OP-ED: A Generational Argument Ends With Hillary Clinton’s Nomination


The baby boomer generation is finally cutting off debate. The question of equality — universal, full, and meaningful equality — for all Americans of every description is now being decided, with the judgment etched in stone for a long time to come.

The modern conservative movement, which stood athwart the proverbial tide of history shouting ‘Stop!’ — from Nixon’s southern strategy, to Reagan’s ‘morning in America,’ to the Bush quagmires in the Middle East — has been swept over by a Trump tidal wave, and left exposed on the beach as a quivering mass of senseless resentment.

If liberalism does win this generational argument in November, it does so while bearing a more progressive stamp than many on the American left could have hoped even just a decade ago. There will not be enough change accomplished fast enough to satisfy a new, impatient generation, sure.

But their aspirations have also been pent-up by the same partisan logjam of culture wars and legislative gridlock. Breaking that dam will move everyone’s issues forward; President Barack Obama has left a thousand cracks in it, and now President Hillary Clinton stands to burst through, altering the American political landscape.

Of course, not everyone will be happy. That reality has been on full display in Philadelphia this week. Some in the Wells Fargo Center tried to protest the flag-waving affirmations of patriotic fervor on Clinton’s big night, chanting ‘No more wars!’ only to be drowned out by “USA! USA!” The most common progressive critique of Clinton is ‘hawkishness,’ and she did nothing to alleviate that with her speech.

Yet her willingness to speak of American greatness and exceptionalism is exactly what we see breaking through that generational barrier of progress right now.

We see it in the horrified conservatives who recognize that the DNC was a better display of their values than Trump’s self-promoting convention the week before.

More importantly, the media has noticed that a fundamental shift is taking place. They see Republicans ceding the moral high ground of classic American values to the Democrats, and they are talking about it. The fundamental assumption that ‘conservatives are stronger on national defense’ is being discarded.

And that is what I mean by Clinton’s nomination representing the end of a generational argument. Just as women are now admitted into any combat role they are fit to perform (after decades of fighting for that equal opportunity), women have not been fully entrusted with American national security, just as they have not enjoyed full equality. Clinton is breaking unspoken biases, not just historic barriers.

This, by the way, is why the right has attacked Clinton on classified emails and Benghazi with such derangement. They have always understood that she has a backbone, that despite her diplomacy it is made of iron, and they have always feared her for it.

Why? In a word, she threatens patriarchy. The word is more than a concept in feminist theory classes. It is the often-unstated system of values in which boys are valued more than girls: for dodgeball, for math, for science, for jobs, for wages, you name it. Patriarchy subordinates women, and yet Hillary Clinton is about to become the woman everybody answers to.

That prospect still terrifies many people, however far we have come since the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1979. By the way, you may recall that the ERA was beaten through a culture war campaign led by arch-conservative Phyllis Schlafly, who still thinks women should marry instead of pursuing careers to avoid being raped. Schlafly endorsed Trump in the Republican nomination race this year, which is further evidence of how far ‘movement conservatism’ has drifted from its moorings.

Clinton, who was accused of being a communist for writing It Takes A Village and derided for her ambition to do more than stay home and bake cookies as First Lady, has always presented an existential threat to a conservative political brand that has become a shadow of its former self.

She is herself a baby boomer — a ‘Goldwater girl’ turned children’s rights advocate who came of age during the 1960s, when America was embarking on the great culture war battles that may now come to an end at last, one way or the other.

Many political attacks over the years have dressed her up in hippie clothes as part of a conscious effort to erase this Clinton and caricature her as unfit for command. That’s why the visual of a few ‘latter-day hippies’ churlishly turning their backs on her address actually works to Clinton’s advantage. Ironically, those who set out to forestall her ‘coronation’ have ended up as her best argument for a winning majority.

Not all is lost for the left. There is reason to be optimistic. The Democratic Party has actually performed one of its historic functions by integrating a progressive economic and social justice message into its centrist platform, and a strong wave election could very well make those ideals a reality. I also suspect that, as president, Clinton will be more judicious with applied force than her critics on the left expect, though she will not back down from Vladimir Putin and will certainly try to destroy the Islamic State.

Or…Or Donald Trump can win, and the generational argument can go the other way, with a Mussolini figure and friend of Putin in charge of American national security, appointing three or four Supreme Court justices while clamping down on freedom of the press and reasserting white male supremacy for decades longer.

It is still possible to lose; the stakes are high, but so is the payoff.

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