Why White Progressives Lose: a Cautionary Tale

This is a comment that I received from a well-meaning but obviously young and not-very bright “liberal arts” student from the University of Minnesota named Mark Mahoney. It was in response to my piece entitled “Cutting the Crap on Reasons to Not Vote Hillary.” Now, I have only two rules for posting comments on this blog; 1) Use facts and 2) don’t trash anyone. To Mark’s credit, he only trashed Hillary and, unlike her opponent, she’s strong enough to take it. Well, he trashed me, too, kind of, but if I let shit like that bother me, I’d have been a suicide statistic long ago.

This will serve as a lesson in why white unicorn progressives always lose. And if you’re in college and your professors don’t tell you that white liberals have been losing for about a half century now, your education isn’t all that great.

What follows is the entire comment, including misspellings and other inaccuracies. (I didn’t insert the designation (sic), but let’s hope he’s more careful with his papers.) I will break in with my thoughts in red at appropriate intervals.


Of the many thoughtless and reactionary opinion pieces I’ve encountered this election cycle, this ranks among the worst.

Reactionary? I am a lot of things, but I am rarely reactionary. In fact, among white liberal pundits, I may be the least reactionary. Ironically, what follows from Mark is entirely reactionary.

You ask critics to name what Hilary’s flaws are. Here are a few: voting for the War in Iraq, among the worst foreign policy decisions in modern American history; instigating Gadaffi’s removal, creating a power vacuum in Libya; voicing her support for Simpson-Bowles in her Goldman Sachs speech; maintaining publicly that she is a progressive while telling donors she is a centrist (“I am occupying from the center-left to the center-right”); stating that she would place Bill ‘in charge’ of the economy, when the effects of Bill’s disastrous neoliberal economic policy are still being felt today in the wake of a recession exacerbated by Bill’s decisions to repeal Glass-Steagull, enact welfare ‘reform,’ and pass corporatized ‘free trade’ deals over the objections of organized labor, etc. etc.

My God, it’s difficult to know where to start, in part because he was reacting so strongly and personalizing the article to apply to him. That is actually two political argument no-no’s in the lead paragraph (if you don’t count the ironically reactionary insult of me, That is.)

Let’s take them in order, starting with Hillary’s flaws. First, she did not vote for the War in Iraq.  Yes, you read that right. The Resolution that she voted for did NOT authorize Bush to invade Iraq. It authorized him to use force, but it also required him to exhaust all diplomatic means FIRST. (I’d get into this more deeply, but there are so many lies above, I’d never get to the others.) Also, she long ago apologized for her vote, expressed regret and said she would never do it again. By the way, virtually every other progressive in Congress voted for the same resolution. 

Instigated Khadaffy’s removal? Are you shitting me? First of all, she was only Secretary of State, so IF that had happened, it would be the President’s responsibility, not hers. However, the Libyan civil war was well under way at the time and Khadaffy was, quite literally, massacring the Libyan people. We were asked by the rebels to intervene and we did.

The next one, “voiced support for Simpson-Bowles in her Goldman-Sachs speech,” demonstrates two problems. One is your gullibility. We don’t know if the Wikileaks documents are real and no one has authenticated them. The other is your apparent lack of understanding of the difference between “Simpson-Bowles” and “The Bowles Plan,” which were two different concepts. Anyone who is reactionary and against “Simpson-Bowles” hasn’t read it and doesn’t know what’s in it. Simpson-Bowles was actually a pretty good compromise between the two parties.

As for the confusion about the definition of “progressive,” people who have fashioned a static definition deserve our scorn. Mahoney’s definition is obviously quite narrow because he’s convinced himself that the best way to make it in a democracy is to belong to an exclusive club. Suffice it to say, it is possible for someone to be progressive and a centrist at the same time. (Watch Mark’s head explode.) In fact, many of the greatest progressives in our history, including TR, FDR, JFK, RFK and LBJ, were all largely centrist. This is why white progressives always lose. White progressives who actually bother to speak to black progressives will actually find that most of them are politically centrist. I know; shocker, right? Same with Latinos. 

