You’re probably wondering why I titled this post the way I did. It’s pretty simple, actually. Please allow me to illustrate.
Back in 2008, the last time there was an open Democratic field running for the party’s presidential nomination, I took a couple of those quizzes on Facebook that purport to tell you which candidate most represents your views. I’m sure you’ve seen them, or even taken them. Invariably, the candidate that I most agreed with would come up as Dennis Kucinich, and you know, that was probably accurate. I never voted for Kucinich because I never considered him electable. He was far left. He had no record of success outside the liberal enclave that elected him, and some of his ideas, like the Department of Peace, sounded like nice ideas that had no practical weight behind them. In short, the quiz only addressed policy and not politics, and as much as many people consider politics a dirty word, it is a critically important factor in elections. Go figure.
This brings us to 2016. I’m willing to stipulate that Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are both strong, if not identical, progressives. I believe that either would make an excellent president, both objectively, and certainly in comparison to whoever is the last man (sorry…it’s not going to be Carly Fiorina) standing when the GOP Clown Bus pulls into Cleveland next summer.
So the case for Bernie is not about policy, although I do side with him in most areas where he and Hillary differ. It’s all about political strategy.
First, we need to look at the big picture. It’s not about the White House. It’s about Congress. A Democratic president needs a Democratic Congress. That much is obvious from the experience of the Obama administration. If the Republicans have any power, even just to filibuster, they will use it to derail any policy that they do not support, and even some that they do because a Democrat can’t be allowed credit for a successful policy. Don’t believe me? Look up the origins of the key points of Obamacare. Their genesis was with the Heritage foundation and the individual mandate was first proposed by Nixon before being implemented in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney.
Without a Democratic Congress, a Clinton presidency or a Sanders presidency would meet with the same level of obstruction as Obama’s presidency. So Democrats need a wave, and big one.
Where are Democrats going to that kind of groundswell of support? It’s not in the center among swing voters. It’s in the Democratic base. It’s in the large majorities that support progressive positions by margins north of sixty percent.
How do you mobilize that base? Bernie.
It is quite conceivable that Hillary could win a low turnout general election. In such a case, we’d find ourselves with a Republican Congress and a Democratic President that Republicans have been attacking incessantly for 23 years. Can we really expect change in that scenario? Can we really expect anything to get done? She’d have to burn political capital just to get her cabinet confirmed.
On the other hand, in the face of the Koch Brothers and the Republican super PACs, the only way Bernie can hope to win a general election would be with a truly massive grassroots mobilization. He cannot hope to compete on the same terms as the organized money on the right. He needs to play to his strength which is organized people. That’s why 100,000 of his supporters turned out at over 3500 gatherings in all 50 states last night to begin this organizing in earnest. (I was helping to umpire Harry’s baseball game, so I couldn’t go to one.)
It sounds daunting, doesn’t it? How hard would Bernie’s supporters have to work to overcome all the frustration and cynicism directed at our broken political system? How can a guy who refuses to have a super PAC compete with the billion dollars the Koch brothers plan to use in 2016?
Well, the neat thing is that to go up against the Republicans, Bernie has to beat Hillary first. She’s well-funded and has a tremendous political organization. But she’s beatable, and the act of defeating her (and bringing her supporters into the fold) sets Bernie up to go up against the GOP with the full weight of the Democratic Party behind him. If Bernie can beat Hillary, it means the wave is on its way. It means that Bernie’s support will have national reach and the kind of depth that can reach down-ballot into the legislative races that Democrats need to win to take back Congress.
But what if Bernie doesn’t win? What if Hillary gets the nomination? Does a primary challenge hurt her?
Absolutely not. Bernie’s already said that he will actively support the Democratic nominee. That means, that if Bernie builds a movement that creates a big primary challenge to Hillary, that movement will still be there in support of Hillary. That’s the beauty of a good primary season (as opposed to whatever is going on with the 17 Republicans). It lets the party organize. That’s what Hillary needs to get the kind of legislature she can work with. So Hillary should be welcoming Bernie and should commit to a high-minded and robust primary campaign in support of progressive values. It’s a win-win.