Why Melissa Hillman’s Privilege Argument Was Backwards


Hillary Clinton

A recent article by Melissa Hillman for Quartz created a stir among loyalists in Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s camp. Hillman insisted that “privilege is what allows Sanders supporters to say they’ll ‘never’ vote for Clinton under any circumstance.”

That is inaccurate. There are those who are well outside the ranks of privilege who will not vote for Clinton. Period.

Quartz, a digital global business news publication culls its 150 writers from conservative business journals including Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal, and The Economist, as well as the New York Times. Its core market is global business people who want international markets. In other words, they are among the market oriented neoliberals where Clinton finds many of her supporters.

The truth is that there are those who will not vote for Clinton precisely because of their lack of privilege or because of their work among those who lack the kind of extraordinary privilege Quartz readers have or aspire to have.

One is Luis Efrain Serrano, an illegal (the term he prefers) Latino and an activist with ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] Out Of LA in Los Angeles. The organization exists to end deportations and the criminalization of illegal immigrants. He believes the privilege argument is backwards.

People are voting for Clinton, Serrano believes, “because of their privilege. Wealthy or middle class white folks would not be as negatively affected by her as those of us who are less privileged.”  The Democrats “give us weird little reforms like DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] which help us out a bit. We are ok with them only because things are so bad.”

Ultimately, Serrano wants systemic change. Although he does not support Donald Trump, the Republican presidential frontrunner, Serrano believes a Trump election could aid in forcing the collapse of the establishment. He believes Trump has shaken “the neoliberal establishment which Clinton represents because he exposes an economic system that they have kept hidden.” Reality is that the Clinton establishment, in Serrano’s opinion, has “perfected keeping people oppressed and distracted.” Trump has brought that into the open.

Serrano concludes, “for those without privilege, there is no strategy in electing Clinton.”

Zac Henson is a self-proclaimed “mad redneck” with a Ph. D. in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management but who makes his living delivering papers and driving for Uber in East Lake, Alabama.

Henson, too, is concerned about the political system. He also wants to challenge individualized ideas of what constitutes oppression or privilege. No one, is all oppressor or all oppressed,” he thinks. Instead, he believes, we need to talk more about “multiple overarching systems of power.” For instance, he says, “I’m white and male, so there are certainly advantages that I have in certain situations. But, I’m also mentally ill, working class, and Southern, so there are disadvantages that I have to deal with too.”

As for the election, Henson’s identities and philosophies slide between Clinton and Trump. Like Clinton, he believes in multiculturalism and diversity. But like Trump, he opposes economic globalization. He believes each has been engaged in an all-out war on the working class from both the left and the right. Partly because of Clinton’s neoliberalism, and the neoliberalism of the Democratic establishment, the white working class “literally has no place else to go but to Trump, which is both worrisome and sad.”

Trump, however, “is a monster arising in a cauldron of white working class rage and a generation of abandonment of the white working class by the left.” Because of the war on the working class, “people are frustrated, mad, and confused. It seems as if the American Dream is a distant memory.”

Even someone like me, he says, “who is a community organizer, an antiracist, a feminist, and a communist can see Trump’s appeal to people who are just desperate. So, I’ll probably just vote for Jill Stein, even though I know that it’s a throw away vote. Not much of a choice, if you ask me.”

Jorge Mújica Murias is the Strategic Campaigns Organizer at Arise Chicago, an organization devoted to combatting worker injustice. A Latino, he ran for Congress as a candidate for Illinois’s 3rd Congressional District in 2009 and for Alderman for the City of Chicago in 2015. A socialist, he supports Jill Stein of the Green Party.

“My reason for not supporting Clinton is simple,” Mújica says. “I want to do away with the two-party system.”

He wants to see the Democratic Party split. “I want to help give a solid third party status to the Green Party. I don’t want people re-electing Hillary in 2020 because Ted Cruz runs against her nor do I want to see Chelsea Clinton running against Trump. Giving a solid third party status to the Green Party might open up the system.” Just as he would like to see the Democratic Party split, Mújica continues, “I would have hoped to see the Republicans splitting and founding a third party, the Tea Party. That is not going to happen apparently. But we can make it happen in the Democratic party if people will not cave in and vote for Clinton.”

Pippa Abston is a pediatrician in Huntsville, Alabama. She counts herself among the privileged in no small measure because she has health insurance. She tends daily to people, however, who do not – and she cares about them.

Based in large part on what she has seen in her practice, she believes that those who already lack political and socioeconomic privilege would be placed at higher risk in a Clinton presidency.

