Emergency room politics

Sam Smith

So now we face the prospect of the sleaziest, least competent, and most politically repugnant Republicans of all time running against a Democrat who is corrupt, dishonest, had three of her closest business partners go to prison along with nine of her major backers, designed rotten healthcare legislation that fortunately didn’t pass, made $100,000 on a $1,000 investment in highly questionable cattle futures, and supported a guy for head of Homeland Security who subsequently withdrew and eventually went to jail.

Back during a milder political dilemma, I proposed that we think of our relationship with Barack Obama as that of a one night stand – we vote for him and that’s it, but since Hillary Clinton’s backers would find this sexist, I’ll suggest another metaphor, namely that if Hillary Clinton is nominated, we approach the election as emergency room politics.

Emergency rooms are not there to cure illnesses, but to prevent them becoming worse. They are not there to replace severed arms or legs but to control matters until a surgeon can take over.

In a similar way, elections rarely solve our political problems. They only allow us a chance to mitigate or postpone disaster until we get our act together better. What was once the First American Republic has collapsed into a greedy and careless oligarchy and it will take far more than a mark on a ballot to change that.

As I wrote during the last election:

I don’t share with many of my Green Party friends the notion that politics is a form of religion and that one should react at the polls as a born again voter.. First, there is no historical evidence that at the presidential level this has worked since Abe Lincoln won for the new Republican Party and, second, I have lived in places like Boston, Philadelphia and Washington where one rarely associates politics with the higher virtues. It is not about personal salvation brought about by casting the right ballot, but a collective, pragmatic way to make things work as best one can in a town, state or nation.

But many assume when we go to vote that we are helping to define the future and thus can be passionate when it works and angry when it fails.

The truth is that elections are basically a formal poll of where we are at that moment in time. It is the product of all the political activity, organizing and arguing that has gone on before.

It doesn’t determine the future for a large number of reasons, one of which has been dramatically demonstrated by Barack Obama: namely that politicians rarely do what they promise, either because of deceit or difficulty.

For such reasons there are those who will not turn out in November on the grounds that both choices are worthless or evil. And there are those who will not turn out because the whole subject just depresses them or no longer is of interest.

But what if we change our view of elections so they are seen as one tool for what one is trying to achieve rather than an ultimate goal? What if the purpose of voting is not to come up with a saint, but to make our struggle easier? What if the most important day is not Election Day but the day after?

Of course, Clinton may blow it on the way to the nomination and we’ll find ourselves in a totally different situation. Her past is rife with questions, facts and issues that could prove extremely uncomfortable in the coming months.

But assuming she gets the nomination I would suggest that the question is not whether you vote for her but whether you vote in a manner that is least likely to make the future more difficult.

For example, if Hillary Clinton wins the nomination and loses the election, then the rightwing extremists still called Republicans will control the White House, Congress and Supreme Court. Even though I view Hillary Clinton and her husband as the most successfully corrupt politicians I have ever covered, and even though I wouldn’t lend my car to either one of them, it is far more important that we don’t have any more anti-constitutional justices on the Supreme Court.

I realize this attitude may seem strange to some. We have been trained, since the arrival of television, to view life in terms of its images rather its realities and nowhere has this been more costly than in our politics. People – even liberals with Phds – often prefer to imagine someone like Hillary Clinton by her images rather than what she really is about.

And she has gotten away with a raft of illusions including with her claim that criticism of her stems from hate, specifically from a vast rightwing conspiracy.  In fact, some of the significant early journalistic exposure of the real Clintons, which the major media still chooses to ignore, was the result of work by progressive journalists like Christopher Hitchens, Alexander Cockburn, Sally Benton, Roger Morris and myself. My first tip came not from right wingers but from a progressive student group in Arkansas.

But then I suffer from the handicap of having been introduced to a different sort of politics than most liberals imagine themselves to be in. At the age of 12, I stuffed envelopes in a successful Philadelphia campaign to end 69 years of corrupt GOP rule. I covered the Cambridge Massachusetts city council while James Michael Curley was still alive next door in Boston. When one of my sisters got married, I happened to be out back and spied a Philly police car being loaded with a case of champagne. I saw two FBI agents come to interview my politically active father about corrupt city council members he opposed but knew something about. And I worked with Marion Barry and watched him descend into his later problems.

I see politics as a matter of choosing battlegrounds rather than candidates. Just as a doctor approaches a ruptured body in the emergency room not as test of personal nobility but based on pragmatic experience, neither can we approach an election as merely a test of our virtue.

The election of a Republican president in 2016 could easily destroy the Constitution, lead us into a fatal military conflict and/or collapse the economy. And there is no virtue in making life, as it would definitely become, far more painful for minorities, the poor, and the middle class.

The day after the election we can start to work on the substantial Hillary Clinton problem. But if she is nominated, we need to concentrate first on the larger malevolence of the Republicans.

Sam Smith, 2012- I often hear people say that there is no difference between the two parties and their candidates. In fact there is a big difference on a number of them: abortion,  Amtrak,  birth control assistance  diversity of appointments  extension of unemployment benefits. food stamps, unemployment benefits  environmental issues,  gay marriage and separation of church and state to name a few.

What I would love to see would be a movement that recognizes the fact that many Americans are annoyed, disappointed, or frustrated and that others have just given up – and that attempts to offer the justification for a one night stand with Obama.  A few parts to the plan:

– There must be a clear cause centered on a few key economic issues.  Not ones that affect the  GDP, international trade or make the private sector feel “fine” but real live things that help people with jobs, income and mortgages. And no gay marriage stuff, no abortion talk, no liberal gobblygook.  Rather basic,  gut bucket issues.

– There must a clear plan to launch a new movement for these causes the day after the election, making the point that having a Democrat in the White House and a Democratic Senate is essential to get these things going, not because we can expect their enthusiastic support but that their opposition will be much less.  The kickoff should involve thousands of groups across the country on the same page, the same issues and the same day.

– Keep the Democratic Party and its front groups like Move On out of it all. They’ll just muck things up. Labor unions, churches, activist groups of all sorts: fine.

– Start now bringing the people who feel so frustrated and defeated together. The could be social groups called Apathy Anonymous and  there could be cross-issue gatherings of local activists so they begin to discovered that there are more us than they think.

The best solution is to give Obama one day and keep the rest for America.


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