Which American politician invented the Internet? If you answered that with “Al Gore”, you’ve just demonstrated the power of political memes. Even if you supported him, even if you voted for him, even if you know the story well enough to know he never said it, you remember the meme.
There’s a new one circulating which hasn’t yet been widely noted, one that’s common in political reporting and endemic on social media: Hillary as squishy alternative to a best choice. As a Bernie voter who wasn’t repelled by Berners until the DNC, I’ve done this myself, numerous times. You’ll see this in numerous articles about whether Bernie supporters will vote for her, a non-story if there ever was one: both polling and recent history tells us they will, in massive numbers.
I’ve been especially struck by how much coverage the political left is getting in the mainstream media; Jill Stein pops up on my radar regularly, more often than Gary Johnson (who has double the third-party support), and Bernie dead-enders are still considered quotable. Compare that with the antiwar protests of the early 2000s, when millions of people could coalesce and get barely a mention in the news. The American left (that is, the part of it to the left of mainstream Democrats) has been politically invisible since the Reagan administration, and it’s odd to see it covered now, at precisely the moment when it can help tank a candidate.
This doesn’t make a great deal of sense. One of the true things about Hillary is that she does have a large, core group of avid supporters. There were 17.8 million who voted for her in 2008; 16.8 million in 2016. She inspired the PUMA movement in 2008 when people claimed they would never vote for Obama. (They did.) She’s been on the national political scene for over 25 years. There should be a strong counterweight of full-throated, unequivocal Hillary support to the squish-Hillary meme. There isn’t.
Compare this to Trump’s support, and his 14 million votes. Pick a Republican constituency—establishment, evangelical, neoconservative, or Tea Party—and Trump has repudiated it. He’s the most pro-Russian popular candidate since actual Socialists ran well in the 1920s. His biggest rival attended the RNC to tell his voters not to turn out for him.
If there were going to be a meme about squishy support for a candidate, it should be Trump. Trump’s support is held together by party unity and his excessive angry spittle, and if it looks in October like he’s going to lose, expect to see his support crater.
But that won’t happen if his support stays even, and here’s where the meme matters: both candidates’ support is reported by the meme and constructed by the meme. If a wavering Trump voter thinks all of his peers are 100% in favor, he’s going to be more supportive. If a leaning-Hillary voter thinks that her most vocal support has reservations, he’s more likely to reconsider.
So if you’re a Hillary supporter, support Hillary. Sure, criticize her if you want to, but don’t feel required to. For myself, I intend to save the potshots and the pushing-leftward until after November. I voted for Bernie. I’m glad his coalition gained concessions in the platform. I intend to be a thorn in her side during her presidency to make sure she follows through.
But until then, I’m with her. And I don’t feel the need to apologize for it. Why do you?