It’s All About Tone: A Conversation With A Hillary Clinton Voter

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“Bernie and his supporters are sexists. They’re misogynists! Did you see the way he interrupted her that time she was interrupting him? Hateful! And he mostly gets white voters because he’s a racist, and that one time, when he wasn’t even there, apparently one of his followers shouted ‘English only!’ at a Hispanic icon and even though there was a video showing it didn’t really happen it totally did! So obviously he and his followers hate Latinos. And even though there’s all that documentary evidence and eyewitness accounts of Bernie’s personal civil rights activism, that don’t count because he’s clearly racist against black people, like that woman he was chained to when he was arrested fighting for her rights. And he supported the Minute Men vigilantes who hunt Mexicans along the border, because that totally makes sense! He’s an egotist and just running for his own aggrandizement and doesn’t give a damn about anybody but himself. And ALL his followers are just loutish twenty-year-old frat boy Bernie Bros and every single one of them is an abusive asshole online. Oh, okay, yeah, there are a few women, but they’re just in it for the boys, and they’re too naive to understand what they’re doing. He’s not even a Democrat and his supporters are traitors to the party. And he’s a communist! And he loves guns and is totally in the pocket of the NRA! And he doesn’t understand how government works and he’s never accomplished anything in all his years in public service! And the fact that he hasn’t had to evolve over the years from having stances that are despicable or did great damage to the country and the world doesn’t mean he’s almost always been on the right side because of his character, it means he’s inflexible and resistant to change! He’s an unrealistic idealogue and he’s as bad as Trump! And it’s just awful the way he and his supporters tear poor Hillary down, they shouldn’t be so negative! We need to think about November!”

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When Bernie Sanders Throws His Mighty Shield…

 

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I just returned from visiting Nydia,  my amazing inamorata, in Brazil for a couple of months where, among other more psychologically healthy activities, we spent a great deal of time tracking the American election. Last week, as we sat eating airport food, drearily counting the minutes before I had to depart, I noticed the latest of many Captain America t-shirts I’d seen worn by Brazilians during the visit.

I told Nyd I was heartened to see the shirts, and the popularity of the character, who I see as a true symbol of the American ideal, not the jingoistic symbol of American imperialism seen by some. And I credited that popularity to the Marvel films, and Chris Evans’s very human, very decent, very noble portrayal of Steve Rogers. Captain America isn’t propagandistic, he’s aspirational.

“Captain America is Bernie Sanders,” I told her. “They’re both old guys from Brooklyn with superhuman stamina, dedicated to New Deal policies, still fighting to protect the weak from the powerful, unflinching in their belief in the American dream.”

Later, back home in the states, I saw author Catherynne Valente tweet, “Clinton is Black Widow (troubled past, does the right thing eventually) Sanders is Hulk, always angry, no one is Cap.” I have a lot of respect for Ms. Valente, but I disagree.

First off, Clinton ain’t much like the Black Widow. She lacks the Widow’s metaphorical agility as a campaigner, and when she takes aim at her opponent, her shots almost always miss or ricochet back and hit her. I’ll grant she has a “troubled past,” if you really want to undersell the problems with Clinton’s record, but that very record shows she actually doesn’t really do the right thing eventually unless it’s politically expedient or she has to because she’s forced to “walk back” a stance or action because of political damage. She does have a great deal of “red in her ledger,” blood on her hands, in places like Haiti and Iraq and Libya and Honduras, places that have suffered terribly because of Hillary (and Bill) Clinton’s ruthless political calculus. But the Widow owns up to her acts, and, in The Winter Soldier, even released the transcripts records to the internet, taking full responsibility for her misdeeds and working to redeem herself for them.

Hillary won’t even share the content of a few speeches she made to Wall Street, much less acknowledge the terrible human impact of her decisions over the years.

