There’s No Normal to Go Back To: A Quick Note on Evaluating the Democratic Presidential Candidates

So, I have my preferences, loosely held at the moment, because it’s too early to get all worked up and the infighting/circular firing squad thing we went through last time (and how many other times before that?) just isn’t gonna work for us this time, so I’m saving my shots for the other side, who far more richly deserve them. That said, I do have a thing I want to say about how I’m going to be making my choices, donations, and decisions about whom to support in the 2020 election cycle. And though I shan’t tell you, a presumably grown-ass adult human capable of making your own choices, what to think or how to come to your own conclusions, I do hope you’ll give this a read and a good long think, afterwards.

We are at war, and have been for a long time. Decades, at very least.

No, I’m not talking about Afghanistan, or any of the other various and sundry American military deployments abroad, however hot or cold their current theater of operations is. Not that that’s not worth talking about, especially Afghanistan where we’re almost two decades in and I still don’t know what we’re trying to accomplish. No, the war I’m talking about is the war here at home, between left and right, and it’s a war only one side has been fighting for most of the time it’s been going on.

That has to change. Like, yesterday.

Look, I get that you may not think of it that way, and you probably don’t want to think of it that way. It’s comforting to think of the Trump era as an aberration, a Black Swan event that, while it’s doing some damage to our republic, our cultural and institutional immune system is even now spinning up antibodies (Congressional investigations, various state AGs, the Mueller report, etc) to combat it. Once the fever breaks, we can go back to normal, with good-faith bipartisanship and West Wing-style governance by whoever makes the best argument.

We can’t. That version of normal died during the Obama years, when Republicans responded to a wave election in which they were trounced by vowing to make him a one-term President, and filibustering everything that ever came to the Senate floor so as to deny him and his party any accomplishments to run on. Or maybe it died during the Florida recount in 2000, when Republican staffers staged the Brooks Brothers Riot to stop ballots being counted and the right-leaning Supreme Court put five thumbs on the scale to tip the election to their guy. Or when Newt Gingrich and the Contract With America Republican House voted to impeach Bill Clinton because they had the votes to do so (how else did an investigation into a decades-old real estate deal lead to censure for lying about a blow job?). Or maybe it was the Willie Horton ad that helped sink Dukakis. Or the Reagan campaign’s rumored canoodling with the Iranians – to whom they later sold missiles to fund an extracurricular war in Central America – during the Hostage Crisis. Or maybe it was the Nixon campaign’s documented canoodling with the the North Vietnamese to sink the Paris peace talks.

Set aside their greatest hits, turn back to Republicans’ more recent body of work, and we see gerrymandering, targeted voter roll purges, institutional roadblocks put in place of non-conservative voters, the rollback of Civil Rights Act protections, the legalization of political bribery with Citizens United, tax cuts as far as the eye can see for the wealthiest among us – who then put some of the money they saved in the bank accounts and campaign war chests of those who delivered – deregulation and rollback of hard-won laws that keep things like air and water and farmland unpoisoned. And let’s not forget torture and waterboarding and Abu Ghraib, or launching a pre-emptive war on Iraq (shitty as Saddam was, he wasn’t hiding or developing WMDs, or funding al Qaeda), the Muslim ban, all the times Republicans shut the government down as a bargaining ploy in budget negotiations, their refusal to address the overabundance of guns and mass shootings in the country (even after they themselves were targeted), and their overarching effort to trample down and marginalize anyone who isn’t white, Christian, evangelical, and conservative.

Put briefly as I can put it, an unholy alliance of oligarch money, white supremacist terrorists, and evangelical Christians keen on speeding up the apocalypse so Jesus can come back have conspired to make war on the political left, American democracy, and the only planet we know of capable of sustaining life as we know it. It’s well past time we recognized that, and acted accordingly. Because everything depends on it.

We are, right now, this moment, right smack dab in the middle what may be the most crucial juncture in human history. Does that sound like hyperbole? A gross exaggeration? Do you believe in science? Fallible as it can be, pretty much every credible scientist agrees that we’ve got just a few years to turn back the tide on the worst climate change has to offer. We’re talking mass extinctions, resource wars, unimaginable numbers of people displaced by sea level rise and the inundation and destruction of all the stuff we humans have built by the water because it was so historically useful and crucial to do so. We’re talking once-in-a-century, once-in-a-millennium weather events happening every year, with all the destruction and upheaval that entails. And that’s if we’re lucky.

Do you feel lucky? Do you?

I don’t.

Look, there’s all kinds of stuff we need to get on if we want to preserve the democracy we cherish and the planet we live on, never mind progressing toward a more just, verdant, and prosperous world. One of the first things is to recognize the fight we’re in and what the stakes are.

Which brings me back to where I started.

Above just about everything else, we need Democratic candidates for every office, but most especially for President, who understand the fight we’re in, and the stakes. The defensive crouch the party’s been in since the ’70s or so isn’t going to cut it anymore (it never did). The Stockholm Syndrome/abuse victim mentality of being afraid to be labeled ‘too liberal’, the being Republicans-who-are-less-dickish-about-it thing has been tried for about as long as Trickle Down economics, and it’s worked out even worse.

Think I’m wrong? Just look at Obama. I liked him, thought he probably did the best he could, or tried to. But he ran on a unity message, and bent over backward to be accommodating to Republicans, and what did it get him? Eight years of questioning his character, birthplace, and intention, of fighting dirty and negotiating in bad faith, culminating in him being robbed of a seat on the Supreme Court and getting his hands tied while a foreign adversary meddled in a Presidential election. Eight years he tried to reach across the aisle, and every time he ended up Charlie Brown to Republicans’ Lucy when they yanked the football away at the last second, again, just like last time, and the time before that, ad infinitum ad nauseam.

So this time around, let’s all stop pretending there’s some normal we can go back to. Because whatever normal there was isn’t worth going back to. It’s dirty tricks and ratfucking and filibusters and gerrymandering. It’s stoking white nationalism to get tax cuts and deregulation for parasitic oligarchs who increasingly aren’t even American, while our infrastructure crumbles, our democracy dies of a thousand cuts, and everyday Americans fight each other over crumbs and die of preventable disease, fentanyl overdose, or a bullet from a mass shooter’s gun.

And yeah, I get that the Democratic party isn’t exactly the ideal vessel of choice for this. But it’s what we got, our best chance to turn the tide, and if the last two years of marches, phone calls, and activism have shown us anything, it’s that the party can be dragged, kicking and screaming if need be, in the right general direction.

‘Bipartisan’ is a wonderful conjuring word. Once upon a time, it may even have meant something. But as I look at the world around me, at the looming crises on almost every front, I can’t help but come to the conclusion that it’s gotta be Democrats all the way down if we’re going to have even a chance to turning things around, and not just any Democrats, but ones who understand what we’re up against, and have the courage, the savvy, and the will and resolve to fight the good fight.

So when I look at candidates for 2020 (and beyond), that’s what I’ll be looking for: someone who recognizes the war being waged against us and all we hold dear, who understands there’s no meaningful partnership to be found on the other side of the political divide, and who’ll do what’s necessary to preserve what we’ve built and to progress beyond it.

I hope, for all our sakes, you will, too.

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