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Friday, September 30, 2016


The left itself is on the ballot

by Tom Sullivan

Thomas Geoghegan is a labor attorney who thinks that, while the fate of the Supreme Court is certainly at risk this November, harping on that issue is too obvious. Much more is at stake that gets little mention. Writing for In These Times, Geoghegan argues that the president's ability to make other appointments nobody cares about has a great deal to do with what kind of future Americans will see.

Geoghegan was once a "Schedule C" appointee under Jimmy Carter, the kind of young, idealistic public servant more eager to make the world a better place than to make it to the penthouse. Should Hillary Clinton win the White House, Geoghegan writes, thousands of low-level appointees will make the lives of Americans better in countless ways nobody will notice:

Demographically, because of age and willingness to forgo a private-sector salary, it’s likely that many of these appointees will be Bernie voters. Over the next four years, these thousands of people will perform a million little acts of mercy—for you, me, for all of us. As a lawyer who represents the poor, the middle class, the post-middle class and maybe members of your family, I can swear under oath that many of these appointees will do, off-handedly, the most saintly acts in the world. They will do things that transform so many individual lives, like an NLRB official who gets a 20-year-old black kid back into a Painters Union job. Appointees in the embassies and consulates can sneak in 10-year-olds from Honduras. By your vote—or decision not to vote—you will decide the fates of all of those who could be saved by these little acts of mercy.
You know people like this. I do. They are people who spend years in the Peace Corps who then come home and run for elective office. They are people who attend city council meetings and work tirelessly, unpaid, to make their communities a better place. People with heart. People who care.

I recall being in college and seeing classmates who were on track to go to law school or medical school. Most, it seemed, were on that career track because it was what their parents had done. Because it seemed a guaranteed path to large incomes, and to living in large houses in exclusive neighborhoods.

Then there were others. The neonatal ICU doctor who takes lunch orders for her nurses, who goes home to cry after losing a preemie she fought desperately to save. The former federal public defender (another woman) described as the "most ferocious" anti-death penalty lawyer in the country, who almost never gives interviews, shuns publicity, and fights to keep the most most monstrous murderers of our time off death row. Or the former Deputy Assistant Attorney General (a woman I didn't go to school with) who fights to expose the Koch brothers and other corporate baddies as part of a watchdog organization.

Unlike "the guy who holds fake press conferences, has a fake university, a fake foundation, fake hair, and a fake tan" and who thinks he's smart not to contribute to the country's upkeep like the rest of us, these people aren't in it for the money.

President Obama says his legacy is on the ballot. The left is as well. Geoghegan writes:
The odd thing is, if you want the Left to come back, you have to put the center-left in power. It sounds paradoxical, but it's true: Give people a little taste of equality and they will want even more. The women's movement, the civil rights movement, the huge egalitarian transformations of the 1960s came about in large part because of the much more egalitarian and prosperous country created by the New Deal and yes, the Great Society itself.

Let any Republican get in and it will always go the other way.
It's not just about who is at the top of the ticket. Geoghegan concludes:
When the center-left really is in power, and I mean full power, with true and not just nominal control of Congress, it usually is the heyday of the party's real left. Look at the two great periods when the Democrats were in control: 1935-37, and 1965-66. Social Security, the Wagner Act, in the first, and Medicare, the Voting Rights Act, and the Immigration and Nationality Act in the second, transformed this country. FDR exasperated the Left of his day, and even compared to Hillary Clinton, Lyndon Johnson was no progressive. Yet the lasting legacy of the real Left came in these two fleeting periods when a largely center-left Democratic party had—for once—unchecked control. Why give up any chance to have that happen again? As it is, we’re still living with the legacy of Nixon and our shrugging and letting him in the belief that we could always come back. In many ways, the Left in this country never really came back. Nixon led to Ford who led to Carter who led to Reagan, and to the medieval-like inequality in this country today. And you—who have a real chance to push the country to the left if we can keep the executive branch in the hands of the center-left—will not come back either. The same logic of history is going to apply to you. Not voting for Clinton will just put real change in this country even farther out of reach.
I'm not about to let that happen without a fight. What kind of a country we will be is on the line, and its character will be defined in thousands of small ways by the kinds of people the next president appoints to run it, people committed to the public good, I hope. God help us, it's not Trump and the Midas Cult in charge.