Sunday, May 17, 2020

Whataboutism? Hehehe, Indeed!

Great Cthulhu's ghost:

Robert Reich has been, among other things, Bill Clinton's Secretary of Labor from 1993 to 1997.  He's also good buddies, as he has asserted himself, with walking tumor Alan Simpson, a ferocious deficit hawk and would-be gutter of social programs.  Since Donald Trump became President, he's spoken out often against Trump's policies and conduct, and he turns up in my Twitter feed almost daily.  But it seems that he's more partisan than principled.  The quotation in the above tweet comes from this 2015 article, in which he declared that "if Hillary Clinton is to get the mandate she needs for America to get back on track, she will have to be clear with the American people about what is happening and why – and what must be done.  For example, she will need to admit that Wall Street is still running the economy, and still out of control."  He acknowledged the perception that Clinton is "compromised by big money – that the circle of wealthy donors she and her husband have cultivated over the years has dulled her sensitivity to the struggling middle class and poor," and cited Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt as evidence that great wealth need not prevent a politician from embracing reform.

From a strictly logical point of view, Reich is correct: it is possible for a wealthy person to work for serious reform.  And no one would have predicted that FDR would have gone against the grain to become a "traitor to his class," as he did.  But logic isn't at issue; it's history and human inertia.  FDR was the exception that proves the rule; he deliberately surrounded himself with advisors like Frances Perkins, who pressured him almost daily to keep to the task he'd set himself.  As Kirstin Downey showed in The Woman Behind the New Deal, her biography of Perkins, it was an exhausting, full-time job: rather like Donald Trump, Roosevelt tended to agree with the last person who'd counseled him, and Perkins had to stay constantly on the alert, and on the run, to make sure she was that person.  Perkins was always unpopular with the Washington insiders, who finally pushed her out after FDR's death, when the Democratic party began undermining his legacy.

As a longtime Washington insider, Reich must have known that the odds didn't favor his recommendations to Clinton.  I suppose he just published them to get his position on the record, and in hopes that against all odds they might reach her.  He was far too optimistic, as liberals tend to be.  Maybe he was sincere, but that just hammers home his bad judgment.

It comes down to party loyalty, I think, and whataboutism.  As people from Martin Luther King Jr. to Noam Chomsky have argued, before you can criticize official enemies (Trump, in this case) you must criticize your own side.  In the American mainstream, "whataboutism" only refers to any criticism of one's own side.  But if Reich had criticized Clinton or Obama as they deserve, he'd be persona non grata in the Democratic Establishment.  And would he say of Donald Trump what he said in defense of Hillary Clinton?  Like so many liberal/centrist talking points, it would seem to apply to Trump no less than to Democrats.