And in what alternate universe did Bill Clinton’s economy become “disastrous”? The lowest unemployment since the 1960s? The largest expansion of the middle class since the 1960s? A budget surplus without raising taxes so high that the average family couldn’t afford them? The Black and Latino middle classes grew more than at any time in US history. Also, Bill Clinton did not repeal Glass-Steagall. That was repealed under a bill entitled Gramm-Leach-Bliley, a Republican bill that passed the Senate 90-9. Of course, the repeal of Glass-Steagall had NOTHING to do with what led to the mortgage meltdown in 2008, so it kind of doesn’t matter. But hey; when the professional left tells you something, if you want to be part of the “good progressive club,” you have to believe it. Like I said, gullible. Also, Bill Clinton did not negotiate or “pass” NAFTA. Not that it matters; in the seven years following NAFTA’s ratification, nearly 26 million jobs were created and, according to an analysis in 2014, NAFTA cost the economy a total of 700,000 jobs OVER TWENTY YEARS.

See what I mean? No facts. 

Sure, as you say, ‘nobody’s perfect,’ but that cannot erase decades of damage done by this neoliberal hawk. If you follow the ‘nobody’s perfect so forget about a candidate’s flaws’ dismissal to its logical conclusion, you may as well vote for Trump or not vote at all, since evidently ‘that [x candidate] is flawed is not an issue to anyone but a ridiculous person.’

Your claim that FDR thought Keynesian economics was untenable prior to World War II is risible. For one, the Roosevelt administration’s many ‘alphabet soup’ programs, created well before the advent of WWII, are wholly consistent with Keynes’s advocacy of public sector spending during a depression.

This is beyond stupid. First of all, you don’t know basic logic. LOGIC says that democracy has given us a choice between two viable candidates: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Basic logic is, one of those two will win. It’s called math, which is very logical. Since Donald Trump represents the minority party, logic tells us that their only chance of winning is if people who represent the majority, which is the subset of non-Republicans, don’t vote, or vote for someone who is not the majority party candidate. THAT is basic logic.

As for your claims about FDR and Keynesian economics, if you’re studying political science, you might want to read some books for extra credit because there are numerous books out there making the case that FDR was a Keynesian skeptic until he had to prepare for World War II. And no; creating modest programs to put people to work on public works projects has little to do with Keynes.

You ask ‘On what planet are Democrats and Republicans equal in any way right now?’ Here are a few respects in which they are equal: neither party has a serious plan to reign in the surveillance state or reverse the ongoing erosion of our Fourth Amendment rights. Neither party has produced a platform that will actively challenge trickle-down economic paradigms. Neither candidate has disavowed the extrajudicial drone war we are currently waging in multiple countries.

You write ‘I guarantee that every single Republican running against a conservative Democrat is far more right wing than the person you’re complaining about. So, why are white liberals complaining so much?’ There’s a fallacy here that pervades this whole piece. The idea that a candidate should be immune from criticism/’complaining’ simply because they are facing another candidate who is even worse simply doesn’t hold water. Only someone with partisan blinders on could fail to see that. Progressives are under no obligation to hold their tongue as the US continues to commit war crimes around the world simply because the alternative would be even worse. This kind of uncritical ‘groupthink’ is terrifying and anathema to a functioning democracy; we’re seeing the effects of it in this year’s campaigns.

The above actually proves my point, that you literally have no idea what you’re talking about. There are ZERO similarities between the two parties right now. Even in the very micro-oriented examples you give above, there are clear differences. For example, “neither party has a serious plan to reign in the surveillance state or reverse the ongoing erosion of our Fourth Amendment rights” demonstrates why white progressives stand on the sidelines. First of all, who in their right mind thinks a majority of American voters sit around and thinks about this all day? But more than that, if progressives were to come up with such a plan, I can assure you that Democrats would entertain it and work to pass most of it, while Republicans would laugh at it and stick it in a drawer somewhere.