Clinton, she believes, “has ignored the need to insure every single person in the US for healthcare and has accepted President Obama’s incremental approach with the Affordable Care Act [ACA].” The ACA, according to Abston, is unethical because it leaves out some already marginalized groups. Those groups include poor adults in those states like Alabama which does not allow them access to Medicaid, undocumented immigrants, documented immigrants because of a five year waiting period, and those who live just above the poverty line but cannot afford insurance even with the ACA.

An ethical person, Abston says, “would not find it acceptable to leave anyone out.” Clinton, on the other hand, is “a utilitarian who is able to abstract human beings into numbers and treat them interchangeably, trading out some lives for others. This is not ethically acceptable to me.” Because she sees children and their parents every day in her office, she says, “I can’t possibly forget what they need and I can’t possibly vote for Clinton who could put them at risk.”

As are Serrano, Henson, and Mújica, Abston is concerned about the entire political system. Clinton, she says, represents a political philosophy, neoliberalism, which she finds “abhorrent.”

It is an “imposter on the left” but it is not truly leftist, because it “transfers power and representation even further away from the public sphere into the oligarchy, and then tells the powerless that they can lift themselves up if they try harder.”

By occupying the left as an imposter, Abston says, the neoliberal wing prevents the development of a true left, a true democratic movement “by convincing supporters it is the left they are seeking, that it cares about them, but it does not. I find this even more repugnant than the right wing, which is at least moderately honest about its nefarious intentions.”

Like Abston, I, too am a person of multiple privileges. I am white, upper middle class, and enjoy a high social status. I am a Ph. D. historian, liberation theologian, ordained Baptist minister, and film maker. Much of my professional life consists of advocacy for illegal immigrants, domestic labor, and guest workers in the US legally with an H2 visa.

Free trade agreements are closely associated with the displacement of the millions of Latinos who are in the US illegally as well as with the creation of a billionaire class in Mexico and elsewhere. Free trade agreements and neoliberal economic policies generally are a priority issue for me.

Although Clinton has recently distanced herself from the looming Trans Pacific Partnership, in the past she has applauded it as the “gold standard” of trade agreements.

Trade agreements favor the well being of corporations over that of human beings. They are in large part about the creation of “investor states” which legally transfer local, state, and national sovereignty to corporations which may sue governments which act to adversely affect, or threaten to adversely affect, corporations’ profits. This includes such things as labor regulations, environmental efforts, and regulations over pharmaceutical businesses.

Clinton has waffled on free trade agreements. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Dr. Jill Stein, on the other hand, consistently have opposed them.

Each seems to understand that the agreements are not really about trade — they certainly are not about the creation of a multicultural “global village” — they are about the offshoring of national sovereignty and the creation of a new legal framework to create and protect new, sinister investor states. They are about displacing more and more vulnerable peoples around the world and making it next to impossible for the rest of us to do anything about it. I have written more on the sovereignty problems with free trade agreements here.

This article is based on anecdotal evidence, of course, as was Melissa Hillman’s. But it should go some distance in demonstrating that she is wrong about privilege being the reason for people on the left opposing Clinton. Instead, the reasons for many of us include deep concerns about America’s working class, the current failure of the two-party system to address systemic economic problems, and neoliberal economic policies. Many of us have concluded that Clinton is not only a poor choice to lead America, she is downright dangerous for all of us.

Sanders’ “Stupid Trump” Comment to Rachel Maddow

th-1Yesterday, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow talked with Democratic presidential party hopeful, Sen. Bernie Sanders, in Madison, Wisconsin. She mentioned Republican contender Donald Trump’s recent remark that “women should be punished for having an abortion”. Sanders reply, in part, was that it was a “stupid remark”. Sanders also said that the idea of punishing a woman for having an abortion was “incomprehensible”.

Predictably, Sanders’ remark has been construed as having been dismissive of a woman’s right to choose. Sanders’ remarks to Rachel Maddow in full as well as his history on the issue ought to be brought into play.

Below is Sander’s reply (edited by me for brevity), but you can read the entire transcript here if you wish. You also could watch this video of the exchange which will indicate very well that the emphasis in Sander’s remarks was on Trump’s incomprehensible stupidity as well as on too much of American media’s “flavor of the day” approach to reporting.

Sanders said, “But to punish a woman for having an abortion is beyond comprehension. . . . I don’t know what world this person [Trump] lives in.  So obviously, from my perspective, and if elected president, I will do everything that I can to allow women to make that choice and have access to clinics all over this country so that if they choose to have an abortion, they will be able to do so.

The idea of punishing a woman, that is just, you know, beyond comprehension. . . .

You know, you mentioned a moment ago, Rachel, that the media is paying attention to Donald Trump.

Duh? No kidding. Once again, every stupid remark will be broadcast, you know, for the next five days.

