Hillary, the Hamptons and Intimations of Defeat
It’s not surprising that Hillary Clinton spent much of the month of August in the Hamptons. It was a good place to pick up some serious dollars over quiet table talk, expand her patronage network, and distribute IOU’s while discussing important subjects - like what she wanted to do as President of the United States and what the assembled thought about that. The Hamptons are where very rich people gather over the summer to relax and socialize. The Clintons had been there many times before. A two week rental cost them $100,000 for a house with six bedrooms.
Oracle, Arizona, is where my wife Kaz and I live. We heard the news about the Clinton’s Hampton vacation on talk radio while driving back from the nearby town of San Manuel. In the 1970’s San Manuel, then a thriving copper town, invested heavily in family friendly infrastructure like playgrounds, schools and two swimming pools before falling on hard times when the mine, mill and smelter shut down. That’s when several thousand mostly union workers were dismissed and the towns infrastructure began to disintegrate.
News of the Clinton’s Hampton sojourn got us both shaking our heads. In light of the surprising traction of Bernie Sanders and the working class pitch of her competition, Donald Trump, it struck us as politically tone deaf. In fact, right then it dawned on us she could very well lose.
In the years before I returned to Industrial Areas Foundation organizing in 1989. a garage on our Oracle property was the locus of a carpentry/cabinet making venture we set up. We learned the trade at the local community college well enough to make money at it. One early lesson: experienced craftsmen commonly accept a simple truth that if a still, quiet voice announces danger on the job, one ignores it at great personal risk. We were persuaded by stories we heard and by the bodily damage observed. A premonition of danger before the hurried last pass of a board on a table saw, an unsecured truss balanced precariously over head, a nail gun manned by a newbie too close for comfort - if the little voice flashed caution, you’d best attend or a hospital emergency room may be your next stop without a finger, a thumb or worse. We learned to listen differently and changed our behavior accordingly.
Ten weeks after the Clinton visit to the Hamptons, stung by ruinous defeat, 150 of Clinton’s campaign staff were gathered in Brooklyn by DNC Chair Donna Brazile. She offered words of balm, congratulation and justification. Having heard enough, a young man named Zach, a “low ranker”, jumped ahead willy nilly from campaign apologetics to campaign forensics. He burst forth with, “You backed a flawed candidate, and your friend (Debbie Wasserman Schultz) plotted through this to support your own gain and yourself. You are part of the problem.”
“Thanks for sharing,” Brazile saId.
Zach gathered his things and stomped out after he had his say.
My friend and former colleague with the Industrial Areas Foundation Michael Gecan wrote persuasively in the NY Daily News on September 29 about the Clinton campaign’s failure to control the conversation in contrast with Donald Trumps relentless dominance of the action/reaction news cycle. I believe he hoped that, aided by his timely intervention, her campaign would figure out how to fix an ongoing problem before it was too late. Gecan, the leading national voice for the IAF, is an organizer, a master craftsman in the field. He knows his stuff. But the Clinton campaigners didn’t pay attention to his diagnosis, coming as it did from far outside her inner circle. They soldiered on oblivious to his and other potentially corrective voices.
By now it’s obvious. The Clinton campaign missed the kind of gut level warnings that flashed danger ahead. Self justifying, with endless analytics and focus groups, a sprawling patronage network of self referential operatives, funders breathing the stale air of circular reinforcement, they were blind to those moments when mortal danger made itself known.
Down the road, fresh opportunities for organizing and mobilizing will present themselves - maybe sooner than most of us think. They are unlikely to emerge from gatherings in the Hamptons or elite funders conferences in Washington, DC. The conversations pointing the way to better outcomes will be rough edged, clear eyed. The fight against the worst of what Donald Trump heralds for the nation won’t be waged or won anywhere but in the neighborhoods, schools, union halls, town councils, congregations, streets.