That last part about “criticism” is purely clueless. Not surprising, given the unicorn progressives’ history. There is a huge difference between campaigning and governing and yes, two different sets of rules apply. That you don’t understand the difference is telling. The democracy gave us Clinton vs. Trump for president. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by “criticizing” Hillary Clinton, if you consider yourself progressive. None. Also, when she wins, you should know there is a difference between “holding her feet to the fire” and “burning her at the stake.” The latter is what progressives did to Obama and it’s the reason why he’s had six years of intransigent Republicans in Congress to deal with.

By the way, if anyone is exhibiting “uncritical groupthink” here, it’s not me. Almost everything you spout here comes from a unicorn progressive handbook of sorts. 

‘Suggested that we could survive a Trump presidency and even use that as a springboard to greater things in 2020 and beyond.’ I agree; this is obviously stupid. I must say, though, that I’ve never met a progressive who espoused this view (aside from perhaps a few accelerationist-minded Marxists, who would chafe at being called ‘progressives’ anyways because of that label’s reformist undertones). I don’t care for the term ‘progressive’ myself, since it smacks of Whig history, but that’s an issue for another day.

You write ‘What “message” did Ralph Nader send when he played “spoiler” and handed the 2000 and 2004 elections to George W. Bush? What message was sent by Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996? The answer is “nothing.”’

You never even attempt to substantiate this. Ross Perot’s significant vote total did indeed send a message to anyone willing to listen that there is a substantial portion of the public disillusioned with the current free trade paradigm, one that favors corporate interests, enabling them to engage in exploitative hiring overseas while undermining the material well-being of unionized workers domestically.

I am a liberal. I am also progressive. I have been that since your parents were in high school. If you have never heard someone say that, that’s because you’re not listening. Bernie diehards say it to me almost every day. And the fact that you think I have to “substantiate” that Nader didn’t “send a message in 2000 and 2004 is mind-boggling. We had eight years of the worst president in history. How many of Nader’s policies did you see adopted by the United States in the Bush years. As for Perot, his vote total was comprised of people who are eternally pissed off for no real reason. I refer to them as the “Fuck You Caucus” and they’re driving the Trump train right now. They’re not “disillusioned” with anything. They’re pissed off. And they have a million different reasons for being so. Some are just pissed off because they think it makes them look cool. In point of fact, Perot didn’t swing the 1992 election, either; according to just about every study of the 1992 election, Perot voters were equal amounts Bush and Clinton voters. So, what do you surmise from that?

You write, “If Hillary Clinton wins and the Democrats win Congressional majorities, Democrats will set the agenda and they’ll let us help.” For someone so bent on painting other progressives as naive, you seem a little wet behind the ears yourself. Unless by ‘us’ you mean the moneyed elite, you are profoundly mistaken if you believe that a Democratic majority is going to suddenly shift the allegiance away from the interests who financed their election and towards the unmoneyed public.

Lastly, your entire premise–that to vote third party is somehow to spoil the chances of Hillary winning–is valid only in swing states. We do not elect a president through the popular vote and therefore all votes do not count equally; our votes are mediated by the electoral college. Voting third-party in a consistently blue state is not the same as voting third-party in a swing state, and any progressive with an ounce of pragmatism can see that. So please, spare me your presumptuous, self-righteous lecturing. If we all spent less time policing other progressives and more time engaging in direct action, perhaps we wouldn’t be at the crossroad we now find ourselves.

And in closing, you have no clue what my “entire premise” is. No clue. Voting for someone who has no chance of winning is purely ego-based. It also doesn’t matter what state you’re in. You think you can predict which states will always be “blue,” but I was around in 1980 and 1984. I was also not in diapers in 2000, when the Green Party thought their best strategy to get the five percent they coveted was to trash the candidate closest to them, ideologically and TWICE they swung elections to George W. Bush.

If you are voting third party, you are displaying two things:

  • That your ego is more important than the good of the country and;
  • That you are gullible as hell. Jill Stein and Gary Johnson can SAY they will do anything because they know they will never have to do any of it.

Gullible and stupid is no way to go through life, son.


Why White Progressives Lose: a Cautionary Tale — 5 Comments

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