This interview in which Shaun King explains why The Party Left Him is…amazing:
ER: You say in your piece that in 2008 you were an enthusiastic supporter of President Obama. Do you think he’s been a successful president?
SK: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I think so. I respect President Obama a great deal. I’m probably to the right of Cornel West’s critique of President Obama, but I’m also not that guy who thinks he is beyond criticism.
ER: But the president — and there are some places where this isn’t true, especially on foreign policy — but the president’s political positions are certainly closer to Hillary Clinton’s than they are to Bernie Sanders’s. In the past eight years, how have your politics evolved in a way where now you won’t campaign and aren’t even sure you’ll vote for Hillary Clinton?
SK: I think we would have to go down each and every one of the president’s positions to really evaluate, what does the president think about health care? Yes, there is a thing called Obamacare — but was that what he campaigned on? What came out of the sausage factory, was that his dream? No. Of course not.
So is the president for universal health care? Well, he was. For years and years and years. And I don’t know that he stopped being for universal health care. It was just that he used virtually all the political capital he had in his first term to get something decent through Congress, and what came out was very different.
ER: Isn’t this effectively the Hillary Clinton theory of politics? Her argument throughout this campaign has been, “We have to defend the president’s accomplishments, and it’s very hard to get things through Congress. It’s instrumental. Sanders has no chance of passing this plan.”
SK: I hear that, but I think of it like this: Had the president’s idea been Obamacare, had his initial idea been, “Let’s just require everybody to have private health insurance and make a few tweaks here and there and create a website for it” — that wasn’t anywhere near his original idea. His original idea was much more significant, a much bigger shift, than what ended up coming out of the other end.
As K-Drum says, this is all risible nonsense. Obama and Clinton ran on nearly identical health care plans, and the extent to which Obama’s plan differed involved rather dishonest pandering that he abandoned after he got elected. Not only that, Clinton has a much longer record of being committed to universal health care. And, also, the Affordable Care Act is notably inconsistent with the idea that you create political change by a president proposing something far outside of the expected negotiating space. Had Obama’s opening bid been “Single Payer or Bust!” it wouldn’t have resulted in more progressive legislation, and indeed probably would have resulted in nothing passing.
There’s isn’t a penny’s worth of difference between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on domestic policy. Clinton is worse on foreign policy, but as the fact that Clinton was Obama’s Secretary of State makes clear it’s a difference of degree, not kind. The idea that the differences between Obama and Clinton are big enough to be worth leaving the party over but the differences between Clinton and Trump are too minor to make the former worth supporting is even more ridiculous than the idea that the Democrat Party is suppressing America’s natural social democratic governing majority.
What exactly are King’s DEALBREAKERS?
President Obama tried removing lobbyists from donating. Then they put all those things back into place. If Hillary is the nominee, whether she becomes president or not, she’ll be the face of the party. And I don’t just disagree with her on war or campaign finances; there is also the death penalty. There are 10 different issues that I disagree with her. And her as the face of the party, I disagree with. I think there are millions and millions of progressives who are finding themselves uncomfortable in the Democratic Party, and I’m one of those people.
Clinton’s position on campaign finance is nearly identical to Bernie Sanders’s, and on the issue where presidents can most impact campaign finance (Supreme Court appointments) Clinton and Sanders’s Supreme Court appointments are also likely to be equally good on the issue. On the death penalty, Hillary Clinton is indeed wrong. It’s also true that the federal government has executed exactly 3 people since 1976, and in the absence of the federal death penalty all three likely would have been executed by the benevolent local overlords in Texas and Oklahoma anyway. The idea that this is worth blowing up the Democratic Party over is, like pretty much every word of this, self-refuting. Also, the historical period in which leftists could agree with Democratic presidential nominees on every issue is for some reason unspecified.
There is of course no remotely coherent theory of political change in this call for a third party; the arguments here are, as such arguments almost always are, fundamentally aesthetic rather than political. But King’s invented differences between Obama and Clinton are particularly telling. Third party politics was really dumb in the 90s, and led to utter disaster in 2000, but at least one can understand why people had trouble accepting the direction the Democratic Party was taking in the 90s. The picture in 2016 is completely different. The Democratic Party is well to the left of where it was. At most, three presidents in American history have had greater records of progressive accomplishment than Barack Obama, and all three did so in more favorable circumstances. The traction Sanders’s campaign has gotten shows that the party is moving in a more progressive direction. Comparing Hillary Clinton’s agenda to Bill Clinton’s agenda also makes this clear. Picking now as the time you want to take your ball, go home, and leave America to Donald Trump among other things shows remarkable ignorance of American political history.