I’m giving up for Lent. I’m giving up on trying to reason with members of my own political party over consistency and policy being more important than celebrity and personality. Before I do, however, I want to tell my own personal political story and how it led to both supporting the Clintons and then vowing never to do so again.
I was an Obama Boy. Now I’m a Bernie Bro. Despite my genitals, I’ve always been a Democrat. Though I’ve been extremely anti-Clinton for 20 years, I’ve never doubted my party allegiance until former Clinton campaign chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz took power at the Democratic Party. Even though I think sex is very much a part of party politics, I don’t believe sex has led me to my political leanings. It’s always been poverty, peace, privacy and planet for me. Those are my pet issues.
There are plenty of important people writing on this theme this week, and I implore you to read them before me. Theirs will be more intelligent, more substantive and more entertaining. I’m just a regular guy, but maybe some others could relate, and so this is my story.
Who am I? Nobody, really. But like anybody, there was some potential there at times. Like most, decisions were made and abandoned based on getting to know myself and the world around me. Like many, I believe in speaking truth to power and being as loud as the bad guys. I had to learn that last part though. I better start at the beginning.
I’ve always been political. As a toddler, I wanted to wear sweaters, because Jimmy Carter said we should to help save the planet. In elementary school, I was glued to the Iran Contra hearings for an entire summer. I read John Locke and his age of enlightenment contemporaries in liberalism by middle school. In middle school, Dr. King’s writing about race and poverty led me to Malcolm X and then to Chomsky. I suspect many of the folks reading this sort of rant have similar stories of self-eduction.
In high school, everyone assumed I would go into politics, but not public service. My senior year video is full of classmates predicting my rise to the Presidency. You see, though despite my policy being pretty much in the same place it is now, as a young person, I bought into the machinations of the system. I didn’t come from money, but I was good at fundraising and networking. I was clever at making contacts in all sorts of stations, cliques, and social groups. Though my beliefs were authentic, I wasn’t. I was a natural born politician, and I don’t mean that in a good way.
I was a bulldozer. I’d push through policy how I see fit without consensus. I worked the machine to get my way. That was wrong. The worst piece of advice I was ever given was from a teacher who told me that good policy comes from compromise. I still disagree with that. Though I think my tactics were unethical as a young man, I see now that any real reform comes from rallying the troops. If something is moral and the right course of action, a majority of people will believe it is the right thing to do. You just have to get them to speak up. Once we all speak up, we can demand policy. That’s the ethical way of pushing through public policy against the establishment. I’m getting too far ahead of myself though.
At the end of my junior year of high-school, I was elected to the Student Council Presidency, a position I’d pretty much held for three years anyhow, just without the title. I’d taken over the school paper, announcements, you name it. I controlled my own political system and the media surrounding it. As far as the big stage goes, after seeing him speak on environmental issues several times, and getting him to sign books for me, I’d become a big supporter of Al Gore. By the time the Clinton/Gore 92 ticket was in place, I was volunteering for the campaign. I was about to turn 18 and my political voice was performing Giacomo Puccini for anyone who would listen.
When the Clinton/Gore bus tour of America came to my town, the campaign invited me to have ice cream with the two, one humid July day. I met Tipper and Hillary, adorned in polyester blazers and matching dresses, while Bill and Al each sported collared shirts with rolled up sleeves and standard issue politician neck ties. I was in a Clinton/Gore t-shirt and shorts when I sat for a photo-op with the college student who created the official campaign t-shirt design and the soon-to-be President and Vice-President. I’d recently been on Dead tour. Bill and Al quizzed me about set lists. I quizzed them about environmental policy. I vowed to help get them elected, and in my own small way, I think I did. I dined out on that story the entire first term, and solidified my own local political network of sorts, duplicating Bill Clinton’s double-palmed handshake with everyone I met.
I went to college the following fall to study political science, honestly believing my life path was Congress, Senate then White House. I received Christmas cards from the Clintons each year. That impressed my roommates usually. I once again built a network of sports stars, campus media elite and throughout several student groups. I volunteered for and later interned with the Democratic Congresswoman who served my college’s district. I partied with all the right people. I took up the causes of all the right people. My head was in the game. My heart was asleep.
