defeat. Right minded liberals and progressives might instead want to fortify the castle against that fire-breathing dragon, Donald Trump. The title of the HuffPost article tries to answer the wrong question: “Who’s responsible for Hillary Clinton’s loss?” when liberals and lefties should be asking: “Why and how did Donald Trump win?”
But if we start to answer that question, well…then we might start really pissing people off. We might look back on the last year and a half and get a little introspective. We might reflect upon our own classist condescension towards all those stupid Donald Trump supporters, and wonder how we got it all wrong. We might even get a little bit pissed at ourselves.
Naah. I sure didn’t do anything wrong. Why not just point the finger at somebody else? It is time, my friends, for the Narrative of Blame.
Now, to be fair to Max Weiss, the author of the Hillary Clinton Huffington Post piss-off piece, his list of villains isn’t entirely unreasonable. In casting blame for Clinton’s loss, Weiss mentions voter suppression, without a doubt the most alarming and pernicious threat to what’s left of our tottering democracy. Weiss also blames misogyny, writing:
…they see (Clinton) as shrill and scolding and corrupt ― not sufficiently warm, not the kind of person they want to grab a beer with.
But the article is riddled with inconsistency and laziness. For one thing, Weiss blames the election results on Clinton’s campaign, while going out of his way to let Clinton herself off the hook. This bizarrely – though perhaps unintentionally – suggests that someone other than HRC was in charge of her own presidential bid. Perhaps Hillary’s detractors aren’t the only sexists in the room.
Still, that’s just bad and careless writing, no shock to those of us familiar with the work of The Huffington Post. So where’s the piss-off? Where are the audacious and offensive claims that necessitate such a dire trigger warning? For that, I direct you to Weiss’s arch-villains, the scourges of left-of-center liberalism and spoilers of 2016:
Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein.
As I told you, Weiss pulls no punches. So as I reprint his argument, let me also reprint his warning:
I know this is going to piss a lot of people off, but so be it.
Here’s what Weiss has to say:
I think Sanders, who fortified the recurring narrative that Hillary was a corrupt neoliberal and part of a rigged system, did more damage than anyone else. He turned millions of young people against Hillary — and countless independents, no doubt, too.
Yes, he ultimately campaigned for Hillary, but did so half-heartedly, through pursed lips and slumped body language, bashing Trump but rarely praising Hillary. One could almost see the thought bubble over his head: “This should’ve been me.”
That publicity-seeking, bourgeois woman gave disenchanted Bernie or Busters a place for their protest vote, and continued the absurd narrative that Hillary was just as bad as Trump.
And then, just for good measure:
You’re on my list too, Susan Sarandon.
Let’s put aside how Clinton’s bid for the White House was derailed by Sarandon, an actress whose most recent high-profile film was a cameo in Zoolander 2. Instead, let’s look at Weiss’s principle scapegoats: Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s major rival in the 2016 Democratic primary, and Dr. Jill Stein, who ran as the Green Party candidate.
If you voted for Clinton or Sanders or (psst! Don’t tell anyone, but I’m voting for) Stein, you’re probably familiar with the Narrative of Blame, which goes something like this: Hillary Clinton had a great shot at becoming our 45th president. She came to her historic bid for the job with impressive and even unprecedented qualifications. The Republican field was full of crazy, ignorant, sexist, racist, xenophobic demagogues – with the exception of Jeb Bush, the David Brooks of electoral politics. No election was more important than this one. So Clinton had to become president. Not only that: she deserved it.
But like a brood of miscreant brats at Thanksgiving dinner, the Left just wouldn’t stay at the kids’ table and shut up and behave. Led by that cantankerous democratic socialist Bernie Sanders (not even a Democrat!), these misinformed millennials and radicals couldn’t see the big picture. Let’s look back at Weiss’s condescending language:
(Sanders) turned millions of young people against Hillary — and countless independents, no doubt, too.
“Turned against” her, huh? How dare Sanders ruin Clinton’s spotless track record with the Left? If only those young people had thought for themselves. Or, better yet, thought like Max Weiss.
Continuing the Narrative of Blame: Clinton ultimately prevailed in the primaries, and Sanders begrudgingly offered up his support. But he was so half-assed. He didn’t really want her to win. And Democratic (not to be confused with democratic) victory was so important, because Clinton wasn’t squaring off against anyone. Her opponent was Donald Fucking Trump: a cynical robber baron whose exploits beggar a Warren Harding wet dream. And then Jill Stein, that “publicity-seeking, bourgeois woman,” (strike 2, Mr. Weiss: you might want to check out your own misogyny, buddy) had to come along and ruin it all by giving those bratty young Lefties someone who they actually wanted to vote for. Hillary Clinton could have won. Hillary Clinton should have won. But thanks to vote-stealing party poopers like Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein, and their self-absorbed, misguided followers, Hillary Clinton didn’t win. She lost.
