by Andy Schmookler
Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have a great opportunity to advance the Democratic cause, but to seize it they’ll have the think differently about their contest.
A SHADOW OVER THE DEMOCRATIC RACE
This opportunity grows out of a shadow that hangs over the campaign for the Democratic nomination. It is widely recognized that any Democrat who is elected president will be unable to accomplish much of what he or she is calling for.
On the big issues – whether it’s climate change, or guns, or immigration reform, or campaign finance, or widening inequality – legislation is required. But as things now stand, any Democratic president will almost certainly be blocked by the Republicans in Congress. Although we hear talk about the ability “to reach across the aisle,” after the last seven years – with a Democrat downright eager to reach across the aisle -- we should know better.
During these years, we’ve seen the Republicans obstruct President Obama wherever they could, on virtually every front – blocking even Republican ideas and stonewalling the president’s nominations– in order to make him fail. There’s no reason to believe they’d stop their wall-to-wall obstructionism with a President Hillary Clinton or a President Bernie Sanders.
Why would they stop? Their strategy has worked well for them over the past seven years. In 2010, their lies and obstructionism on health care reform were rewarded with a big electoral victory. And they swept to still more power in Congress again in 2014, after their obstructionism gave America the least productive Congress in history.
It’s hard to imagine these Republicans working constructively with President Hillary Clinton-- not after they’ve been demonizing her since the 1990s. (Remember the charge that she’d murdered her friend Vince Foster?) The Republican base is so convinced that she’s really evil that they’ll support combat, not cooperation.
Nor will Republicans be interested in working with the “socialist” Bernie Sanders. That word is enough of a cover for them to adopt a policy of total non-cooperation with President Sanders, just as they’ve done with President Obama.
So, for any of the ideas these two strong candidates are proposing to actually move forward, one of two things must happen. Either the Republican Party has to change, or the power of the GOP to obstruct progress has to be taken away.
The Republican Party shows absolutely no sign of changing into one interested in bi-partisan cooperation for the betterment of America. If anything, the current presidential race indicates that the GOP is going still further off the deep end.
So, for the foreseeable future, all the progress Sanders or Clinton seek requires taking power away from this Republican Party. That means defeating them in elections. And winning those elections requires changing public opinion.
The job for any would-be Democratic president, therefore, is to persuade enough of those who have supported Republicans to withdraw that support, and to inspire the liberal base to act with determination to bring their leaders to power.
The good news is that this campaign gives Hillary and Bernie the opportunity to get to work together to achieve that goal—starting now!
WE NEED A DIFFERENT KIND OF DEBATE
Does anyone really think that the best criterion for choosing the Democrats nominee is who’s best at fighting the other?
Yes, we need a fighter, but the fight the Democratic standard bearer needs to fight is not against a rival Democrat but against the force that stands in the way of accomplishing everything he or she is calling for.
So we need a debate that enables the Democratic electorate to judge these two candidates not on how able they are to fight the other, but on how well they can fight to take power away from the obstructionist Republicans.
Yes, Hillary and Bernie are competing to win the nomination. But competition can come in different forms.
It can be like two boxers. The blow struck by one is an injury to the other. That’s pretty much how the current debates are conducted.
But competition can also be like a talent show, where each gives his/her best performance, and the judges decide who gets the prize.
Better still, the competition can be like two teammates working together toward victory— each playing his/her best and understanding that the primary voters will be the ones who decide which member of the team should be voted MVP.
Imagine the power of what Hillary and Bernie could accomplish if they agreed together on this:
“We will use the debates – cooperatively – to create the best conversation we can for the purpose of taking power away from the political force that will otherwise thwart all we hope to do.”
(The high-point in the most recent debate was when the two candidates did essentially this on effort of the Republicans and the Koch brothers to privatize the Veterans Administration.)
Hillary and Bernie are on the same side in the real battle, so they should use the debates to work together to create the best possible message for moving the American people—to fortify the prospects not only of which ever of them becomes the nominee, but also of retaking control first of the Senate, and eventually of the House, as well.
(The debates might be officially restructured for this purpose. But even if the media’s moderators continue in their current role, the candidates can turn the questions asked into a cooperative conversation to move public opinion.)
As they fight together against the real opponent, the public will see: Which candidate is more able to inspire, persuade, and attack in the ways that are required to take power away from those who stand in the way of the progress so many of the American people desire?
Which is better for the eventual nominee and for the Democratic Party? To have its possible nominees bruising each other in events across the country, exposing each other’s vulnerabilities? Or to have them compete on how well they can use their rhetorical gifts to make a case to the public as to why the American people should choose them and other Democrats, and kick the Republicans out of office?