Like most college students, I was about to learn more from the friends I made than the classes I took, and have a spiritual/political awakening. Despite my privilege, and we certainly didn’t know to call it that back then, I was deeply interested in black politics. Despite growing up in nearly-all-white, rural Western New York, I viewed the Black Panthers as heroes who protected the interests of their communities, and fed poor children, not scary militants as so many of my peers were conditioned to believe. I had a lot of questions about the civil rights movement and if it had truly stalled out in the 80s. When some friends asked me to start attending the black student union meetings with them, I went all in. This time, not just for political expediency, but because I was truly interested. I should note that everyone in those meeting made this white, nerdy dude feel extremely welcomed and valued as well. They were by far my best teachers. In today’s popular vernacular: they woke me.
I began questioning my allegiance to the Clintons, and the Democratic Party. You see, talking about the Clintons record on race isn’t something that just started in 2016. While Welfare Reform and the Clinton Crime Bill were being debated in Washington, they were being worried about on my campus. It was still acceptable to link race and poverty in policy discussions in the 90s, and our black student union consistently did so. The only thing different in today’s discussions is that everything those black students took time to explain to me that could happen from the Clinton policies did happen.
Having my eyes opened by my peers in the student body had ripple effects. I’d study government surveillance and how J. Edgar Hoover used it to try to make Dr. King commit suicide right when reports were coming out about Clinton wiretap programs. I’d study the effects of corporate control of the media in other countries just as the Clintons made it easier for media consolidation in ours. I started reading Christopher Hitchens and worried that my President was a rapist and abuser of not just the office, but of actual, living, breathing citizens. I was concerned about how Mrs. Clinton crushed her husband’s enemies and ruined those women’s lives. The awakening to lack of Clinton morality through corporate fueled policies awoke my own morality. I felt genuine guilt over my talent for and participation in political machinations. I felt guilt over helping elect the Clintons. I started to believe the quest for power was inherently evil. I questioned and abandoned my haughty and overly-ambitious life plan.
I finally walked away from my own unrealistic quest for power and started working on my authenticity and moral center after a Democratic fundraiser in 1997. Despite my talent for political gamesmanship, there was one girl in all of my classes that I’d always been too embarrassed to talk with. Probably because she seemed so smart, genuine, and pretty; meanwhile I was awakening to my own faults. I’d given her the nickname “perfect girl,” because that’s all I knew, that she seemed like the perfect girl. She approached me that night, and challenged me on the Democratic Party’s new allegiance to Wall Street funding thanks to the Clinton machine. We were specifically targeting corporate donations that night for the Congresswoman.
I conceded. The Clintons had indeed changed Democratic fundraising. This was the first time it was presented to me that just because Republicans do it, didn’t make it magically ethical to compromise what our American values should be. Perfect girl was right. We should advocate for what is right, not compromise our values to fight the other team. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
She liked hearing me acknowledge that she was right. Perfect girl kissed me. We made out a little. That sort of thing happens in politics. People fool around a lot. They don’t talk about that, how sexy politics can be. Especially when working campaigns and you win, everybody gets some. That mix of mental passion fueled by alcohol and chemistry turns physical quickly. Anyhow, I left that fundraiser open minded and ready to study the topic of campaign finance more, as well as content that I’d kissed “perfect girl.”
Side note: I have been and will continue to be attributing policies from the Clinton White House to both Clintons. Though the 2016 Hillary campaign tries to distance herself from these policies, I was sold into supporting the Clintons with the concept that they were co-Presidents, a team, and that it was sexist not to consider her his equal. That was the narrative from the Clinton White House in the 90s. I bought into it. It was part of my own feminist awakening, also due to attending campus meetings and rallies. I suppose that part of the story will have to wait, but they don’t get to erase that now that history shows so many Clinton policies disastrous. They sold it to us. It was a real thing. It was one of those talking points the Republican enemies they tout so proudly used for eight years. It doesn’t just go away because they want it to now. They advertised the Clinton Presidency as a co-Presidency. This is a reelection campaign, short and simple, unlike my missive here.
Back in college, I was quickly becoming disillusioned by the Clintons for policy reasons stated above. Somehow I still held my hero Al Gore separate from all of this, even after I had experienced the shadiness of Wall Street Democratic fundraising first-hand in my internship. I still believed he could bring us the environmental reforms we needed and believed the Democratic party would be stronger against poverty than the Republicans. However, that belief eroded the deeper I got into party politics.
