How Magical Thinking Derails Progressive Politics
Hillary Clinton has a Purity Problem.
Hillary Clinton’s primary battle with Bernie Sanders awoke a significant segment of the progressive voters who are usually turned off by party politics. Sanders identified a system rigged against the common people and identified Hillary Clinton as a master beneficiary of that system. When the WikiLeaks release of DNC emails confirmed the suspicions of Sanders’ supporters that the system was indeed rigged, some of those progressive voters declared that enough was enough and are refusing to vote for Hillary Clinton in the general election.
According to the latest CNN poll, when given a heads-up choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, about 90 percent of Sanders supporters choose Hillary Clinton. But when that polling is expanded to include the third-party candidates Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, Hillary Clinton loses about another 20 percent of those supporters.
So, how could someone who espouses the progressive ideals Bernie Sanders’ campaign was built upon cast their vote in such a way to enable Donald Trump to win the White House? Why would these “True Progressives” usher in at least four years of pushing the country away from the achievement of progressive goals?
If you’re flummoxed by this phenomenon, you’re not alone. I was in that True Progressive camp from February through June. I was mad as hell that Debbie Wasserman Schultz was rigging the primary process in favor of Hillary Clinton. I was convinced that the only right thing to do was to punish the DNC and Hillary Clinton by not rewarding her and them with my vote. I would not sign on to such chicanery, shenanigans, subterfuge, sabotage, and just plain eeeeevil!
Then I realized I was engaged in the same kind of magical thinking I get in the fight to legalize marijuana.
True Progressives and True Legalizers
For the past ten years, I have been reporting on the states that propose and pass medical marijuana and recreational legalization initiatives and laws. In every election since 2010, there have been one or more states in which at least two campaigns emerge to legalize marijuana.
One campaign usually emerges that is backed by the national marijuana reform organizations, funded by billionaires, and proposes legalization in a moderate, carefully controlled manner. These measures hire professional signature gatherers and campaign staff, make the ballot, and most of them win. You could call these “Establishment Legalizers”.
The other campaigns that emerge are backed by local, grassroots activists, desperately scrambling to raise funds, proposing legalization in a more radical, wide-open manner. These measures rely on volunteer signature gatherers and amateur campaigns, rarely make the ballot, and never win. You could call these “True Legalizers”.
After they fail to place their initiative on the ballot, the True Legalizers then find unacceptable faults in the initiative that the Establishment Legalizers successfully place on the ballot. Despite the fact that the Establishment Legalizers are proposing something that moves the state away from total marijuana prohibition, True Legalizers fight against it because it’s just not good enough, helping the opponents of legalization in their efforts to defeat the initiative.
This happened in 2010 in California, when supporters of a failed True Legalization initiative fought against Prop 19. In Washington in 2012, there was a very visible No on I-502 campaign with many supporters of a more progressive failed initiative backing it. Now in 2016, proponents of failed measures in California, Arizona, and Massachusetts are rebelling against the legalization initiatives there.
What is it that makes True Legalizers and True Progressives fight against their own self-interest?
Don’t Let the Perfect be the Enemy of the Good
Here are the top ten magical thinking arguments that are similar between the True Legalizers and True Progressives:
These are forecasts predicated on scenarios that ignore mathematical probability and historical precedent.
True Legalizers: If only all our Facebook followers and volunteer signature gatherers collected and turned in ten signature sheets, we’d easily make the ballot.
True Progressives: If only everybody who hates Clinton and Trump votes third party, it would win the election.
These are the belief that a single, transformative moment changes everything completely.
True Legalizers: When people finally read our True Legalization, they’ll see it is superior and reject the Establishment Legalization.
True Progressives: When people finally see the third party candidate in the debates, they’ll see they’re superior and reject the establishment candidates.
These are arguments long on lofty, grandiose ideals, short on the concrete details that form an actual plan.
True Legalizers: Once we make the ballot, enough donations will flow in that we can advertise for our campaign.
True Progressives: Once the third party makes the debates, enough states will flip to them that they get 270 electoral votes.
“It’ll be Better Next Time”
This is a willingness to not stop bad things now because a better solution is around the corner.
