A note to Hillary Clinton and her supporters

I’d like to finish my series of posts endorsing Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary with a few words to Hillary Clinton and her supporters.

Clinton could fix many of my difficulties with her candidacy today. How hard would be it be for her and her supporters to simply acknowledge that Sanders is right – that the wealthy do have too much power over our political system? This is a widely shared view among the American people from every ideological stripe.

Clinton could embrace this and attempt to steal Sanders’ thunder. But she chooses not to. In fact, she goes on the attack against cherished liberal goals. I see this as similar to when Pres. Obama’s press secretary’s attacked liberal activists. Democrats, if they want to be taken seriously, should stop running down their base. That is no way to whip up enthusiasm for your candidacy and and bring people on board.

One final thought – and this is perhaps aimed more at Sanders supporters – if he loses the primary, I encourage disappointed Sanders supporters to vote for Clinton. There’s a lot at stake in this presidential election. Again, the make-up of the Supreme Court hangs in the balance. And I’m willing to bow to the arithmetic of our political duopoly. I will not encourage voting for a third party candidate until such time as we can craft a political system that breaks up the two-party system.

Some serious and spurious reasons to worry about a Sanders nomination

In my previous post, I gave my personal endorsement for Bernie Sanders in the upcoming Democratic caucuses and primaries.

In this tough electoral fight between Sanders and Hillary Clinton, I want to address what I see as some of the serious and spurious reasons to be concerned about a Sanders nomination.

Serious reasons

Nothing in life is guaranteed. Anything can happen in an election. But the prospect of a Pres. Trump (or just about any of the Republicans this time around) is so alarming, there are good reasons to seriously evaluate whether Sanders could win in the general election. The electability issue takes several forms:

He hasn’t been vetted!: It is true that Hillary Clinton has taken decades of abuse from her political opponents are mostly come out on top as a successful politician and civil servant. It’s comforting that there’s very little more, seemingly, that can be thrown at her. However, it also means that many people do not see her in a favorable light. Sanders does not have a similar problem – right now. That could change as the Republicans begin their attacks. But it also means that Sanders has a better opportunity to write his own story. Hopefully Democratic party operatives are taking steps to address this now before it becomes a serious issue.

Socialist!: Similar to the vetting concern is the fact that Sanders self-identifies as a democratic socialist. It is hard to imagine the U.S. electing anyone that does so. A six-month-old Gallup poll even showed that a socialist candidate would be less popular than any other group examined. However, eight years ago it was hard to imagine the U.S. ever electing an African-American candidate. And as mentioned above, since so few people know him, Sanders will get a chance to try to write his own definition of democratic socialism for the American people. He’s attempted to do this on several occasions already. Done right, democratic socialism can be identified with popular American programs, like Social Security and Medicare. One would hope the Democratic party would help in this effort should he become the nominee. Ironically, other self-identified socialists can even chip in by stressing, as several have, that they don’t even regard Sanders as a real socialist.

Taxes!: Similar to the the U.S. never electing a socialist, American voters, it is believed, will never vote for someone who promises to raise their taxes. This will be a serious messaging problem, and the Democratic party better start working on this now. To be fair, Sanders is not simply promising to raise taxes. He is also promising to lower health care premiums. There’s a trade-off there that needs to be driven home to the American people.

Revolution!: Again, I think Sanders will encounter a messaging problem as he continues to describe what he is trying to do as a revolution. Frankly, I think this talk is a bit silly, and even I worry that it will turn off centrist voters. If I were to describe it, I would say he’s not trying to implement a revolution, but a restoration – a restoration of the democratic promise of America that has gone off the rails in recent decades. Given that goal – and the reality of the constraints of legislating in a divided Congress – and his foreign policy positions – my prediction is a Pres. Sanders would be a fairly mainstream figure in the end.

The unknown unknowns, aka the Bloomberg candidacy: The possibility of yet another plutocrat besides Trump – people wealthy enough to self-fund and operate their own campaigns – shaking up the race came up with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg threatening to get in the race. One of my favorite writers, Paul Krugman, spun out a story about how a Bloomberg/Sanders combo would lead to Pres. Trump. I guess that’s a possibility. But after a certain point, we can’t live our lives guessing what madmen with means will do. Hopefully this scenario won’t come to pass. If it does, as I often joke, we’ll fall off that bridge when we come to it. Maybe after he loses, Bloomberg can then use his billions to start electing moderate Republicans to Congress.

Bottom line, the only pieces of solid counter-evidence I have right now regarding the electability question are the head-to-head national polls between candidates. In those, Sanders does as well as, or better than, Clinton. I agree with many analysts that such polls are largely meaningless this far out from the election, but they certainly don’t give any solace to people who argue Sanders can’t possibly win, either.

