Matt Taibbi writes: I was disappointed to hear that Rolling Stone had endorsed Hillary Clinton, but I also understood. In many ways, the endorsement by my boss and editor, Jann Wenner, read like the result of painful soul-searching, after this very magazine had a profound influence on a similar race, back in 1972.
Jann explains this eloquently in “Hillary Clinton for President“:
“Rolling Stone has championed the ‘youth vote’ since 1972, when 18-year-olds were first given the right to vote. The Vietnam War was a fact of daily life then, and Sen. George McGovern, the liberal anti-war activist from South Dakota, became the first vessel of young Americans, and Hunter S. Thompson wrote our first presidential-campaign coverage. We worked furiously for McGovern. We failed; Nixon was re-elected in a landslide.”
The failure of George McGovern had a major impact on a generation of Democrats, who believed they’d faced a painful reality about the limits of idealism in American politics. Jann sums it up: “Those of us there learned a very clear lesson: America chooses its presidents from the middle, not from the ideological wings.”
But it would be a shame if we disqualified every honest politician, or forever disavowed the judgment of young people, just because George McGovern lost an election four decades ago.
That ’72 loss hovered like a raincloud over the Democrats until Bill Clinton came along. He took the White House using a formula engineered by a think tank, the Democratic Leadership Council, that was created in response to losses by McGovern and Walter Mondale.
The new strategy was a party that was socially liberal but fiscally conservative. It counterattacked Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy, a racially themed appeal to disaffected whites Nixon tabbed the “Silent Majority,” by subtly taking positions against the Democrats’ own left flank.
In 1992 and in 1996, Clinton recaptured some of Nixon’s territory through a mix of populist positions (like a middle-class tax cut) and the “triangulating” technique of pushing back against the Democrats’ own liberal legacy on issues like welfare, crime and trade.
And that was the point. No more McGoverns. The chief moral argument of the Clinton revolution was not about striving for an end to the war or poverty or racism or inequality, but keeping the far worse Republicans out of power.
The new Democratic version of idealism came in a package called “transactional politics.” It was about getting the best deal possible given the political realities, which we were led to believe were hopelessly stacked against the hopes and dreams of the young.
In fact, it was during Bill Clinton’s presidency that D.C. pundits first began complaining about a thing they called “purity.” This was code for any politician who stood too much on principle. The American Prospect in 1995 derisively described it as an “unwillingness to share the burden of morally ambiguous compromise.” Sometimes you had to budge a little for the sake of progress.
Jann describes this in the context of saluting the value of “incremental politics” and solutions that “stand a chance of working.” The implication is that even when young people believe in the right things, they often don’t realize what it takes to get things done.
But I think they do understand. Young people have repudiated the campaign of Hillary Clinton in overwhelming and historic fashion, with Bernie Sanders winning under-30 voters by consistently absurd margins, as high as 80 to 85 percent in many states. He has done less well with young African-American voters, but even there he’s seen some gains as time has gone on. And the energy coming from the pre-middle-aged has little to do with an inability to appreciate political reality.
Instead, the millions of young voters that are rejecting Hillary’s campaign this year are making a carefully reasoned, even reluctant calculation about the limits of the insider politics both she and her husband have represented.
For young voters, the foundational issues of our age have been the Iraq invasion, the financial crisis, free trade, mass incarceration, domestic surveillance, police brutality, debt and income inequality, among others.
And to one degree or another, the modern Democratic Party, often including Hillary Clinton personally, has been on the wrong side of virtually all of these issues. [Continue reading…]