As Bernie Sanders defies expectations with a resounding New Hampshire victory and a virtual tie in Iowa, Democratic Party leaders still insist Hillary Clinton is the pragmatic choice to beat Republicans and bring effective leadership and change—if incremental—to Washington. Clinton and her supporters frame the race, and her appeal, as a matter of “ready on day one” leadership and “get things done” practicality. But what does the record show, and what do leadership and pragmatism really mean?
On the pragmatics of electability, nearly every major national poll consistently shows Sanders equaling or bettering Clinton against all Republicans. Polls show Sanders nearly tied with Clinton nationally and rising. On electability, if anything, Sanders has the edge right now. There is nothing empirical to suggest Clinton’s superior electability—quite the contrary given her loss to Barack Obama in 2008 and her flagging campaign this year. While Clinton might gain more moderate Independents (particularly against a polarizing Republican nominee), Sanders can inspire massive Democratic and liberal Independent turnout and likely win over many white working-class swing voters.
Clinton’s most persistent attack—parroted by mainstream media—claims that Sanders’s agenda is perhaps laudable but unrealistic. Moderation is more effective, she claims. However, this is a misreading of American politics and factual comparisons of the candidates’ track records.
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The Clinton pragmatism frame is a strangely naïve and fatalistic misjudging of political culture and dynamics. During most of his eight years in office, President Obama has tacked to the center in hopes of bipartisan compromise on everything from gun control to the budget, only to be met by relentless Republican obstruction, even labeled a “socialist dictator.” Republicans did much the same during Bill Clinton’s first term—pushing him more deeply into the political center, where, with plenty of support from Hillary, Preisdent Clinton and the Gingrich Congress gutted welfare, enacted a deeply compromised crime bill, and reversed bank regulations (something Hillary is OK with even after the financial crisis).
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No matter where a Democratic president is on the spectrum, Republicans block and push rightward. In her campaign, as in the past, Hillary Clinton has compromised her agenda before the political battle even begins.
Based on her record and political positions, it is not credible for Democrats to hope that a Clinton presidency can deliver progressive change. It is not pragmatic to hope that Clinton, by dint of her centrist leanings, can work with Congress on anything other than a centrist agenda—at best. To the extent that she gets things done with a Republican legislature, based on an electoral mandate of centrism, there is zero prospect of progressive reform on Wall Street, corporate accountability, wealth inequality, or campaign finance. In politics, if you demand a mile, you get a foot; demand a moderate inch, and at best, you get a centimeter.
Read the rest of the column at The Atlantic.