True Legalizers: Defeat California’s Prop 64 (let prohibition continue) and in 2018, we’ll get True Legalization on the ballot.
True Progressives: Let Donald Trump win (reverse progressive momentum) and in 2020, we’ll get a true progressive in the Oval Office.
These are the actors who show adherence to one or more ideological principals, ignoring the overall greater good proposed.
True Legalizers: I could never vote for Washington’s I-502 because it has a per se DUID and no home grow, even though it does legalize marijuana and pot shops.
True Progressives: I could never vote for Hillary Clinton because she’s a liar and a warmonger, even though she is progressive on domestic issues.
“Fuck the System”
This a visceral hatred of the corrupted, insider-run, pay-to-play process and a desire to punish it.
True Legalizers: We’ll show that California billionaire Sean Parker what happens to his legalization plan when he ignores the grassroots. When prohibition continues a couple more years, that will make the people ready to support True Legalization.
True Progressives: We’ll show that Hillary Clinton what happens when she and the DNC rig the primaries. After four years of Donald Trump, the people will yearn for a True Progressive.
“Send a Message”
This is the corollary of “fuck the system” – the idea that you have to destroy the village in order to save it. A devastating loss by the establishment will cause it to become more progressive, counter to all historical evidence that it does not.
True Legalizers: The establishment legalizers loss in the election will show them that our plans for true legalization are what the people really wanted. Next election cycle, they’ll surely get behind our proposals.
True Progressives: The DNC will learn a lesson when they lose to a terrible candidate like Donald Trump. It will show them the terrible mistake they made in selecting the candidate who got the most votes. Next election, after four years of Trump, they’ll be sure to pick the progressive choice.
“I Gots Mine”
This is arguing from a position of privilege that insulates one from the worst outcomes of defeating the greater good proposed.
True Legalizers: Californians who don’t want possession tickets and grow felonies should get a medical card like me and should have supported the True Legalization that we all would’ve voted for.
True Progressives: Blacks, gays, women, Muslims, and immigrants who don’t want a bigot in the White House should just ride out the next four years like me and should have supported the True Progressive who we could’ve all gotten behind.
This is when the argument devolves into casting the subject as inherently evil, ultimately corrupt, and alarmingly dishonest.
True Legalizers: The establishment legalization is just fooling people into thinking that all marijuana crimes will disappear, when there will still be laws on the books to bust stoners. The proponent is a terrible person who’s just trying to build their own career and fortune.
True Progressives: Hillary Clinton is deep-down a conservative who hated black people in the 1990s and gay people in the 2000s and only says she likes gay marriage now so she can get votes. She’s owned by Wall Street because she gave some paid speeches. She’s supported war and other evils in her time in the Senate and the State Department. Have you noticed how people like Vince Foster die around her? And what evil secret is she hiding that WikiLeaks hasn’t revealed yet?
This is the argument used to dismiss the anything progressive being offered, because it’s all part of a grander bait-and-switch conspiracy.
True Legalizers: Washington’s I-502 is just a way for the government to force us to accept what’s really decriminalization. They’ll just use the DUID laws to bust as many people as they did before. That’s why those cops in the commercials support it, because they know it really makes marijuana more criminal. They also set it up so only their friends can get rich.
True Progressives: Donald Trump is really just part of a plan by the One Percent to force us to take Hillary Clinton by running the only candidate she could beat. Not only did the DNC rig the Democratic Primary in a way that let Hillary Clinton steal it by 3 million votes, they also found a way to get 13 million Republicans to select Donald Trump over 16 other candidates the Republican establishment offered. It was all because they control the media to black out Bernie Sanders and highlight Donald Trump.
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
I’ve never had the opportunity to vote for a presidential candidate or a marijuana legalization initiative that was fully up to my standards. But reality dictates that in the voting booth, I can vote to get some of what I want or I can vote to get a lot of what I don’t want.
Complaining about rigged systems and choices of the lesser of two evils is pointless – after the vote, either legalization wins and Hillary Clinton is president, or prohibition wins and Donald Trump is president. Either you chose to move the country incrementally forward on marijuana and progressivism, or you chose to move the country backward.
Your magical thinking might soothe your conscience but it does not alter reality.