Bernie would have been the right man at the right time in 2022. This, however, is Hillary's time.
I was more than amused last week when a verbal fracas broke out among Democrats campaigning in New Hampshire as to which presidential candidate – Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton – had the most “left-of-center” credit.
While Republicans/Conservatives/Tea Partiers/Evangelicals/White Nationalists/Militia Members/Etc. have spent almost every day of the last decade coming up with increasingly derisive labels for anyone in their own movement who occupies a political/social/economic space to the left of Joe McCarthy, John Birch or Genghis Khan, Democrats have by-and-large spared themselves the misery of intra-party squabbling and name-calling.
But, suddenly last week, two candidates, neither of whom actually needs to do anything to establish his/her “left-of-center” bona fides, were competing as to who deserves to be characterized as a “progressive” and who does not. Bernie says that Hillary is a “moderate” and, in Bernie-land, that apparently means she cannot be a “progressive.” Hillary pushes back by reciting a litany of causes, positions and accomplishments that she and “her people” believe justify her claim to being acceptably “progressive.”
I have heard a Hillary supporter or so question Bernie’s credentials as a “Democrat.” While they would have been technically accurate until he signed up for the Democratic primary process in 2015, the fact is that both Representative and Senator Sanders has always caucused with congressional Democrats and, in terms of both general and specific policy issues, is an obvious fit per the party paradigm.
This does, however, seem an appropriate time to issue a word of caution to those who don’t think being designated as the “Democratic” nominee and thus identifying with the party really matters or is overrated. Party affiliation gives one access to a treasure trove of information, research, logistical support, financial support, connections at every level of both the public and private sectors, etc. The idea of running a presidential campaign – or, for that matter, running a government – apart from the lift provided by the “establishment” of a major political party is daunting. The word “quixotic” comes to mind, as does the notion of tilting at windmills.
To have made that statement identifies me, I suppose, as an “establishment Democrat.” A critter that has absorbed a right hefty beating during the “moderate” v. “progressive” skirmish and amidst the hype surrounding Bernie’s “Revolution.” (Establishment types tend to lose both their minds and their heads during revolutionary times!)
Being an “establishment Democrat” herself, Hillary took the same verbal beating as the rest of us, almost all of us on the far side of our mid-40’s, except that hers was delivered in public. Bernie, in a cringe-worthy moment of faux self-righteousness if not real hypocrisy, apparently forgot that he’s been receiving his check from the Man and enjoying the perks provided by The Man for nearly three decades when he declared himself to be the “anti-establishment” candidate.
I offer no apology for being an “establishment Democrat.” The visceral energy that initially animates a “movement” of ideas/ideology is not unlimited. Which is why, as history attests, every “movement” either becomes “established” or slowly withers away on life-support until death mercifully arrives.
There was not, as I recall, any tiff over who had rightful claim to the sobriquet “socialist,” a characterization in dire need of redefinition for an American citizenry that still associates it with a hammer & sickle. In the absence of that redefinition, my guess is that the Clinton camp ceded the “socialist” label to Bernie.
Nor was there any bickering about the designation “liberal,” a word that is either enjoying retirement on a small island in the South Pacific, has found anonymity in a witness protection program or been kidnapped by a savage group of Tea Partiers who dropped it off to meet a lonely and ignominious fate on an arctic ice flow. The latter seems likely, given that it only seems to show up in anguished Tea Partier posts on conservative message boards – you know, “them Obozo libruls.”
At any rate, a long-time Democratic operative here in Columbia called me when the brouhaha first got underway to jokingly let me know that I could no longer reference myself as a “liberal” or admit to being an “establishment Democrat.” Neither, he said, could I any longer be a “moderate progressive” or a “progressive moderate.” “You have to be one or the other,” he said, “You have to be either a ‘moderate’ or a ‘progressive.’ You have to be either a DINO or a True Democrat. You have to make a choice. You cannot straddle the barricades during the Revolution, lest both sides be shooting at you. It’s decision time, Sparky!”
I told him that I had papers to grade.
