There have been huge advances in civil rights, voting rights, and marriage equality over the past half-century. These are life-changing achievements that can all be credited to the work of Democratic administrations. So when I read the headline “Why One Millennial Feminist Would Rather Go to Hell Than Vote for Hillary” in last week’s edition of the Voice, followed by reader comments such as “Millennials, in particular, see through the BS of their elders because they haven’t experienced the benefits that corrupted previous generations of liberals” and “If voting for Bernie Sanders means Trump will come to power, so be it,” a siren — not a “ding-ding-ding” bell, but a blaring, piercing wail — went off in my head.
Here we are again, poised to sacrifice the gains of the past on the altar of ideological purity. Passion is great, kids, but what if Bernie doesn’t have the horses to get the nomination? Do you quit after he stumbles because what’s left — Hillary, presumably — doesn’t rise to your standards?
Here’s a warning about what your idealism will get you: another “I got mine” Republican administration that will affect you (and everyone around you) not just for four or eight years. You’ll be feeling the burn for the entire lifespan of whatever retrograde hanging judge President “The Donald” proclaims “The Greatest Supreme Court Nominee EVER!” And with the potential for four (maybe five) open Supreme Court seats, the possible rollbacks — if you stop to think about actual consequences — are heart-stopping.
Try this political brainteaser: Which 2016 Republican presidential hopeful — labor-bashing Ohio governor John Kasich or Fundamentalist darling senator Ted Cruz — said, “Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate farmers, liquidate real estate…it will purge the rottenness out of the system. High costs of living and high living will come down. People will work harder, live a more moral life”?
Actually, it was Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, advising Republican president Herbert Hoover on how to deal with the stock market crash of 1929 and the subsequent onslaught of the Great Depression. Even as Democratic presidents have put into place a succession of reforms since the early 1930s — Social Security and the forty-hour workweek under Franklin Roosevelt, Medicare and Medicaid under Lyndon Johnson, family and medical leave under Bill Clinton, affordable health care under President Obama — the Republican solution has remained much the same: Liquidate ’em all and let God sort ’em out. Where do you think a couple more presidential terms of that will leave us?
Let’s go to the (crackly, pre-digital) tape: In 1968, President Johnson, despite his shepherding of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts through Congress, was reviled by the left because of the war in Vietnam. His vice president, Hubert H. Humphrey, a longtime champion of worker and minority rights, was running for president, but a large contingent of the formidable youth vote that year wore “Dump the Hump” buttons because of his association with LBJ’s war policies. Speaking before the House Un-American Activities Committee in December 1968, Tom Hayden, one of the founders of the radical activist group Students for a Democratic Society, told the congressmen, “I think that the election of Richard Nixon, in a sense, shows that the country will continue to run down until people decide to straighten it out. You know, it doesn’t really matter to me whether Hubert Humphrey or Richard Nixon is president of the United States.”
In the glare of hindsight, many in the generation Hayden was speaking for have since reassessed the theory that there is no daylight between the parties. Columbia professor Todd Gitlin, a former SDS president himself, said in a 2005 documentary, “Those who hated the war decided to be so pure as to sit [the election] out. I was one of them. I know very few people who voted in that year, and we were wrong.”
Jack Newfield, a muckraking firebrand for this newspaper, wrote in his 2002 book, Somebody’s Gotta Tell It: The Upbeat Memoir of a Working-Class Journalist, “I voted for Dick Gregory [look him up, millennials] instead of Hubert Humphrey for president in 1968, then regretted it as soon as I found out that Nixon had defeated Humphrey by less than 1 percent of the vote.”
Why the remorse? Because, whether or not The Hump could have outright ended the war, he wouldn’t have exponentially increased its savagery by carpet-bombing not only North Vietnam but also Cambodia and Laos, as Nixon did.
Does that sound familiar? It should, because the money we need for the universal health care and free tuition Bernie is promising — somewhere north of 4 trillion dollars’ worth of it — lies buried in the sands of Iraq, a war that was even more of a put-up job than Vietnam, a war that never would have been launched if George W. Bush didn’t have daddy issues. So think for a minute about just how W. got elected over Al Gore. Remember Tricky Dick Nixon? Before he immolated himself with the Watergate scandal, he appointed William Rehnquist to the Supreme Court, a man described by liberal lawyer Alan Dershowitz as someone who “made his career undermining the rights and liberties of American citizens.”
So what? Ancient history, you say. Well, add this footnote to Rehnquist’s dissenting opinion in Roe v. Wade and his votes against school desegregation and in favor of school prayer: In 2000, those who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for the wonky Al Gore cast their lot with the pedantic Ralph Nader in protest. This tipped the scales just far enough to deny Gore a clear victory, after which — you guessed it — none other than Chief Justice William Rehnquist presided over the decision to stop the vote recount in Florida and hand the presidency to George W. Bush.
And when Rehnquist died, W. replaced him with John Roberts, the jurist who, during Obama’s first term, handed down the Citizens United ruling that gutted campaign finance reforms, increasing the control of big money over American politics.
So what’s the takeaway for all of you hating on Hillary, the Shadow Queen of the Corpocracy? Go ahead and cast your primary vote for Bernie, the Shining Knight (never mind that he votes with the NRA and against gun control because Vermont has a large gun-toting population — that’s politics, kids). And if he gets the nomination, go out and campaign and vote for him in the general election. I’ll be right there with you. But if Hillary comes out the victor in Philadelphia, I’ll be pulling the lever for her on November 8, and I hope you’re there with me instead of dragging yourself — and the rest of the country — straight to Rollback Hell.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 16, 2016