October 20, 2019

CHANG | The Liberal Microcosm Won’t Solve Itself

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Former presidential nominee Hillary Clinton directed an unsavory comment at Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-H.I.) last Thursday, saying that the Russians were “grooming” a Democratic candidate for president. This baseless name-calling is not only divisive but also unnecessary.

As Cornellians gearing up for campus debates on the 2019 election and the 2020 presidential election, we should take note.

The evidence Clinton used to support her already hard-to-believe claim about Gabbard on a segment of the podcast “Campaign HQ” was porous. Apparently, “They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far,” she said. While Democrats like Clinton are suspicious of Gabbard’s popularity amongst Republicans and right-wingers, there’s no clear evidence that the Russians have intervened in her campaign or any indication of collaboration between the two parties.

There’s simply no way Clinton and her team can validate their claim about Russian interference in Gabbard’s run for president. Given that Clinton hasn’t thrown her hat in the rat race for Democratic nominee, she should stay out of it.

Gabbard’s reaction was lacking, too. She tweeted on Friday that Clinton was “the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long.” She suggested that the former Democratic nominee should join the presidential race instead of being a coward.

Personal attacks without evidence, Twitter wars and comments from people who have no stake in the conversation all seems very Trumpian to me. The short-term result of this spat has been to draw battle lines between candidates. One side, composed of entrepreneur Andrew Yang and self-help author Marianne Williamson, defended Gabbard, with Yang saying that Gabbard “deserves much more respect and thanks than this” because of her military background.

The other side tried to stay quiet and no presidential candidates supported Clinton’s comments outright, though Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) both invoked Clinton’s right to defend herself in public.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t support either candidate’s actions. Clinton shouldn’t be intervening in situations where she has no authority; moreover, she shouldn’t be commenting without evidence. In the past, Clinton wasn’t such a rabble-rouser, and now is a terrible time to start. Her time in the limelight (which was dim at best) is over.

And as a Democratic candidate, Gabbard doesn’t cut it. She’s said that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad wasn’t an “enemy of the United States” and her isolationist foreign policy is worrying. Even white nationalist David Duke endorsed her candidacy (although she quickly rejected his support).

This episode is telling when it comes to internal Democratic politics. It illustrates delineations not only between the progressive and moderate factions of the party but also between the politicians and non-politicians and the more moderate and less moderate.

The granularity of these distinctions is an unhealthy one for Democrats and calls into question the ability of any nominee to win the general election against President Trump, with the possibility of spilling over into downstream races for Congress and local positions. The battle waged within the party reminds me of 2016 “Bernie Bros” that were unwilling to vote for “crooked Hillary” in the general election.

The fractures between Clinton and Gabbard represent other fractures within the Democratic Party. Are Bernie Sanders’ (D-Vt.) supporters going forgo voting for Biden if the former vice president wins the nomination? Would this unwillingness to vote for the party hold true if Warren, Harris or Buttigieg won the nomination? Should “leftists” decry “moderate liberals” again, Dems will be in a tough tough place come November 2020.

The same fractured dynamics come through even on Cornell’s seemingly isolated campus. If we think of Ithaca as a microcosm of liberalism (given that nearly 70 percent of voters cast their ballots for Democratic candidates in the last election), then we should think about these issues in detail.

Though the clear split between Democrats and Republicans extends to our campus, distinctive factions can be found within political groups Cornell Political Union. These factions play an important role, ensuring a diversity of views when it comes to voting and writing policy. For the most part, the divides within on-campus groups aren’t too deep. CPU’s infighting is softened by the fact that all its members are part of the same organization. In the same way, the different factions of the Democratic party have important roles, especially when candidates with unique views run for office — think Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-N.Y.)  and Bernie versus Hillary Clinton and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (R-Calif.).

But, the dialogue that can be found in campus organizations that realize they are united as a whole should be mimicked on the grand stage of the presidential race. When we let divisions get the better of us (whether Democratic, Republican, both or neither), then we’ve slipped too far into unproductive debates with no factual basis, much like this spat between Clinton and Gabbard.

Darren Chang is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at dchang@cornellsun.com. Swamp Snorkeling runs every other Monday this semester.