Thursday, November 3, 2016

Hillary Clinton's incrementolution

Dylan Matthews's latest for Vox, Hillary Clinton's quiet revolution, has successfully trolled me. Congratulations out of the way, let's compare the two ways that Matthews talks about liberal politics in general and Clinton in particular. On one hand,

  • Clinton often gets described as an incrementalist, with a relatively modest agenda. This makes sense...
  • "I think a lot of Clinton's proposals are very much a step..."
  • Clinton does not get the US up to European standards...she moves the ball forward...
  • It's doubtful that [Clinton's] reforms would get to 100 percent universal coverage...
  • Her plan for universal pre-K for 4-year olds is almost the definition of a half-measure...it's one year closer...
  • Clinton would take an important step towards...
  • "I see a lot of her proposals as moving in the direction of..."
  • Clinton's policies go a long way toward...
  • The sheer ambition of Clinton's agenda...really did pale in scale to that of her primary opponent...
  • Her plan is full of...tweaks of existing policy rather than...big overhauls...
  • Clinton is, at root, a pragmatist who...works within the system...She doesn't propose totally overhauling the way it does taxation; she proposes tweaks and nudges and expansions of existing programs.

On the other hand,
  • This is not incrementalism.

Say what you will about the substance of Matthews' policy analysis, but it's pretty bizarre for him to insist that the way other people depict Clintonian incrementalism "misleads more than it informs." What does it inform us of to insist that her politics are not incremental - even as we describe them in terms of taking steps, moving the ball forward, tweaks and nudges, and so on? How does this not mislead the reader?

That, of course, is the point: Matthews didn't write this article to clarify anything, but rather to muddy the waters, and grant Clinton the prestige of revolution while openly insisting that she is not revolutionary in any coherent sense. Left and liberal wonks will have plenty of fun relitigating the familiar policy and strategic debates touched upon in this piece, but tethering all of that to iconoclastic redefinitions of "incremental" and "revolutionary" betrays some profound ideological weakness. Matthews trying to rebrand liberalism as "a minimal viable product of social democracy" reads like nothing so much as Charles C.W. Cooke trying to rebrand himself as "conservatarian" after both "conservative" and "libertarian" got too embarrassing. With Vox trying to sell Clinton as both an incrementalist and a revolutionary, can incrementolution be far behind?