In the end, however, this moderately progressive, progressively moderate, liberal establishment Democrat who marched for civil rights and marched in opposition to the war in Vietnam and marched for LGBTQ rights and has spoken out publicly per a variety of liberal agenda issues in some right influential and occasionally hostile venues has made his decision, though that decision has nothing to do with the labeling of my policy likes and dislikes. In the upcoming South Carolina primary, I’ll be voting for Hillary Clinton. And I hope to cast another vote for her next November.
Though it has approached meme-like status, it is a truth that no individual active in American polity is more prepared for the presidency than Hillary Clinton. And few have the combination of intellect, temperament, compassion, mental toughness, flexibility, grasp of the issues, relationships and experience required to successfully navigate the United States through the incredibly complex and ever-shifting shoals and bars that are part and parcel of both our national and global zeitgeist.
In other words, a resume like that of Hillary Clinton matters. It also matters that I don’t believe Bernie to be electable. I am reminded on a daily basis about general election polls that indicate Bernie would be more competitive against a Republican candidate than Hillary.
But political scientists in general put almost no stock in general election polls taken this far out. As I have written elsewhere, the factors that condition a person’s choice of candidates are, nine months out from a general election, almost unlimited. Those factors tend to diminish in number and change in relative importance as election day nears, often shifting a voter’s perspective. Seth McKee, a political science professor at Texas Tech University, says that an early lead in the polls is “a nice thing to point to, but what does a head-to-head poll mean in early February?…It’s worthless. It’s absolutely worthless.”
Vox asked six well-known and respected political scientists about Bernie’s chances of winning a general election and the most optimistic thing they could say was that he might have a chance “under some unlikely circumstances.” Beyond those “unlikely circumstances,” they agreed that nominating Bernie would create “the risk of a penalty at the ballot box.” And the ballot boxes subject to that penalty could well extend far from the presidential ones, decreasing Democratic chances at regaining a majority in the Senate and increasing Democratic chances of losing even more House seats.
Bernie, in a way, is a luxury I fear we can’t afford. Who would best be able to get any piece of solid, progressive legislation through Congress? Quite frankly, neither of the two.
No matter the Big Policies/Big Wish Lists of either Bernie or Hillary, no matter the intentions/promises of a Democratic president, there will be no revolutionary, transformative left-of-center legislation passed prior to at least 2022, the earliest point in time at which Democrats could conceivably hold majorities in both congressional chambers.
In their fervor for revolution, the new revolutionaries forget that GOP House members don’t give a damn about any revolution that isn’t supported within their own safe, gerrymandered, right-wing districts. Given that President Obama is “the Black, Kenya-born Muslim in the White House,” given that Hillary is “Benghazi!!!!!”, and given that Bernie is a self-proclaimed “Socialist” – the hammer and sickle are already showing up on anti-Democratic campaign buttons in South Carolina – does anyone seriously think that members of the Clown Caucus are feeling pressure from the clowns at home to support legislation proposed by a Democratic president?
The Democratic president we elect later this year will, to some degree, at least in domestic matters, have to engage in what amounts to a “holding action.” He/She will perhaps be able to pass bits and pieces of progressive legislation – circumstances, quite frankly, might demand that Republicans vote for it (Student Loan Adjustments, for example, or Vital Infrastructure Repair; i.e., Flint’s water system). But these will be few and far between. Hence, a new president may be focused more on preventing a Republican-dominated Congress and federal judiciary from wiping out the gains – in policies both foreign and domestic – made during the Obama years and, for that matter, made since the late 1920’s.
I am convinced that, six years from now, the ears of white working and middle-class voters will be available to give a fair hearing to the Big Policies of progressives like Bernie Sanders. I believe that because, by then, they will clearly see the effect of right-wing policies on their futures and the futures of their children. By then, they will, I believe, realize that they have been voting against their own interests every time they pulled a Republican lever. That, combined with the opportunity for less partisan redistricting, may mean that 2022 will be the year when we can take to the barricades and begin Bernie’s “revolution.”
That would have been Bernie’s time. Now is not.