And Bernie as the Hulk? No. The Hulk’s anger is unreasoning, destructive rage. Bernie is angry, yes, as he should be, but he is not destructive. He is protective, nurturing, and constructive. And he is anything but unreasoning; just watch the video of him speaking to the students at evangelical Liberty University, where he engages them with respect and gets respect in return though their philosophies are radically opposed.

I’d say Donald Trump is the Hulk, but he lacks the Hulk’s dignity and compassion. Hell, he lacks the Hulk’s intellect.

But no, Bernie is definitely Captain America.

One of the best pieces I’ve ever read on Captain America is by Steven Attewell, and in it he addresses Steve Rogers’s political identity:

“Steve Rogers isn’t a jingoistic conservative asshole…Unlike many other patriotic characters who derive their virtues from the American heartlands, Steve Rogers grew up in the cosmopolitan multi-cultural world of New York City. He came of age in New York City at a time when the New Deal was in full swing, Fiorello LaGuardia was mayor, the American Labor Party was a major force in city politics, labor unions were on the move, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade was organizing to fight fascism in Spain in the name of the Popular Front, and a militant anti-racist movement was growing that equated segregation at home with Nazism abroad that will eventually feed into the ‘Double V’ campaign.

“Then he became a fine arts student. To be an artist in New York City in the 1930s was to be surrounded by the ‘Cultural Front.’ We’re talking the WPA Arts and Theater Projects, Diego Rivera painting socialist murals in Rockefeller Center, Orson Welles turning Julius Caesar into an anti-fascist play and running an all-black Macbeth and ‘The Cradle Will Rock,’ Paul Robeson was a major star, and so on. You couldn’t really be an artist and have escaped left-wing politics. And if a poor kid like Steve Rogers was going to college as a fine arts student, odds are very good that he was going to the City College of New York at a time when an 80% Jewish student body is organizing student trade unions, anti-fascist rallies, and the ‘New York Intellectuals’ were busily debating Trotskyism vs. Stalinism vs. Norman Thomas Socialism vs. the New Deal in the dining halls and study carrels.

“And this Steve Rogers, who’s been exposed to all of what New York City has to offer, becomes an explicit anti-fascist. In the fall of 1940, over a year before Pearl Harbor, he first volunteers to join the army to fight the Nazis specifically. This isn’t an apolitical patriotism forged out of a sense that the U.S has been attacked; rather, Steve Rogers had come to believe that Nazism posed an existential threat to the America he believed in. New Deal America.

“Captain America didn’t ‘share 40’s values’ – a reductive label assuming that everyone alive in 1940 was either a racial bigot, a misogynist, a homophobe, and an unthinking militarist, and handily ignores the people of color, women, gays, and left-wing activists who were hard at work to change American society for the better – he exemplified from the beginning the ideal that America could be. Thus Steve Rogers led the Invaders (a multispecies and multinational Allied superhero force) into Europe to fight fascism, he fought with Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos, a racially integrated fighting force from the beginning, and fought with the French Resistance rather than snidely repeating anachronistic cheese-eating surrender monkey jokes.

“Thus when Captain America is unfrozen in the 1960s, he’s not freaked out by the changes in racial progress – instead, he forms an instant partnership with one of the first black superheroes, the Falcon, who movie audiences just met for the first time, and the two of them go toe to toe against an insane imposter Captain America who’s obsessed about communists under the bed. The analogy cannot be more pointed: the real Captain America stands for racial equality and civil liberties, the Captain America who believes that the government needs to ‘smash’ reds by any means necessary is a fraud. In the 1980s, Steve Rogers runs into a childhood friend, Arnold Roth, who happens to be gay – and Steve Rogers defends his friend from bigoted violence, because Steve Rogers is a good man.

