February 10, 2016

A Perspective: What does "Establishment" really mean?

A key concept in the election this cycle, "The Establishment" is often misunderstood and the source of confusion for many.  "They" say it's an anti-establishment election, so some candidates are racing to distance themselves from the label.  Hillary Clinton claims that she can't be considered "Establishment" since she's a woman running for president, and of course Bernie Sanders was roundly criticized for using the "Establishment" label with Planned Parenthood and NARAL.

So, what does "Establishment" really mean?  Of course, I'm not going to get technical and espouse the dictionary definition; as a blogger, I feel my role is to articulate my perspective on it.  So, here it goes.


Hillary Clinton has been in the public eye most of her adult life.  Between herself and her former-president husband, they've built what is otherwise known as "The Clinton Machine", featuring a vast network of contacts and a vast influx of special-interest influence (i.e. donations, corporate funding, etc.).  She spent several years in the Senate representing the state of New York and has vigorously advocated for many great causes and organizations, earning her a great deal of respect and support.

Bernie Sanders on the other hand, has always been considered an "outsider" with respect to Washington politics, which is ironic since he's represented Vermont in Congress for over 25 years.  Even though he's running for President as a Democrat, his entire tenure in both the House and Senate he's had an "(I)"  next to his name (i.e. Independent), segregating him from either of the two dominant political parties.  Although he caucused with the Democrats, he was able to stay above the partisan fray in many respects.  The most notable issue, of course, was the vote on the use of force in Iraq in 2003.  While Hillary Clinton, along with other Democrats such as John Kerry, voted in favor of the use of force in Iraq, Bernie Sanders famously voted against.  Given the debacle resulting from the Iraq war, history has recorded the United  States' role in launching it as the wrong decision, and Clinton to her credit has admitted it was a mistake.  Not only did Sanders have the judgement, foresight and vision to make the correct decision, he did so against the conventional wisdom and Establishment party line.

By the way, I'd like to enter my footnote in terms of that vote for the use of force in Iraq in 2003.  I did not (and will not) say that either Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, or any of the other Democrats actually voted "FOR the WAR" as many of the analysts, pundits, and politicians like to characterize it.  Most people's memories are short, but I remember it vividly -  I've always believed their votes for the use of force in Iraq was a show of support for President Bush in his diplomatic efforts to coerce Saddam Hussain to back down on his penchant for WMD.  I believe they got sucked into the WMD narrative and bought the bullshit the Bush Administration was selling.  We were still smarting from 9/11, anxious to make someone pay, and President Cheney kept painting Saddam Hussein as the boogeyman.  If you didn't vote in favor of the use of force, you weren't "strong on national defense".  And don't think Bernie Sanders didn't take a lot of heat for that tough decision.  But he made the tough decision and stuck by his convictions when it WASN'T popular, because he knew it was the correct decision.

That's not to say I excuse Hillary's misguided vote.  She may or may not have done so out of deference to the party line or conventional wisdom, but one thing is undeniably clear to me - voting for the use of force in Iraq exhibited poor judgement and arguably hawkish posturing. 


Sanders' narrative that Hillary represents "The Establishment" and he doesn't, is his way of articulating that he's always been considered an outsider.  But the real question is - what is he outside OF?  And hence we come to the most significant difference between Hillary and Bernie.  What he's outside of, is - corporate influence.  At least that's the narrative whether you buy it or not, and then whether or not you buy that Hillary is or isn't prone to corporate influence.

Hillary Clinton has done many incredible and amazing things in her long and distinguished career in public service.  Her roles as First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State are unique and unparalleled.  There isn't another person in this country, short of our ex-presidents, who rivals her experience and qualifications.  However, experience and qualifications are only part of the puzzle.  They're really a reflection of history which is, by definition, in the past.  More important than that is the future.  And when you're thinking about the future, it's vision, foresight and judgement that matter most. 

When I ask myself who has the best judgement, vision and foresight to make those tough decisions in the future, unencumbered by corporate, establishment, and party influence, there's only one person in this race who comes to mind.  And it's not even close.


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