But because media is what media is today, any stupid, absurd remark made by Donald Trump becomes the story of the week.  Maybe, just maybe, we might want to have a serious discussion about the serious issues facing America.  Donald Trump will not look quite so interesting in that context.

MADDOW:  Are you suggesting, though, that the media shouldn’t be focusing on his call to potentially jail women who have abortions?  Because that’s another stupid —

SANDERS:  I am saying that every day he comes up with another stupid remark, absurd remark, of course it should be mentioned. But so should Trump’s overall positions. . . .  All that I’m saying is that Trump is nobody’s fool.  He knows how to manipulate the media and you say an absurd thing and the media is all over it.”

Maddow later asked the other Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Hillary Clinton, whether Sanders’ remark was “just another Donald Trump stupid comment”.

Clinton replied, “No, absolutely not. I’ve been on the front lines of the fight to preserve a woman’s choice and ability to make these difficult decision, that is why I was endorsed by the Planned Parenthood action fund, that is why I was endorsed by NARAL, I am a leader in trying to make sure that our rights as women are in no way eroded.”

Clinton continued, “And to think this is an issue that is not deserving of reaction demonstrates a lack of understanding of how serious this is. It goes to the heart.”

You can watch a video of the exchange between Maddow and Clinton here.

In my opinion, Clinton either misunderstood the nature of Sanders’ remark and Maddow’s question or did not want to address it. If you look at the video and look at the transcript, it seems clear to me that Sander’s was not reacting to a woman’s right to choose as an issue, he was reacting to the absurdity of Trump’s remark about “punishing” women and to the absurdity of media’s absorption with his every idiotic utterance. Instead, she changed the subject (as I truly might have if I were running for office) to her record, her endorsement by NARAL, and the Republican party’s record. The gist of Clinton’s remarks was that Sanders did not fully appreciate the issue.

In sorting through this, it might be helpful to look at Sanders’ voting and support record on a woman’s right to choose and related issues. Source: OnTheIssues.com.

  • (1993) Sanders supported the protection of women’s reproductive rights
  • (1997) said women should have the right to choose regardless of income
  • (1999) voted NO on barring transporting minors to get an abotion
  • (2000) voted NO on banning partial-birth abortions
  • (2001) voted NO on banning Family Planning funding in US aid abroad
  • (2002) voted NO on funding for health providers who don’t provide abortion info
  • (2003) voted NO on banning partial-birth abortion except to save mother’s life
  • (2003) rated 100% by NARAL [Pro Choice America], ostensibly for his pro-choice record
  • (2005) voted NO on restricting interstate transport of minors to get abortions
  • (2006) supported emergency contraception for rape victims at all hospitals
  • (2006) rated 0% by the National Right to Life Committee, ostensibly for his pro-choice stance
  • (2007) he voted NO on barring Health and Human Services grants to organizations that perform abortions
  • (2007) supported access to and funding for contraception
  • (2007) supported providing emergency contraception at military facilities
  • (2008) voted NO on defining unborn child as eligible for SCHIP [State Children’s Health Insurance Program]
  • (2009) voted NO on restricting UN funding for population control
  • (2009) focused on preventing unwanted pregnancy, plus emergency contraception
  • (2011) supported requiring pharmacies to fulfill contraceptive prescriptions
  • (2013) supported banning anti-abortion limitations on abortion services
  • (2015) supported access to safe, legal abortions without restrictions

Here is Clinton’s voting and support record using the same source:

  • (2001) Recommended by Emily’s List, a group which endorses Democrat women candidates who support right to choose
  • (2003) Voted NO on banning partial birth abortions except for maternal life
  • (2003) rated 100% by NARAL, ostensibly for her pro-choice voting record
  • (2005) voted YES on $100 million to reduce teen pregnancy via education & contraceptives
  • (2006) voted NO on notifying parents of minors who get out-of-state abortions
  • (2006) sponsored bill providing contraceptives for low-income women
  • (2006) sponsored bill for emergency contraception for rape victims
  • (2007) supported providing emergency contraception at military facilities
  • (2007) supported ensuring access to and funding for contraception
  • (2008) voted NO on defining unborn child as eligible for SCHIP
  • (2009) supported focusing on preventing pregnancy, plus emergency contraception

Here is a graphic provided by the Bing Political Index which shows that, on the issue of abortion, Sanders is to the left of Clinton and Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, is to the left of them both.

Of course, that clearly is debatable depending on how you read the evidence as to who is the stronger candidate. If you look at length of years supporting a woman’s right to choose, Sanders might look better. If you look at an emphasis on education, Clinton might look better. On this particular issue, they both look good to me. Sanders has what seems to me to be an impeccable record on a woman’s right to choose. This should not be overlooked or obscured because during a moment’s completely comprehensible frustration, he decided to tell it like it is.