I love two countries. America, where I was born, and Britain, where I will die. I desperately want to see both succeed as fair, equitable, and socialist countries. There are people I love in both countries who are hurting. Cuts to benefits, the high cost of healthcare, and stagnant wages are all making life a living hell for the working classes.
When, in August of last year, I endorsed Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership in a column for the Gay UK Magazine, I did so saying he had “all the electability and relevance of a Womble.” (Are you asking what a Womble is? Exactly.) Still, he was the best of an underwhelming lot, and the most anti-austerity of the bunch. So I tepidly threw support behind him.
I couldn’t imagine the overwhelming mandate that Jeremy would win. Nobody could. Registered supporters, sure. Unions, probably. But even Labour Party members voted overwhelmingly for him, something I—and no other pundit, so far as I know—predicted. Jeremy captured a zeitgeist that I felt well swept up in, myself: young urban socialists, disenchanted by Tory Austerity and Blairite “modernisation.” Many of us were young enough not to remember the bitter disputes of the 1980s, and those of us who weren’t largely fell into the camp that left (or was expelled, depending on whom you ask) by Neil Kinnock. We are angry, and we are right to be so.
But over the past few months, since Jeremy won the leadership race, I’ve seen Labour’s electoral chances nosedive. Labour is nine points down from the Tories in the latest YouGov poll. Jeremy, who we elected on an anti-austerity platform which, on the issues anyway, is largely supported by the British people, has utterly failed to turn the momentum of his campaign into any sort of tangible strategy. Instead of kitchen table issues, he’s focused on unilateral nuclear disarmament (something British voters don’t support), withdrawing from NATO (something else the British voters don’t support), and blundered on questions such as whether he’d shoot to kill a terrorist (I bloody well hope he would). No, not all of this is his fault—the media has been jarringly and unabashedly biased against him and miscreants from within the Parliamentary Labour Party, led by Simon Danczuk have been undermining his leadership since before he was elected. But the fact remains that as party leader, responsibility ultimately falls to Jeremy Corbyn, whose mismanagement thus far indicates he may be a leader in name only.
Two things have influenced my change of heart. One is this brilliant BBC documentary from the 1990s about the Labour Party in the 1980s. I’m a scholar of 1980s Britain, and I knew well how tumultuous the decade had been for the party. But hearing it from the people who lived it, speaking 20 years ago when power was within reach, and juxtaposing that to now when power is so far from us was eye-opening. We are repeating the past, and unless something changes, we will be damned in 2020 as we were in 1983.
Another is this blog by Jade Azim of the Young Fabians, widely circulated last November and succinctly titled “Sod It.” Jade, like a great many of us, was quite fed up with the Parliamentary Labour Party and, for that matter, the Twitter Labour Party, ripping into one another instead of the Tories. Unlike a great many of us, Jade had the guts to actually say something. It’s a poignant read about the disillusionment of a working class girl who became involved in politics to make changes that actually meant something. While champagne socialists natter on about Trident and defend Russia from any critique (looking at you, Seamus Milne), working class families like mine are worried about paying the rent, accessing our GP, and making sure our disability benefits—which we depend on to survive—aren’t cut by Iain Duncan Smith or a Republican-controlled Congress.
The gist of Jade’s blog can be summed up in one sentence: “give me a Blairite government over a Tory one any day. Call it ‘Red’ Tory, it’s still not bloody Tory.” Or, in other words, we have to work with the world as it is, not the world as we’d like it to be. The litmus test for politicians must be whether they deliver results, not whether they’re ideologically pure.
Which brings me to Iowa.
I can’t lie and say I haven’t long been a Hillary Clinton supporter. Those who know me know I campaigned for her in 2008. But my politics have shifted decidedly left since then, when I was still supporting the Conservative Party in the UK, and Bernie Sanders—like Jeremy Corbyn—has been a breath of fresh air. A solid candidate with democratic socialist (though not traditional socialist) credentials, he has struck a chord with the populist, left-wing contingent of the Democratic Party. Not since 2004 have I been this undecided this close to the Iowa caucuses, but with his proposals for a single-payer healthcare system (something I’ve long championed) and a return to Glass-Steagall in order to regulate Wall Street, I began to feel the Bern.
But then, Hillary Clinton said something in the last Democratic debate that struck a chord, and made me think of Jeremy Corbyn. She called herself a “pragmatic progressive,” something she’s driven home before. In a debate last year, she said “I’m a progressive, but I’m a progressive that likes to get things done.” She promises not what’s fantastic, but what’s feasible.
And on this, she has a point. Whether we like to admit it or not, the Republicans are likely to retain both houses of Congress this November. That means that whoever is elected president will have to work with Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and the conservative movement which has hijacked our democracy. This isn’t me being Chicken Little; it’s a fact. And as Clinton pointed out in the debate, President Obama couldn’t get a public/single-payer option through with the Affordable Care Act, and he had a majority in both houses. The fact is the American people, or at least their representatives, don’t have an appetite for it. I don’t like it any more than Bernie Sanders does, but alas, we have to work with what we’ve got.
I didn’t get into politics to debate abstract socialist orthodoxy. I got into it to help the people from whence I came, people like my friends back in Leslie County, Kentucky who are losing health insurance thanks to Governor Matt Bevan. I’d love a single-payer system in America, but it’s not going to happen. At least not now. We’re still fighting just to make sure everyone can access affordable, let alone free-at-the-point-of-access, healthcare. For my friends and family back home, Bernie Sanders talks a big game. But what about now? What can be done now? Fighting for a single-payer system sounds great until you’re dying of black lung and can’t afford your treatment. Taking principled stands on wealth redistribution are noble until a Republican president and his Republican-controlled congress cuts your Social Security Disability Insurance. Then what?
Hillary is far from perfect. She hasn’t always been great on LGBT rights, but then, neither has Bernie Sanders. And as I wrote for the Daily Dot, Hillary’s stance on the Black Lives Matter movement needs some serious work. Clinton’s record on incarceration and her links to the for-profit-prison industry are deeply troubling, and Sanders has been likewise tone deaf at times. Neither candidate has done enough to embrace this cause.
But Clinton has proven her muster on a range of issues, from reproductive justice to gun control. Her foreign policy credentials are impeccable. Yes, she voted for the Iraq war and Bernie Sanders didn’t. But one vote thirteen years ago is just not enough to prove you’re ready to be commander-in-chief. (After all, Jeremy Corbyn voted against Iraq too yet wants to negotiate a new Falklands settlement with Argentina.) Hillary has shown a deep understanding of the threats facing our country, from Daesh (ISIS) to Russia to the situation in the Taiwan Strait. She has a deep understanding of the realities of geopolitics and a longstanding commitment to human rights throughout the world. Nobody can deny this. The Republicans are still trying to make a meal out of the bones of our lost heroes in Benghazi, but her performance at the Congressional hearings prove her ability to neutralise their bogus attacks.
My heart lies with Bernie. God, would I love a Sanders presidency. But if I have to choose between a progressive reality and a socialist dream, I’m going with the former. I followed my heart with endorsing Jeremy Corbyn, and the party is in shambles. Labour has four years to course-correct, though. The Democrats have nine months. We have a straightforward choice: ideology or electability, principle or pragmatism. In both cases, I choose the latter.
That’s why I’m voting for Hillary Clinton.