Saturday, April 16, 2016

more thoughts on hilary and bernie - part two...

In part two of my reflection, let me summarize both the areas of broad agreement between HRC and BS and then highlight three policy differences that distinguish one player from the other. Much of the intra-partisan carping in this campaign has been reduced to snarky sound bytes about Mrs. Clinton's wealth, and/or, denigrating her lifelong commitment to working within the Democratic Party. Too often adolescent name calling like "fat cat" or "political insider" has replaced serious critique and nuanced analysis. Further, a selective mistrust of financial success, to say nothing of political loyalty, has been used to tarnish Secretary Clinton's motives - and I cannot see how this advances the common good. From my perspective, the longer this goes unchecked, the stronger the Bernie messianism becomes among some and the deeper the divide of trust becomes among the pragmatists in Hilary's camp. Would that both sides would share more critical reflections about real issues like these two commentaries: 

+ One comes from The Real News Network in which two well-educated and insightful partisans unpack the pros and cons of both candidates positions of bank regulation. Check it out here: &Itemid =74&jumival=16147

+ Another is an equally challenging read about the limits of binary thinking, rhetoric and its too simplistic ideological assumptions. Check it out here: opinion/empty-rhetoric-and-the-bernie-sanders-revolution/24442/

Spending time, money and energy on innuendo rather than substantive evaluation of the real differences between Hilary and Bernie is like Rumi's story of Nasrudin searching for his lost house key. Once late in the evening, a student saw his befuddled friend on his hands and knees under a street lamp. "What's going on?" asked the young man. To which the old man replied, "I lost my key and need it to get into my house." Immediately the younger man got down on his knees and joined the search.  About thirty minutes later, however, the student asked, "Brother, where did you lose your key because I can't find anything here?" And Nasrudin replied, "Oh, I dropped it over by that corner at the end of the street, but the light is so much better here so this is where I am going to look." The easy road is not always the most illuminating - or useful.

There are significant differences between BS and HRC in their histories and styles of doing politics. On most domestic social concerns, however,Bernie and HIlary are remarkably close whether that is the minimum wage, women's reproductive rights, immigration reform or lowering student debt burden. Yes, she would keep, strengthen and expand the Affordable Health Care act while he would scrap it for a new, single payer health care system. Mrs.Clinton would expand grants for higher education while Mr. Sanders would tax Wall Street to finance free public college degrees. She believes that while a few locales are able to sustain a jump from a minimum wage of $7.50 per hour to $15 - and has gone public on this in Washington and NY - most areas of the country would be better served by first moving to a $12 per hour; he advocates a one-size fits all rate of $15. 

To be blunt, these domestic policy differences seem more a matter of detail and degree than vision.  Hilary has historically been more cautious and incremental in her initiatives than Bernie. Not because she has been "bought and sold" as some (including Senator Sanders) like to say. Rather her understanding and experience of social change is built upon making small but sustainable progress that can be measured in real time. This stems, in part, from Clinton's acceptance of Reinhold Niebuhr's "Christian Realism." Positively stated, Niebuhr taught that:

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.

Hilary does not push for radical or revolutionary change. Her approach is NOT neoliberal economics a la Margaret Thatcher as some critics have posited. Rather, it is an application of Niebuhrian humility that confesses: "The sad duty of politics is to establish justice in a sinful world... (it is sad) because we know that goodness armed with power is corrupted, and pure love without power is destroyed."

Sanders argues that this is a revolutionary moment that demands bold, new initiatives. Taking my cue from the analysis developed by the father of contemporary US democratic socialism, historian Michael Harrington and his text Socialism (1973), Bernie begins with a romantic notion of human activity. His political anthropology springs from the optimism of Rousseau (1712-1778) who once quipped:  "What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?" One on one, Rousseau is spot on. Individuals can make their most significant contributions in small and loving acts shared in everyday life. Almost every Sunday, I celebrate the importance of individual moral activity.

But human behavior and ethics change when we move beyond the realm of individual action and personal morality. People think and act differently when part of a group: we tend to favor our group's needs as essential while dismissing all others as unnecessary and inconvenient. More often than not, we validate our comfort with religion and poetry at the expense of those who are outside our community - reducing them to slaves or enemies when necessary. That is why both social order and social justice require a balance between incentive and coercion - reward and punishment - fundamentally because individuals believe we can be more loving, ethical and fair than our behavior and history documents. Political romanticism that denies human selfishness and sin always becomes oppressive in either a Right or Left wing variety 

So when Bernie denigrates Hilary as being part of "the Establishment" what I hear is a romantic condescension and dismissal born of ethical naivete. Sanders likes to paint reality in stark choices between his vision - that which is right - and the choices of others - which are wrong and/or immoral. Moral arrogance and naivete born of wishful thinking makes compromise in a complex world difficult. It also diminishes the incentive to go beyond our comfort zone - and in an increasingly diverse world our willingness and ability to go beyond what we already know is essential for the common good. Senator Sanders' appeal to revolutionary romanticism recently dismissed the accomplishments of the Paris Climate Control Accord. We need something better and more dramatic he implored. Perhaps. But bringing 190 nations to agreement - including China - is no small feat. Further, this can be built upon in real time rather than tossed into the dustbin of history.

Is this a revolutionary moment in time? My gut says that the jury is out:  it is just too early to predict. The German mystic, Meister Eckhart, used to teach that "reality is the will of God - it can always be better - but we must start with what is real." So, as Robert Reich has argued persuasively, this may be the start of something bigger - another significant wave of grassroots populism - but the jury has not yet come in to announce their findings.. For the time being, I still find the sober wisdom of Christian realism more persuasive and hopeful than revolutionary romantic rhetoric.

(NOTE:  In part three of this reflection, I will share my take on the three deep areas of distinction between BS and HRC:  gun control, foreign policy and financial regulation.)

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