Sanders preaches progress, but Clinton embodies it

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Not being a US citizen, I don't have a say in the Democratic nomination for the President of the United States. But as a member of the western world, I have a reasonable stake in who wins.

Hillary ClintonFor a progressive voter in the US, and for anyone interested in culture and politics, the multifaceted dynamic between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton is a complex but important topic worthy of reflection.

Independent senator Sanders, who caucuses with the Democratic Party in the Senate, represents 'the establishment' in the sense that the party's leaders and benefactors are predominantly white men like himself. At the same time, he explicitly pits himself against their interests.

Competing against him for the Democratic nomination is former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who symbolises progress through her potential to become the first female president, yet whose loyalty to the 'top end of town' (the banks and corporate giants) stymies progress in areas like economic inequality.

For any feminist, it's hard to view the installation of the first female president as anything but progressive. It's also hard to deny that, generally, Sanders' policies fall far to the left of Clinton's. For the Democratic Party's more progressive cohorts, the choice is not straightforward.

Despite espousing the kind of alleged socialist rhetoric of a level not seen in US politics in years, polls show that Sanders hasn't suffered much for it in his approval ratings. He has made bold statements agitating against the affluent Right, like this one in December:

'The wealthy and large corporations must pay their fair share. As president, I will stop corporations from shifting profits and jobs overseas to avoid paying taxes. I will tax Wall Street speculators who cost millions their jobs, homes, and life savings. I will tell the billionaire class: You can't have it all while kids in this country go hungry.'

Yet even if his views and rhetoric are radical, everything else about Sanders is so within our comfort zones that they become somewhat more palatable. This could be viewed as either a 'pro' or a 'con' for progressive voters — but it's worth considering the bigger picture of why it is the case.

A public person whose very appearance challenges the status quo of white male privilege — like Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama — will find it far harder to challenge the same in what they say and do.

But that's exactly why countries like Australia and the US need such forerunners — so that we get used to the diversity that we experience in our society being reflected in our leaders. That's progress, even when such leadership is lacking in progressive policies.

In a sort of defence of Clinton, it could be argued that leaders who are members of a marginalised group have a need to cling to sources of power within their reach — as compensation for whatever attributes set them at a disadvantage from the outset.

Of course, it's difficult for any progressive to get into power without aligning with powerful groups, whether they be politics-based, class-based, culture-based or gender-based. And Clinton is already disqualified from a club with arguably the most stubborn membership of all — the 'boys club'.

In the wake of President Obama's double-term which broke the 220-year tradition of white male leaders in the US, the installation of another white male president may not feel like progress to all progressives. We're finally in an era where the power, not just the money that comes with it, can be spread around into the hands of traditionally marginalised groups.

Such symbolic leadership is aspirational, reflecting not where we're up to but where we'd like to be.

These are all steps in what can seem an interminably long journey. We may be in an era where the general public can go so far as to accept a different leader — with a different skin colour or set of reproductive organs — but that 'pass' is given on the condition that other things remain unchanged, as we are carried over vast cultural and gender divides.

Perhaps, for a while, the public's trust for these leaders will tenuously depend on them sticking more or less to 'the script'.

All else aside, Clinton becoming president would symbolise a change that no well-intentioned male president could achieve. The difficult-to-swallow reality is that she may need to sing to the tune of 'business as usual' in order to get there.

'President Hillary Clinton' would change the world for many people, with or without the Senate's endorsement; with or without successfully changing any US laws. For women, it would be progress — whether it comes in a form that Sanders legitimises or not.

 


Megan GrahamMegan Graham is a Melbourne based writer.

Topic tags: Megan Graham, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, US Presidential Election 2016, Donald Trump

 

 

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This essay reminds me of the now forgotten and still unlamented former leader of the ALP in Queensland, Tom Burns, whose dear old dad always assured him that “the worst Labor government is still better than any Liberal government.” There’s nothing quite like homespun wisdom, is there? Yes indeed, Hilary might not have any progressive policies (let’s be honest now and admit that Hilary’s policies will not disturb corporate or military America in the slightest) but who cares, she’s a woman so as president that would still be progress. As for senator Sanders, I think the ‘con’ part of the ‘pro’ or ‘con’ for progressive voters pretty well sums him up.
Paul | 11 March 2016