Like the Clintons, I didn’t campaign for Al Gore. Unlike the Clintons, it was because by the time he ran in 2000, I had long abandoned politics. I’d become a musician. I’d always been a frustrated songwriter and people seemed to like it when I sang. I was young and able to support myself with my songs. Musicians still get to talk about politics sometimes, and get as effortlessly laid at least as much as those working in politics. I was happy. I had moved West with a band. I worked in restaurants, as an arts and entertainment writer or as a non-profit fundraiser in between gigs and tours. I took pleasure in the fact that the Clinton years were coming to a close. I was one of the Democrats who rejoiced when Clinton was impeached. I loved that he was banned from ever practicing law again. I truly believed that the system had worked and ended a corrupt political dynasty built against ethical practice. I was ready to move on with life. I wrote a lot of super cheesy songs. I still gave to the Democratic Party. I voted for Al Gore.
Then the Bush v. Gore decision came down. I apparently wasn’t actually done with politics yet. Unlike the Clintons, I couldn’t stay silent. I hit the streets protesting. I wrote editorials for anybody who would print them. I reached out to old contacts who had stayed active in policy and government and started watching the Bush Administration like a hawk. So, when the tragic events of September 11, 2001 happened, and the Patriot Act was passed, I couldn’t sit still anymore.
The Patriot Act scared me. I decided journalism was the only weapon the people would have against it. I called in some favors and secured a staff writer position at a small newspaper back home. Hillary Clinton was Senator now for NY and I figured I could try to speak truth to power a little, but after one sit-down interview with her, was quickly told by her staff that I wouldn’t get access again. Basically, I tried to ask where we stood on the “vast right-wing conspiracy,” in relation to what we now today call “establishment politics.” She was visibly angry with me and refused to answer any more of my questions.
The paper I worked at was fine with me going after a Clinton over the Patriot Act and Iraq War vote, but corporate leadership made it clear to me that I was not allowed to print anything that criticized the Bush Presidency itself. At this point, I was starting to believe that there was little difference between the two parties, and though I still gave to Democratic candidates, I was growing disenfranchised, again because of Clintons, as my Senator was supporting endless war and domestic spying. I confess, I did little to try to elect John Kerry, other than to vote for him.
I convinced a couple of guys I knew to start a newspaper with me. It was small, high-schoolish in quality, but quickly built a steady 200k readership. I had a column to counter the corporate press and go after the Bushes and Clintons each week. It consumed me. When I saw Barack Obama as a viable challenger to the Clinton machine, I once again went all in. Our little paper was invited to cover the Democratic National Convention in Denver that nominated Obama as the Democratic nominee. I picked up my press credentials alongside some very big names in media, with the same access, except I still wasn’t allowed to talk with then Senator Clinton. My Senator. I cheerleaded Obama hard. I phone banked, canvased and gave what I could. We all got laid the night he was elected President. Politics was just as sexy as I had romanticized it. We won. So I thought.
When President Obama named Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, I tendered my resignation as editor of the newspaper. I had some personal reasons due to a health scare, but I also felt I’d been duped by the Democrats once again. I couldn’t comment on national politics without a hero to root for.
There have been plenty of policies from the Obama administration that I have disagreed with, and I knew that would be the case with his bringing her into an important cabinet position. The establishment would never address militarization, poverty, domestic spying or the environment. Obama was a centrist and not at all the hope and change socialist the right painted him as. I vowed all my future endeavors in politics would have to be at the grassroots level and outside of party politics. I moved back out West and tried to concentrate on being happy and with loved ones.
I agreed with the mission of Occupy Wall Street, but didn’t see how the action would influence policy. Besides bringing some meals to the local protesters before they were evicted, I didn’t get involved much. However, when some people from that movement started getting active in drafting either Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders to run for President, I started paying attention again.
I sided with trying to draft Liz Warren. The first time I ever heard her speak, on her first Daily Show appearance, I hoped she would be my President. I liked Bernie, but I was already in love with Liz. I didn’t want to repeat my previous political failings and go all in just supporting someone I thought could beat Hillary. If I was going to invest emotionally again, it had to be for someone I actually believed in this time. I thought Senator Warren would be the more viable candidate of the two, because she plays ball with the Democratic establishment and Bernie doesn’t. However, maybe because of her ties to the establishment, Liz didn’t want to run to be my President.
