There has been a lot of conversation about privilege this election cycle. Usually, it is a conversation about whether or not someone’s support of one particular candidate over another is rooted in their own personal privilege—whether that be white, male, heteronormative, or some other type of privilege. Stopping to consider privilege in this way is a generally positive exercise.
However, it is also important to stop and consider the types of privilege that inform the policies and tactics of some campaigns. Take one of the core messages behind Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president. She has once again contrasted herself as a “progressive that likes to get things done” against Bernie Sanders’ “pie-in-the-sky” idealism while campaigning in Wisconsin.
Let’s just set aside for a moment the fact that part of being a progressive is the things that you don’t “get done” (like invading Iraq, supporting NAFTA, and limiting food stamps to the poor, which are all things Hillary Clinton got done and Bernie Sanders did not).
What does Clinton mean when she attacks Bernie for pie-in-the-sky promises?
She apparently means that we shouldn’t push too hard, too fast when it comes to raising the minimum wage, expanding health care to every person in this country as a right, and regulating Wall Street. By this logic the only thing worse than poverty wages, going bankrupt trying to pay your medical bills, or having big banks bankrupt the entire economy is fighting too hard to fix these things.
So, why try to make miles of progress when you could just fight with Republicans over inches?
One obvious reason to try and make miles of progress is because not everyone has the privilege of waiting for incremental change. Take the minimum wage for example. The difference between a $12 an hour minimum wage and a $15 an hour minimum wage probably means a lot more to someone making less than $15 an hour.
That $3 hourly difference in the minimum wage amounts to a little more than $6,000 per year. You can buy a lot with $6,000 extra per year. However, if you’ve never worked a minimum wage job or had to raise a family on less than $15 an hour, then just how much this extra income means can be difficult to grasp. That’s the privilege that informs the Clinton campaign’s incremental approach to progress.
But workers in this country do not have the luxury of waiting for a livable minimum wage or universal access to health care (as opposed to just health insurance). They need these things yesterday, and for them incremental change just wont cut it.