Are you arguing that Sanders has not suffered in the polls for his socialist politics because he is a white male? And that women necessarily have to sell out their principles in order to gain the backing of powerholders? And that on balance, Hillary would still be a better option? Well I think that is a misguided argument, that ignores the suffering of millions of american women due to a job market that condemns them in a much higher proportion than men to be the 'working poor'. Read Barbara Ehrenreich's famous book "Nickel and Dimed" and you'll learn about the lives of the working poor. The support for Sanders is based on a very deep level of suffering across the US due to a race to the bottom in working conditions that is also happening at a slower rate and decades years later in Australia.
Anne O'Brien | 11 March 2016


Megan acknowledges Bernie Sanders superior progressive credentials, but suggests that if he is successful in his bid for Democratic nomination it would automatically be a victory for the boys-only-club. This in a nutshell captures the essence of contemporary politics - a triumph of ideology over moral substance.
Bee Riana | 11 March 2016


The system of political donations seem to show the direction some policies will take. Will the possible connections to Monsanto and vaccine companies show her direction.
marlene bracks | 11 March 2016


The problem with Hillary though is that she does still represent and embody WHITE WEALTHY PRIVILEGE. She comes from a wealthy background, studoed at Yale, was even on the board of Walmart! Sanders is cut from ma different cloth. It's a very blinkered view that focuses on gender alone.
Anthony Grimes | 11 March 2016


Megan, thanks for a discussion more nuanced than the headline. However I think the US and the world simply don't have time for slow change any more. The US Congress and Supreme Court have been thoroughly corrupted, the US economy and society are being rapidly hollowed out, and Donald Trump is the consequence. The same interests are undermining, invading and pillaging around the world. They are driving global warming, which is now breaking out at an alarming rate. Sanders will challenge a lot of that. Hillary is already in the boys club, though not at the top, and playing by their rules, as did Thatcher, Meier, Gillard et al. We need different rules. Obama has been a great disappointment. His soaring rhetoric could have carried him much further, but his style is not to confront but to compromise, and when you compromise with bullies they're only encouraged to come back for more.
Geoff Davies | 11 March 2016


Gender is the least interesting consideration when voting. It should be the character and moral fibre of the person. “You can't have it all while kids in this country go hungry” - if these were Hillary Clinton’s words and attitude, then voters would respond. It has nothing to do with male/female prejudice, it has everything to do with character. If progress is to vote for Hillary because she is female, then count me out, I need a far better reason than that.
Jane | 11 March 2016


Megan Graham has allowed her feelings for a first female US President in Hillary Clinton get in the way of social justice in the very unegalitarian society that is USA today. This is sad coming from a well educated lady writer. Bernie Sanders is giving his campaign the best shot & many poorer, and non-white, and female citizens of US are behind him. Better a US President who stands up FOR all Americans than President Hillary Clinton who is beholden to the BIG end of town.
John Cronin, Toowoomba | 11 March 2016


We've had our white male and white female prime minister. White male PMs have always been a dime a dozen and the next white female PM will be about as novel as Annastacia Palaszczuk is after Joan Kirner, Carmen Lawrence, Anna Bligh, Kristina Kenneally, Lara Giddings and about four female territory chief ministers. One would think that The Next Big Diversity in the head of government stakes would be an Aboriginal woman, and perhaps even a pro-life one at that, just to be really diverse. So, what is a Hillary Clinton but only a recycling of the dominant two (among many) diversity categories, monochromatic colour and sex. That's like ALP or Coalition, or Democratic or Republican, over and over. If a good thing is worth waiting for, let America await its first indeed female President, but Native American and, just to be really diverse, pro-life.
Roy Chen Yee | 11 March 2016


In a recent TV interview with Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont stated his support for 'a woman's right to choose', with regard to the availability and justification of abortion. When the question was extended to asking him whether he supported or opposed late-term abortions, his answer was the same as above. Does this matter have any interest for the editorial staff of 'Eureka', or the supporters of Hilary Clinton?
Claude Rigney | 11 March 2016


Claude Rigney raises an important point regarding the current US primaries. I doubt anyone who is Anti-Abortion would win either party's nomination. 'Eureka Street' is somewhat different from other publications in the Jesuit Publications Australia stable in that it is a magazine of current opinion rather than one that is primarily concerned with teaching Church doctrine. I imagine the Jesuit writers for ES would support the Church doctrine on abortion but they may not consider the magazine an organ for direct preaching.
Edward Fido | 14 March 2016


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