I’ve received a fair number of questions about my stance on the 2020 presidential election and whether it diverges from my staunch Clinton advocacy in 2016. Have I flipped from a Hillary Clinton to a Bernie Sanders supporter? Am I a centrist or a socialist? Am I pro-DNC or pro-AOC? Am I shifting to the left or was I already there? An explanation is in order.
Many of the people I engage with on social media got to know me during the 2016 election, when I was an unwavering Clinton defender locked in intense disputes with her critics on the right and left. But my 2016 advocacy was hardly the beginning of my career in politics.
I’ve been on the political battlefield since the turn of the millennium, when I was a vocal Bush-Cheney opponent protesting the Iraq war, fighting Democratic leaders and the corporate media for playing into Bush’s hands, and later criticizing Barack Obama for continuing some of the Bush administration’s most egregious policies on drones, indefinite detention, and extrajudicial killings.
I was hired by Clinton in 2006 (and by John Kerry in 2004) not because I was a party insider, but as a liaison to the progressive community. When I joined Clinton, the New York Times said it was “to help disseminate her message in a forum that has not always been that hospitable to her.”
Although I wasn’t aligned with Kerry and Clinton on every issue, I came to believe that working within the system to transform it was the most effective role I could play to combat the Republican Party’s reactionary policies. So I transitioned from outside activist/blogger to inside adviser and tried to build bridges between the Democratic establishment and the “netroots” in the hopes that Democratic politicians would be influenced by the energy, enthusiasm, and ideas of the progressive online community.
When I backed Clinton in 2016, it was an opportunity to complete the mission I had begun as a senior staffer on her 2008 presidential campaign. Electing Clinton served several important purposes to me, chiefly:
- Overcoming institutional sexism by electing the first woman president.
- Dealing a decisive blow to the brutally efficient right-wing attack machine that has smeared and vilified Democrats for decades.
But 2016 went off the rails for everyone, leaving painful scars and festering anger. My rhetorical fights with the Sanders campaign over Clinton’s personal character were seen by some progressives as an attack on their principles. They were certainly not intended that way. And in the years since, I’ve worked diligently to heal the wounds, to reach out to those I argued with, to move beyond 2016, and to bring people together in the face of an increasingly extremist Republican Party.
I do it not because I have illusions about everyone getting along and forgetting the past, but because I believe those of us who share Democratic/progressive/leftist values have no choice but to join forces—or at least minimize divisions—if we hope to prevail over an energized MAGA base in 2020. Our future depends on it. Contrary to the interminable speculation that Donald Trump is on the cusp of being removed from office, he is in fact consolidating power with the help of a GOP leadership bereft of any loyalty to our nation’s fundamental principles.
There’s also a practical consideration at play: the intractable disagreements from the bitter 2016 primary will never be resolved. Ever. Not in 2020 and not beyond. For every Clinton supporter who thinks the Sanders team fought dirty and ugly, there’s a Sanders supporter who feels the same about the Clinton side. For every Sanders backer who claims the 2016 primary was rigged against him, there’s a Clinton voter who responds just as forcefully that Clinton defeated Sanders handily and the “rigged” argument is sour grapes.
Banging our heads against that brick wall is a self-defeating exercise. One that we can’t afford at this point. Sometimes, moving on from a fight is the only way out of it. And I say that as a survivor of an actual civil war in the Middle East, where friends and neighbors became mortal enemies, then made peace for the greater good.
Calling for people to join forces is not to say that harassment and trolling should go unanswered. There should be no tolerance for sexism, racism, misogyny, etc. If you’re unfairly attacked, by all means, defend yourself. Nor am I arguing that pointing out legitimate issue differences is wrong. That’s what a primary is about.
But a disastrous future looms, one where white supremacists like Stephen Miller have unfettered power to lock migrant babies in frigid detention cells. Where Trump sycophants like Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham make a mockery of the rule of law. Where the GOP stacks the courts for generations.
In this environment of asymmetric polarization (i.e. Republicans, not Democrats, becoming more extreme), we need politicians who will take on the far right with moral clarity and determination. Which is why I supported Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during her primary campaign. Her willingness and ability to counter toxic GOP narratives is indispensable if Democrats hope to stop the rising tide of right-wing extremism. The half-measures, watered down policies, and empty platitudes that Democratic politicians have become accustomed to over the years won’t cut it in the face of encroaching fascism.
The majority of Americans agree with progressive positions, and Democratic leaders must finally learn to speak in clear, moral language. To speak of right and wrong. To have the courage of their convictions. To counter the GOP’s inhumane policies. To fight back with the determination and intensity required in this fraught moment.
Not a day goes by without a concern-trolling mainstream pundit admonishing Democrats not to move “too far left.” Oddly, these political “experts” never seem to care about the Republican Party’s lurch to the far right. The stale myth of a reasonable “center”—the false equivalence that seeking universal health care is as extreme as coddling neo-Nazis—has got to end.
For me, going left is going back to core American values and principles. Freedom of speech. Fairness. Justice for all. Common sense solutions to the scourge of gun violence. Putting an end to extreme inequality. Protecting the environment. And on and on.
Progressive positions are the morally correct ones. And those who claim embracing them somehow alienates the mythical “center” are simply echoing GOP narratives. I’ll end with a brilliant quote from author and professor Tayari Jones that I include in my forthcoming book, Digital Civil War: “There is nothing inherently virtuous about being neither here nor there . . . What is halfway between moral and immoral?”