Spurious reasons:

Next I’d like to turn to some spurious reasons to be concerned about Bernie Sanders getting the Democratic nomination:

Questionable policy positions: A great many policy wonks that I respect haven’t thought much of Sanders proposals to improve medical insurance coverage or to better regulate financial companies in comparison to Clinton’s. I take those criticisms seriously. However, the details of policy positions are always open to change. Just ask Clinton, who witnessed Pres. Obama eventually adopting some of the more contentious parts of her health care position from 2008. And then there’s Congress, of course, which has a bit of a say. Presidential policy positions during campaigns are not necessarily a good guide to the actual policy you’ll eventually see.

Incrementalism: A great many opponents of Sanders have tried to argue lately that his supposed extremism won’t lead to any tangible policy. First off, Sanders has a record of actually getting things passed in an unfriendly Congress. (Some of them are even a black mark on his record.) But beyond that, if Sanders is unable to get some of his more ambitious goals passed, that only proves his point. There cannot be a reasonable chance to deliver policies that disproportionately benefit middle- and lower-income Americans with the plutocratic lock on our political system.

Democrat-come-lately!: I get that some Democrats are upset that Sanders is doing so well in the Democratic primary after so many years of being an independent. In that sense, he’s not a loyal Democrat. And given the tribal nature of party loyalties, I can understand how that would be grating. But it remains a fact that many Democrats – perhaps voters who never would identify as Democrat before – are willing to vote for him and see his views as being well within the values of the party. Because of that, I’m curious whether, should she lose, Clinton will be willing to stump for Sanders – or if Pres. Obama will. I think with the threat of Pres. Trump looming, they would have to put aside any hesitations and do what’s necessary.

Nader!: Finally, several times I have read that Sanders running is the second coming of the what they see as the Nader campaign in Florida. Regardless of where you come down on that, Sanders is running in the primary, so it’s simply not possible for Sanders to effect the general election in that same way. Stop making the analogy.

In my next post, I have a final few words for Hillary Clinton and her supporters.

Vote for Bernie Sanders

Over the next couple of weeks, caucus-goers and voters in Iowa and New Hampshire have their opportunity to pick whom they think should be the presidential candidates for the Democratic and Republican parties. If I could speak to Democrats in those two states, I would tell them this: Choose Bernie Sanders.

My endorsement is not based primarily on policy. Sanders and Hillary Clinton have differences, but not in any earth-shattering way. On domestic issues, they really are both fairly straightforward progressives – or can be pressured to be. On foreign policy, Clinton is more hawkish, but Sanders would continue some key military policies, like the drone war. And let’s be honest: any Democratic policy proposals don’t have much meaning in a world where at least one house of Congress will be controlled by Republicans. They have been famously unwilling to compromise in the slightest, even when offered golden chances to get exactly what they want.

No, policy is not the central issue in the Democratic primary. It is, instead, perspective.

Only Bernie Sanders correctly diagnoses – and relentlessly attacks – the fundamental sickness of our republic today: the overbearing power of great wealth.

For decades now – under both Republican and Democratic administrations – our republic has been run by a simple rule: take care of the rich first, then they’ll take care of everyone else. Our political and economic systems have been re-crafted to be infinitely more responsive to the wealthy. The end result is the vast majority of Americans have not benefited from the real gains our society has made.

This breaks the American democratic promise of a nation by and for the people. Instead, we have become a plutocratic republic – run by and for the rich. For my part, I don’t care if you’re rich. I don’t get too exercised by the existence income and wealth inequality in and of itself. However, great wealth does not give you the right to rule. It does not give you the right use our government to further enrich yourself at the expense of a stagnating future for most Americans. And beyond certain levels, inequality begins to tear apart our social fabric, as fewer people see why such a society is worth supporting.

Sanders has made these propositions the centerpiece of this campaign. It is these propositions – and the passion Sanders has for them – that he would truly bring to the presidency. The power of the bully pulpit is still power, and although it might have little effect in policy without a similarly dedicated Congress, it could begin to change the minds of, and turn the tide for, the American people.

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, seems to have made peace with the plutocracy. Again, she has broadly progressive policy goals. I’m not concerned about that. But I find it difficult to fully trust her in the fight to bring the plutocracy to heel when she is so beholden to it. I find it difficult to believe that Clinton will bring the same passion to the struggle as Sanders.

So, I ask you – Democratic voters of Iowa and New Hampshire – to caucus and vote for Sanders.

That said, you can’t stop there. A Sanders candidacy certainly won’t be a cakewalk. In my next post, I want to address what I see as some serious difficulties in the general election should Sanders win the nomination.