"Reason becomes unreason, abundance torment"
Goethe, Faust, Part I, Scene 4
It is only reasonable to look for a new approach when the old one was failing. And looking for new approaches the Clinton campaign did. It is only welcome when a politician shows an abundance of principle and resolve. And Hillary showed a wealth of toughness and spine, indeed.
Which they took then to the Faustian level, only to end up as a hotbed of unreason and as the torment of the Democratic primary season.
They were taken over and eaten up by the same "the ends justify the means"-mentality that has brought to you the Paul Weyrichs, Ralph Reids, Rush Limbaughs, Bill O'Reillys, Tom DeLays, Karl Roves, George W. Bushs und - ultimately - Dick Cheneys.
Which is why praising her efforts and making a legend of her candidacy in the end is a disservice to your nation. It lends credibility to, and makes a role-model of, a tactic that has so badly undermined political and public life. This is why I dare ask those of you, who still admire the toughness and defiance of her and her campaign, for some self-reflections below the fold... (and forgiveness for my harsh introductory words right on the spot)
What I'm getting at is my perception, that an overly results driven mentality has taken hold of our society that has largely thrown out due process, logical reasoning and playing by the rules in favor of getting things done at almost any price.
Now, there have always been people who lived by the motto of "the end justify the means". Modern democracies, however, balanced this by the rule of law, logical reasoning and due process. But somehow this mentality has crept back to a socially acceptable status again. Some of this may be due to the penetration of business-related codes of behavior into our private lives (the likes of "getting things done" etc.).
To a greater extent, I think, this is due to decades of work by the conservative movement in America and their unabashedly results-driven ideology of "ideas that have consequences". They made an art out of not thinking along the lines of due process and logical argument, but rather thinking backwards from the desired outcome, and considering and taking every conceivable (not necessarily legal or legitimate) step to achieve that goal. Devising and perfecting the language of political framing. Devising, fostering and using wedge issues. Trying to control the thinking and the debate (and, ultimately, the media). And not being afraid of being mocked by their opponents, as long as they got to their results. This is the Faustian shift in mentality from determination to zeal.
- This is the mentality that makes proponents of Intelligent Design throw out the facts time and again in favor of trying to push their ideology into the classrooms (even at the risk of ruining Americas' competitiveness in the future).
- This is the mentality that proclaims tax cuts (for the wealthy as it turns out) an unmovable necessity even in the face of rising inequality and poverty.
- And this is ultimately the mentality that get you into wars with unclear (or at least unstated) objectives but ever-changing reasons.
This is the mentality that ultimately and frighteningly worked.
So why would it be a problem to show the same sort or determination - only for a better outcome and a nobler vision? Haven't we constantly scorned and ridiculed the current administration for stubbornly staying the course in the face of opposing facts - but deep in our souls envied their "achievements"?. Haven't we therefore equally scorned and ridiculed Democratic leadership for a lack of spine and toughness on the issues?
Isn't that what Hillary Clinton's campaign delivered on? Same level of determination, only towards a better end? Isn't the argument I'm presenting here merely an attempt to assign guilt by association?
Here's the catch: The tactic works well as long as only a few are using it. When a majority of people start behaving like this (or some mount at least an equally persistent resistance), the tactic just implodes. The benefits vanish while the downsides are unleashed.
The benefits vanish because it becomes increasingly unlikely that you can push through your agenda, because it becomes increasingly likely that you will meet an opponent who will use the exact same tactics (or, at least, can see through it). Either way, you'll simply meet more and better resistance, but now you're prisoner of your own devices: Since compromise is a no-go because the outcome is set in stone you can only try different arguments to the exact same end. After you've met the resistance, what might have been a reasonable argument will be replaced by a a different one. The different argument will be followed by a bad one, the bad by a worse one, the worse by a bizarre one, and the bizarre one eventually by a lie. (...stations like the "irrelevant states", the "unpledged pledged delegates" and finally the "popular vote minus the caucuses" come to mind).
So the downsides are plenty:
The tactic spoils political culture because it effectively rules out negotiation and compromise , leads to poor solutions because it favors pushing a given idea over discussing and improving it, and results in delayed action at best or lost opportunities in the worst case, depending on which party "won" the brawl.
Which is why I don't think it's appropriate to praise Hillary Clinton's campaign for setting the wrong example of resorting to a mentality that works to everyone's disadvantage. Because there was a better alternative available to strive for a similar positive vision. Only without all the baggage of a "can do"-attitude that all too easily can snap into a "will do anything"- or "the end justify the means"-mindset. Which, sadly, was on full display this spring.
This is the reason why I would ask all of you, who are on the verge of idolizing the Clinton campaign to (quietly) reflect on whether, in the end, we're better off that the old ways didn't work this time. No confessions needed.
Thank you for listening.
PS: Yes, I'm aware that the official translation of the Goethe citation is "Reason becomes unreason, kindness torment". But I took the liberty to change "kindness" to "abundance" not only because it fits my narrative, but - at least in my mind - captures the original meaning better.