Our Coming Clothespin Election: Hold Your Nose And Vote For Hillary

The writer Adam Gopnik has offered up some recent French history as an object lesson for how we might approach the coming election here in the United States. In 2002, the French far right National Front, headed by Jean-Marie Le Pen, managed—through luck, circumstance and lackluster opposition—to advance to a two-man contest for Prime Minister with the conservative reigning PM Jacque Chirac.

Le Pen is a not-so-closeted fascist whose opinions roughly mirror those of Donald Trump—foreigners out! Muslims out! France is for the French! It surprised exactly no one when Le Pen recently tweeted that if he were an American, he would vote for Trump.

But in that election year, French socialists and leftists united with sane conservatives to deny Le Pen. “Socialists who had spent their lives opposing Chirac, who thought him unprincipled, mediocre, and significantly corrupt, held their noses—some literally asked to take clothespins into the voting booths—and voted for him, and against Le Pen,” Gopnik writes. “…There are politicians we strongly disagree with, and then there are anti-constitutional crypto-fascist authoritarians.”

I think we are headed toward our own clothespin election, in which the probable candidates will be objectionable to many on both sides. I’ll not waste Observer readers’ valuable time on Donald Trump; but read Mr. Gopnik’s article in its entirety (http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/the-clothespin-campaign-a-french-history-lesson-for-anti-trump-republicans) or David Brooks’ scorching commentary (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/18/opinion/no-not-trump-not-ever.html?_r=0), or this blistering article by Ezra Klein (http://www.vox.com/2016/2/10/10956978/donald-trump-terrifying.)

Ted Cruz, the republican alternative to Trump, is vastly more intelligent and certainly more authentic. But he is offering up the same brew of radical nationalism along with his own brand of angry, reactionary politics, and the weird and flatly inaccurate idea that America is a “Christian” nation. Anyway, after the New York primary, it’s not been looking good for Cruz.

Gopnik aimed his article at conservatives whom he hoped would see that Trump is a disaster for their own cause, as well as for the nation, and expressed hope that perhaps the Bush family might, sometime in October, come out and endorse Hillary Clinton. “…[R]ational or far-sighted conservatives should be sighing with relief that the alternative to the monster they’ve created is a reasonable, experienced mainstream centrist whose chief fault in progressive eyes is that she is too close to the conservatives’ own ideology.”

Well, we’ll see. But it’s possible that many Democrats will need to bring their own clothespins to the voting booth this year. What can one say about Mrs. Clinton (and her husband) that has not already been said? Even discounting her most unhinged critics on the rabid right who think she is the Spawn of Satan (or Satan’s wife), the truth is that there is lot not to like about her.

But she is the presumptive nominee (and by the time this appears may have locked up the nomination). As for her tenacious Democratic opponent, I confess that, personally, I have never “felt the Bern.” Sanders’ signature issues are admirable—I’m a longtime advocate of a single-payer healthcare system, the only issue with which I identify as a “progressive”—but they are entirely aspirational and have no chance at all of coming to fruition when our Congress is populated by fellows like that guy who threw a snowball in the chamber of the House of Representatives to “prove” global warming is a myth. The model for Sanders’ vision are the Scandanavian social democracies, where a network of social insurance programs is founded on a broadly accepted cultural ethic of common provision, social solidarity and shared responsibility, including a very high tax rate (nobody is getting anything for “free”)—an ethic that doesn’t even remotely exist in this country, where even the commitment to an asset as integral to our national identity as public education has eroded.

Forget “free” public college tuition. Here is a prediction: The next big “crisis” that will have everyone wringing their hands and wondering how it happened and why we didn’t see it coming, is when a bridge somewhere collapses. And just you watch: that water and lead poisoning scandal in Flint is just the tip of a great big iceberg underneath our nation’s cities.  

Public taxpayer dollars subsidize a vast but largely invisible infrastructure supporting all that we take for granted as the comfort, convenience and reliability of the “American way of life”: safe roads and bridges, a safe food supply, clean water, and a public health system that can identify emerging diseases and respond before they become epidemics.

It’s setting the performance bar pretty low, but perhaps our political leaders could tend to these fundamentals. Perhaps conservatives (including the clown with the snowball) could be reminded that it was the Eisenhower administration that built the Interstate highway system.

In these fraught times, a “reasonable, experienced, mainstream centrist”—even one as compromised as Hillary—may be just what we need, and a more than tolerable option given the alternatives in the other party. If fair-minded conservatives can embrace her, as Mr. Gopnik hopes they will, then the rest of us—either progressive fans of Sanders or others, like me, who just wish the Clintons were, you know, better people—can also make a sacrifice for sanity.

Garrison Keillor wrote a clever and funny column about this election, urging a little less gloom from people like me. But he ended on a grave note. “The choices, at this point, are extremely limited. Some Bernie women wish Elizabeth Warren were running. She’s not. There is a disaster who is in the race, though, and he’s done well against divided opposition. Come summer, the pluribus will need to unite.”

So let’s unite. And if you need to, grab a clothespin, clamp it to your nostrils, and pull the lever for Hillary. 

Mark Moran is a Lakewood resident. Read more of his work at http://blackdogsnow.blogspot.com

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Volume 12, Issue 10, Posted 3:33 PM, 05.10.2016