I told my daughter Ketzel that I was going to vote for Hillary Clinton in the March 1 Democratic primary in Texas. I said it over and over, in fact, because she asked about my choice I don’t know how many times, thinking I would eventually change my mind about Bernie Sanders.
The night of the primary, after the AP had called it for Hillary, Ketzel asked who I’d voted for. Maybe she imagined a soft, warm light washing over me as I stood in front of the voting machine, the Zeitgeist actually guiding my finger to the Bernie button.
When I said Hillary, she was incredulous — Could. Not. Believe. It. — and then accusatory.
“How could you vote for Hillary Clinton? You liked Bernie so much.”
The galling thing was that she was right, up to a point.
Ketzel is the youngest of my three daughters. She’s majoring in social work at Texas State University, and follows national politics closely for a 21-year-old. Big Bernie supporter. Ketzel and her boyfriend caught every debate between Sanders and Clinton, even the one on a Saturday night. This is her first presidential election as a voter. And she is up for the Revolution.
How do you tell her and the bazillion other young Sanders supporters, “Hey, look, this is a joyless election. Thanks to the Republican Party, this is about keeping a lying, racist, sexist, megalomaniacal dimwit out of the White House. So please wipe that weird, messianic grin off your face, and get strategic.”
Of course, when I decided to vote for Clinton in the Texas primary, Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio still looked like real alternatives to Donald Trump. But Rubio is vapid and inexperienced. A nice suit with a good bio tucked into the breast pocket, but not much else. Cruz? Where to begin? He’s shown zero talent for leading any group other than pissed-off tea partiers. He lies, misleads, and obfuscates with ease. He thinks the separation of church and state is the result of Satan’s many campaign contributions to Thomas Jefferson.
Please, GOP, come back to us. Leave the outer dark and the howling wind and those infernal voices, and rejoin us at the camp fire. Become a real party again that we can entrust with the presidency, if it’s not too late.
Sanders people, you too need to come to the camp site. Don’t be afraid. It’s not the Bern, but it’s nice and toasty here, and we have Dos Equis.
But please don’t bring up those polls that show Sanders soundly beating Donald Trump in the general election, and Clinton narrowly losing to Trump. Any horse-race poll conducted this far from November is meaningless. Reality and the elections that occur within it are messy, with too many unanticipated variables to count.
Also, answer me honestly — how hard would it be to characterize Sanders as an un-American radical next fall? Sanders, the self-proclaimed socialist. You think technocrat Michael Dukakis was an easy mark in 1988? Buddy, just you wait.
And while we’re on the subject, I don’t think there’s a good way to tell one of your kids, “I like Bernie the same way I like Johnny Rotten. But I’d never want Johnny anywhere close to the Oval Office, not even for a visit. Johnny needs to be Johnny, and Bernie needs to be Bernie. Both of them are better for us when they’re being unruly, as opposed to being rule-y.”
Free college education and Medicare for everyone would be awesome. Give those ideas as much airing as you can; let them percolate. But they don’t line up with today’s politics. Imagine the firestorm they would ignite on Capitol Hill.
Sanders is right: income and wealth inequality are serious threats to the United States. But who believes he’s capable of building a coalition in Congress sturdy enough to pass the dozens of big, weighty bills it would take to begin correcting the imbalance — everything from overhauling the tax code to increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Instead, we’d see the hard right lose its mind again, or lose even more of its mind. More rancor, more heat, more of nothing getting done.
But maybe there’s a shot at a working two-party system if Clinton wins the presidency.
For one thing, after the anti-intellectualism and magical thinking that took root under President George W. Bush, and the years of obstruction and tea-party craziness after Obama’s 2008 election — not to mention what the GOP is subjecting the country to with Trump’s candidacy — the Republican Party will have no choice but to remake itself. Moderates and principled conservatives (think: way more Edmund Burke than Newt Gingrich) will have to show that they’re genuinely interested in the hard, dirty work of governing, and that they can handle it.
That doesn’t happen if Sanders is in the White House, pushing hard to the left. But it could under Clinton.
Here’s what we could expect from a Clinton presidency: no sudden moves, no jarring departures from Obama’s policies, and the pursuit of legislation that stands a chance at passage. The high-voltage controversies over Benghazi and Clinton’s emails and her private server would dissipate because, again, GOP has to finally show some honest-to-God accomplishments. Either that or give up the claim of being a responsible national party once and for all.
I’m pretty sure that’s how it would play out. Hopefully, I’m not engaging in my own version of magical thinking.
I know what this sounds like to Bernie’s supporters — incremental, passionless, and happily married to the status quo. Worse, it’s handcuffing the country to the Clinton family legacy of Wall Street interests over the little guys, tawdriness, and secrecy.
At this point, I have to say I’m rattled, especially with reports of Bernie gaining ground in California and Hillary looking like a godawful closer.
It feels to me like a game of chess I played with Ketzel during a visit to San Marcos a few weeks ago. I taught her how to play, and helped her understand strategy and tactics. Over lunch at the Thai Thai Cafe, she beat me for the first time. It was a drubbing. I played a steady, conservative game. She went all out, and she joyfully, ostentatiously crushed me.
Have I made the wrong choice in this election? I don’t think so.
But I’d feel a lot better about my vote if my relationship with Hillary weren’t so damn complicated.
NEXT WEEK: ‘Holy Shit! I Voted for Hillary!’ Pt. 2: Coming to grips with the Clinton legacy and the candidate
Endnote: Click here for some understanding of the sad plight of moderates this year.