When Mike Brown was murdered in Ferguson, I like many Americans was heartbroken and confused. I had tuned into MSNBC and saw Senator, not yet candidate, Bernie Sanders speaking about police brutality and militarization issues. I immediately went to YouTube and started finding speeches I had remembered liking from him over years past, speaking up for poverty issues and standing against the big banks. I fell in love with Bernie Sanders. I am still in love with Bernie Sanders.
I started podcasting, partially because friends had been asking me to for some time, but mostly because I had to get some things off my chest about militarization, poverty, domestic spying and the environment again. I truly believe that all of these separate policy issues were tied together in a lot of ways, especially challenging the establishment. The rising Black Lives Matter movement inspired me in a lot of ways, even though at best I’d only be an ally if they’d have me. Still, I had a voice, and I believed it was my responsibility to try to speak up, so I started a little internet show to do so with, and started by talking about police brutality. I produce it on my own dime, so we talk about whatever I want to, different topics each episode, but it’s still mostly political. To this day, I’m amazed by the power of the internet and that so many folks tune into my little lo-fi show made mostly from my bedroom. Anybody can do it. Everybody should. You should. We need more independent voices. Consider it.
The next year, when it became apparent that the draft Bernie efforts were yielding better than the draft Warren efforts I had aligned with, I put a deadline on how long I would wait for Liz before switching to supporting Bernie. I broke that deadline the week Bernie announced, gave to his campaign, and started talking to grass-roots organizers about how I could help. Wary of supporting any campaign, other than through financial contributions, and having my heart broken again, I pledged to use my voice, phone bank, canvas, do some graphic and web design and be a loud mouth on the internet. Hopefully I’ve done and will continue to do all of that. I’m willing to do more too. I’m a believer again. I have hope again.
Here we are in the now. Bernie just won New Hampshire. By all accounts he is a viable challenger to the Clinton machine and the establishment alike. Though I’m still registered as a Democrat, I haven’t given to the party and won’t unless he’s the nominee. This is the ultimate battle for someone like me. Can we take the party back to where we were on policy before the Clintons? I don’t know. I’ve hoped for that before. This time though, we’ve got a candidate I agree with on almost all the issues, with a bold enough platform that it would right the course of the party and the country. He’s doing so well that the Clintons have had to apologize for their past policies and waffle to support some of our true Progressive agenda. I’d say that’s winning.
Except it’s not. It’s more rhetoric. The 90s taught me to never again trust a Clinton. That’s why I wanted to tell my story. I’ve been duped by these people before. I remember the 90s. The internet has taught me that people don’t remember the Clinton administration as it was. Progressives need a real win. A win is only if we kick Clintons out of politics forever, elect a true Progressive visionary, and at least try to right the course of our party and country. We need to kick the money out of politics that “perfect girl” warned me about well before Citizens United was ever decided. We need the kind of social justice reforms that my black student union friends were worried about 20 years ago. We need to be a Democratic party that finally addresses poverty like FDR, JFK and so many other great Democrats tried to before the Clintons moved our party to the right of center on these issues. We need to stop spying on Americans, because frankly the nation’s history with such things is ripe with the abuse of power. And damn it, we need to try and do something about the environment before it makes worrying about any of these other issues a moot point.
I think a Sanders nomination, which I believe based on polling, equals a Sanders election to the Presidency, will accomplish these things. Especially if we give him down-ballot support. If you’ve read this far, you’ve read my story. I’ve made mistakes in my politics. I believe I have learned from them, and despite having all political hope ripped from me time and time again, I’ve some how mustered up a little bit. I’ve found it possible to be optimistic about America’s future again. I’m begging you to do the same: to give five bucks, to phone bank from your cell phone and Bernie’s website, to talk to your friends and neighbors about what is at stake, because frankly, this might be our last shot. Will you join us?
Despite this being my personal story, this effort, this revolution, is truly about us as Americans, together, demanding we do better. It’s going to take folks from all walks of life, standing together in solidarity if we’re to undo decades of corruption, establishment politics and the burying of once crucial Democratic principles to end poverty in our lifetime. It’s time to save America and save the planet. Gosh, that sounds lofty. Still, we can do it! If we stand together. I’ve mustered up hope again, and I sure hope that you can too. We have to at least rally and try. Let’s rally together and try.