“In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, when Steve Rogers is unfrozen in the ice in 2011, he’s not here to be startled by our progressive values. He’s here to judge us for falling short of his – and that’s the entire crux of the plot of Winter Soldier. When Steve Rogers wakes up in post ‘New York’ America and sees SHIELD preparing a giant fleet of sniper drones that’s going to be used to cull the human race based on meta-data that supposedly predicts the bad things people might do in the future, he immediately calls this out as inherently incompatible with the Constitution and the ideals that Steve Rogers fought and essentially died for. He puts his faith on ordinary soldiers and rank-and-file officers to do what’s right, not the corrupt or blinded authorities personified respectively by Robert Redford and Samuel L. Jackson. And his solution to SHIELD/HYDRA’s plan for world domination through mass murder is not only to sacrifice himself to save the world (again), but also to release all of SHIELD’s secrets to the world.”

Did I say that Bernie Sanders is Captain America? Bernie Sanders is Captain America.

 

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A few years ago, writer J. Michael Straczynski put these words in Steve Rogers’s dialogue balloon:

“Doesn’t matter what the press says. Doesn’t matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world: No, YOU move.”

That is exactly what Bernie Sanders is doing. He’s telling the Democratic establishment and the GOP and the media and the big money special interests, No, YOU move.

And the people of America are hearing him. And they’re starting to plant their feet as well.

(NOTE: A while back, I had a really interesting discussion about Captain America and his place in America’s political psyche. I posted it here.)

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Art by Danny Kelly

Maybe It’s Not The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. Maybe It’s Just Your Candidate.

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I’m still seeing many people clinging to the argument that a lot of the stuff we see online that is critical of Hillary Clinton is either from sinister right-wing operatives or from gullible left-wingers who have been tricked by those operatives into not supporting the party-ordained candidate. Someone just posted a mini-rant (inspired by a New York Times piece) about Republicans posting anti-Hillary tweets so that liberals will repost them and be turned against Hillary…

Wait, what?

If the liberals are reposting these insidious tweets, they’re doing so because they agree with them already. They’re not being hypnotized by the totemic power of 140 well-chosen characters to achieve a sudden right-wing epiphany that Clinton doesn’t represent their views. If a GOP agent provocateur tweets “I love chocolate,” even if he doesn’t, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if some chocolate-loving Democrats agreed and retweeted.

Are there right-wing operatives out there in social media trying to manipulate voters? Of course. There are also confirmed accounts of the Clinton campaign using Karl Rovian tactics like push polls to try to dishonestly manipulate Democratic voters into believing false things about Bernie Sanders and his policies. That was the same tactic Rove used for Bush in South Carolina when the pollsters were telling racist voters John McCain had a little black baby. The Clinton camp and its surrogates have also, for months, tried tactics varying from implying that Bernie Sanders is just like Hugo Chavez, the ex- strongman dictator of Venezuela, to having the candidate herself lie straight in voters’ faces over and over again that Sanders plans to completely abolish Obamacare and then start all over on the healthcare issue. That simple lie — used constantly, the classic political “Big Lie” — has gone mostly unchallenged by the media and has misled many voters into thinking that their coverage is in danger if they vote for the guy who is actually trying to get them better, more affordable coverage.

This is, of course, the same Hillary whose campaign in 2008 released a picture of Barack Obama wearing traditional Kenyan garments, including a turban, in order to frighten voters into thinking he was a muslim, as well as resorting to other underhanded tactics designed to capitalize on white people’s base ignorance and xenophobia about foreigners and black people in general.

Which is worse? Republicans dishonestly trying to manipulate Democrats, or Democratic politicians cynically lying to manipulate their own voters?

How about when you see a liberal friend criticizing Hillary, or supporting Bernie, just give them the benefit of a doubt. Maybe, like you, they’ve come to their decision on their own terms, according to their own experience and values, and they have reached different conclusions than you have. Respect them, and engage them, and change their minds by reasonable sharing of information and ideas if you can. But stop projecting all this nonsense that if people disagree with you, it’s the Republicans’ fault.

Mostly, it’s Hillary Clinton’s fault.