This week, I wrote a well-received diary about how the shallow caricatures of Hillary Clinton had given me pause, and in fact, caused me to better investigate her core. The thesis, in short, was that my respect for Hillary Clinton was magnified in the face of insistent declarations that she is an evil shill, a liar, a criminal, or even a person who doesn’t care.
There’s something else to say. Last night, in reading the comments of a story here at Daily Kos, I read a supporter of Senator Sanders say that Rachel Maddow and MSNBC were “basically Fox News.” Rachel’s crime had been asking Senator Senators “process questions”—totally relevant and reasonable inquiries into the campaign.
Rachel Maddow. Champion of various liberal causes, holder of the feet of conservatives to the fire, long-time Bernie Sanders sympathizer. Rachel Maddow.
The Bernie Sanders campaign asks me to believe something I refuse to believe about Rachel Maddow. And yes, I understand that Bernie Sanders himself didn’t malign Maddow and MSNBC. In fact, he signed off from his interview in his normally cordial way. But it’s the core of the message, the unspoken “truth” dancing around the movement: “All of them over there, they’re fundamentally corrupt and out to steal the election through trickery and manipulation.” And no, that message isn’t directed at Republicans. Increasingly, it’s directed at Democrats.
There are many good things about the Bernie Sanders campaign. Even the paranoia that it causes about the state of things is a fundamentally good thing. After all, we live in a country where people for so long have thought to question nothing that we've woken up to extraordinary income inequality and an increasingly brazen corporate-political class. I get all that. And I get that some “Question All This Shit” is in line.
But there’s a line. And if your goal is to persuade—which it should be, this is a campaign after all—then you have to know where that line is.
And here’s where I draw it.
I reject the characterization that dozens, maybe hundreds of Democrats are fundamentally corrupt people. No. I’ve seen too much good from them.
I watched Wendy Davis interview with Chris Hayes on his Fox News show. I heard him describe her as a "Hillary Clinton supporter." And then I heard her described as a woman who'd fillibustered the Texas abortion bill in 2013. I remember watching my Texas sisters wearing their orange for months. I remember the pride that swelled in me as I stayed up to watch video of her standing until her back quite literally gave out. She was doing something bold, trying to stop a Texas Republican majority that wanted to crush the reproductive rights of women. That's the Wendy Davis I know. When you tell me that Clinton endorsers--that faceless "Establishment" that's so often maligned--are corrupt and the problem, I wonder if you know the Wendy Davis I know.
I wonder if you know Rodney Ellis, described by author Wil Haygood as "perhaps the only state senator in America with a national presence." I wonder if you know that Rodney Ellis, a black man in Texas, stands up every single day in the Texas legislature for the rights of prisoners, of criminal defendants, of juveniles, and other maligned people. I wonder whether you know whether he fought for the money to start the Harris County Public Defender's Office, an agency that's gained six times more acquittals for mentally ill people than the average criminal defense lawyer in Houston. I wonder whether you know that he fought to stop the state of Texas in its efforts to arrest children for their classroom misbehavior. He's a Clinton supporter, a Democrat. Is he the "Establishment?" Is he corrupt? Is he evil, in the bag, or manipulating you and I?
I wonder if you know Sherrod Brown, the populist senator from Ohio, or Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay senator, the woman who has taken innumerable rounds of shit not only because she’s a lesbian, but also because she had the balls to oppose the Iraq War and try to impeach Dick Cheney. Is she in the bag, a corrupt member of the establishment that I’m supposed to fear?
You’ve already told me I must dismiss John Lewis, the man whose seat in congress was earned with blood on that bridge in Selma. And I don’t give a damn whether he got it wrong on “seeing” Bernie Sanders. I don’t want to embrace a movement that asks me to call John Lewis bought, or a shill, just because he happens to choose one good candidate over another one.
I don’t dispute that some within the Democratic establishment are far too friendly to corporate interests. Some are so indebted to their corporate betters that they’ve lost sight of who they serve. But it’s not all black and white.
The shark’s been jumped, time and time again. I’ve seen the good things that many of these people have done for actual human beings. For people who no one else supports. And I recognize that they could be wrong about Hillary and right about other things. That they could be fine women’s rights activists while still being wrong on the role of money in politics. I get all of that. But that’s not what you’re proposing. You’re proposing that dozens or hundreds of good people are intentionally manipulating you, and me, and everyone else. You’re asking me to believe that a sweeping malignancy has infected real, actual human beings who I've seen too much good from.
It’s a big ask. Rachel Maddow is not Bill O’Reilly. And the tendency to slap with broad strokes the moniker of “evil” on everything that isn’t absolutely in your corner is not only wrong, it’s counter-productive. There are good people working toward worthy Democratic goals that back Hillary Clinton for reasons that are totally legitimate. Recognize that and stop the foolishness. Learn to parse and paint with shades of grey. The tendency to beat on otherwise worthy allies is not a movement. It’s the opposite of that.