Sound familiar? Like most compelling and persuasive narratives, the Narrative of Blame has its elements of truth. It’s also deeply problematic. Worse, it’s downright dangerous, a tragic case of Democrats betraying their own democracy. Let’s take a look at the Narrative of Blame’s major problems:
A presidential race is just that: a race. It’s a competition, not a coronation. Hillary Clinton was indeed the most qualified candidate, but that doesn’t mean that she automatically deserved to win. (Back in 2008, didn’t John McCain have more experience than Barack Obama?) So who’s responsible for Hillary’s loss? Certainly not Hillary herself. So it’s Bernie Sanders’s fault. And it’s Jill Stein’s fault. Add Donald Trump to that list and the argument makes perfect sense: had Hillary Clinton run for president completely unopposed, she probably would have won the election.
The Narrative of Blame assumes that anyone voting for Sanders or Stein would have cast a vote for Clinton if only her left-leaning opponents hadn’t shown up and ruined everything. But the facts simply don’t bear out that argument. Omri Ben-Shahar of Forbes Magazine writes: “…Hillary Clinton was less attractive to the traditional Democratic base of urban, minorities, and educated voters.” In other words, voter turnout for Clinton was low. Significant numbers of traditional Democrats found staying at home preferable to voting for Hillary. Add good a old fashioned dose of voter suppression to the mix and you’ve got a recipe for a Trump victory.
The Narrative of Blame alternately assumes that anyone voting for Sanders or Stein should have cast a vote for Clinton because she had the best chance of beating Donald Trump. Well, it’s true. Clinton did have the best chance. But for some people that reason wasn’t enough. Feel free to dismiss the folks who saw HRC’s history of free trade, right to work, anti-union, pro-Wall Street, super predator, tough on crime history as the ultimate deal breaker. But if you want to defeat Donald Trump in four years? You’re gonna need those folks. Hate them all you want, but the brutal outcome of this last election prove that you’re going to need them, and in very large numbers. What’s your plan for winning them over? With dismissive, ageist prods to shut up and get with the program? That strategy didn’t work out so well this time, did it?
The Narrative of Blame grabs at cheap fallacies like the ad hominem attack. It’s not enough to take issue with Sanders’s and Stein’s actions or policies. Let’s go after their corrupt motives, which we know about because…well, we just do. Was Sanders’s support for Clinton “half-hearted”? Yes, I’m sure it was. You might purse your lips if a bunch of leaked emails proved that the DNC had actively worked against your campaign. Is Jill Stein a narcissist? My god, who the hell cares? Do you know a politician who isn’t self-absorbed? You want character references? Fine, I’ll give you one: when Bernie Sanders lost the Democratic nomination, Jill Stein offered to step aside as the Green Party candidate and let him run in her place. Sanders declined, instead honoring his pledge to support the nominee for the Democratic Party. If you want to start sliming someone’s character, why not join the Republican party and start shrieking about Clinton’s emails? At least you’ll finally have the satisfaction of being on the winning side.
The Narrative of Blame is undemocratic. It favors the Democratic Party over the democratic country. To decry the Electoral College while urging progressive candidates not to run, or badgering people to vote for a candidate whom they find unacceptable? That’s not just un-democratic: it’s deeply hypocritical. If your only interest is getting a Democrat into the Oval Office, that is certainly your prerogative. But at least be honest and admit that you – like your Republican enemies – are choosing partisanship over democracy.
This, then, is the final fallacy of the Narrative of Blame. It fails to recognize the greatest tragedy of 2016: our democratic institutions failed us – or more accurately, we failed our democratic institutions. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but the Electoral College – an institution created in part to protect us from opportunistic demagogues – will make sure that Donald Trump is our next president.
Moreover, millions of people who wanted to vote – and tried to vote – were unable to cast their ballots due to voter suppression. And after all that, the Democratic Party’s most partisan supporters continue to marginalize progressive voices and candidates who work for social justice outside of our broken two-party system. Malcolm X once said that he preferred the white conservative over the white liberal because at least the white conservative showed his teeth. If more democracy threatens you, you’re perfectly free to tear down the reputations and rights of those who dare to use their voices and votes to encroach upon your all-important agenda. But have a little integrity and start showing us all your teeth.
So yes, Mr. Weiss. Your article did piss me off.
But not for the reasons you thought.
So be it.
December 9, 2016