Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have a lot in common. Both want to continue making healthcare more accessible and more affordable for more Americans. Both want to help reduce the cost of higher education for the next generation of college students, and reduce the debt burden of the last. Both want to fix our crumbling infrastructure, increase regulations on Wall Street, institute a more progressive tax structure, and reduce the influence of the superrich on our elections. These ideas form a part of their collective, liberal vision. Where they differ, however, is how to make that vision a reality, and what is more, how much of that envisioned reality can really be made real.
Hillary supporters have contended that while Bernie’s brand of idealism is highly appealing, it’s almost certainly unattainable. Free college and healthcare for all sounds great, but they are ideas that simply will not pass through one of the most polarized Congresses in American history.
Hillary on the other hand, has chosen to cast herself as the pragmatic progressive. She shrugs off the language of Sandersonian revolution, and instead embraces a more measured approach. She promises to build on President Barack Obama’s accomplishments, and continue the slow but steady march of progress achieved through bipartisan compromise and political savvy.
Thus far, Hillary’s strategy has been pretty successful. On the debate stage, she seems like the realist in the room, and certainly political pundits and prospective voters everywhere are echoing her skepticism about the ideas of those who are “feeling the bern.”
And I think they’re right. Whether he served one term, two terms, or an FDR three-and-half, I don’t think that there is a chance in hell that a President Sanders could accomplish half the things he has laid out thus far on the campaign trail. Nevertheless, I still think that when it comes to the Democratic nomination, Hillary is the wrong choice for progressive voters, because even though she’s correct about the flaws in Bernie’s idealistic approach, she’s incorrect about her pragmatism’s ability to achieve more progressive results.
No matter how pragmatic Hillary thinks her approach may be, the obstructionist Republican Party of today is not going to cooperate with any president that comes out of the Democratic Party. The white, male, Christians that make up the majority of congressional Republicans did not like being bossed around by a black guy, and be it a socialist Jew or an ex-First Lady, they’re not going to like being bossed around by the next not-Republican president either. Hillary’s proposals may be more reasonable, pragmatic, and moderate, but the 21st century Republican Party is none of those things. People forget that many of the primary provisions of what has come to be known as “Obamacare” were at one point in time Republican proposals. Still, not a single Republican in the House or Senate voted to pass the Affordable Care Act back in 2009, and since then, they have introduced legislation to repeal the law over 50 times. Ain’t nothing pragmatic about that.
Nevertheless, Hillary has consistently painted herself as the candidate with the record of getting things done—of being willing to get down in the trenches, reach across the isle, and come out with favorable deals. I think she’s got plenty of evidence to support those claims throughout her careers as a First Lady, a Senator, and a Secretary of State. But doesn’t Bernie Sanders, a guy with 25-plus years on Capitol Hill, have just as much a right to those claims as Hillary? He is and has been the only democratic socialist out of 535 congressional representatives throughout his political career. He has served in a Congress that has more often than not been under Republican leadership and control. He lives in the world’s foremost capitalistic country where socialism was considered a dirty word until, like, yesterday (and surely still is by many). Within those experiences, don’t you think that Bernie Sanders has probably learned a thing or two about compromise?
Another thing that gets lost in this conversation is that the office that Hillary and Bernie are running for has little to do with the legislative process. They can propose legislation, they can sign legislation, they can veto legislation, but that’s about it. Constitutionally speaking, legislating is the job of the legislative branch, not the executive. The Affordable Care Act may be called Obamacare, but Obamacare is actually a product of Congress.
That’s not to say that Obama doesn’t deserve a lot of the credit for the Affordable Care Act. There’s no doubt that he was working behind the scenes to earn the congressional support that that bill needed in order to ultimately land on his desk and be signed into law. But to me, the more important role that Obama played was the way he used his presidential platform to set the national agenda. The way he used the unique voice and influence of the executive branch to make healthcare reform a national priority. Barack didn’t get everything he wanted in the legislation that ultimately passed, but without him starting the conversation, that legislation may have never been introduced.
And that’s the most important thing that presidents do. They use the bully pulpit to generate impetus for things that they wish to get done. They exercise control over the national conversation like only a president can. And when watching the Democratic debates and listening to the different conversations the two candidates are proposing, the Sanders conversation possesses much more hope for real progressive change.
And that’s the kind of stuff I want to talk about. I want to talk about a single-payer healthcare system and a $15 minimum wage. I want to talk about a “yuge” tax increase on the 1-percenters, TR style trust-busting, and an unprecedented crackdown on the Wall Street fat cats and their dangerous brand of casino capitalism. I want to talk about democratic socialism and political revolution.
I’m not naïve. I know that even if Bernie were elected, the revolution he speaks of would not happen, not fully anyway. But I do believe that the language that Bernie would bring to the Oval Office would make it more likely that our country could achieve significant progressive change. That change, like all change, would need to result from compromise and concessions, a meeting in the middle between left and right. The question for the left is, prior to any compromise, what should be the starting point? Should we start with the relatively watered-down proposals of Hillary Clinton, or the shoot-for-the-moon-maybe-you’ll-land-among-the-stars proposals of Bernie Sanders? Should we begin a compromise with an already compromised version of progressive ideals, or should we begin from a point that more closely reflects the true vision that progressives have for America?
I could understand why more moderate liberals and rank-and-file Democrats would want to vote for Hillary. What I am sick of hearing is the Clinton campaign trying to have their cake and eat it too, painting themselves as progressives while simultaneously scoffing at the truly progressive proposals of Sanders.
But like Hillary, I am also a realist. I still think that Hillary is the most likely candidate to win the Democratic nomination, and ultimately the presidential election. If/when that happens, I will be happy that she is leading our country rather than one of the idiots on the other debate stage. I just hope that if/when she wins, it’s not because true progressives acquiesced their idealistic hopes and dreams in order to make the more pragmatic choice.
Bernie has a chance to win, but he needs people to believe in him. He needs people to believe in his ideas, to believe that if he wins he could and would use his voice to inspire some of the most progressive reforms that we have seen in our nation’s history. I think that there are enough people out there who share his ideals and his vision—people who support the radical changes he is proposing. The question is whether or not they will follow through—whether they will vote with their hearts, show faith in idealism, and prove that a radical politician like Bernie can indeed transform this nation, or whether they will do what’s pragmatic, voting to fulfill their own self-fulfilling prophecy, proving that Bernie Sanders ideas are too lofty, too hopey, too dreamy to win this election. Either way, they will be right.