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Four Views, Two Candidates

The Democratic Party is locked in a titanic struggle for its soul – an existential battle over the true meaning of what it means to be a Democrat, to be a progressive, to be a liberal.

Clinton versus Sanders has, for many reasons, brought the old fight to the surface. It’s worth working through if only because the end result can and should be a united party that firmly stands for something. But what is that?

There are four views of change, four visions of progress, which separate Sanders and Cinton.

Teddy Kennedy, campaigning in 1980.

Teddy Kennedy, campaigning in 1980.

Is this difference dramatically over-stated? We’re lefties, no matter what we call ourselves, so we tend to hyperventilate a bit over things like this. More importantly, we’ve been having this fight more or less since Jimmy Carter, a Christian Southerner, captured the nomination in 1976. It’s never been resolved. Through the resurgence of Teddy Kennedy in 1980 and the arrival of the Clinton DLC in 1992 we’ve opted more for mush, being primarily not-Republicans.

Yes, we got Obamacare in 2009. Aside from that, it’s hard to find a single truly progressive piece of legislation that Democrats alone have championed and passed.

The pent-up energy is real and the debate between the supporters of Clinton and Sanders constantly spills over everywhere on the ‘net. All Democrats are weary of being not-Republicans and can sense that the opposition is a completely spent force. It’s up to us to define who we are and make our case. So who are we? It seems to break down into these debates over and over, depending entirely on the personalities involved at any given moment.

1. Idealism versus Pragmatism

"I got this."

“I got this.”

The simplest breakdown between candidates and supporters is a view of how change is created, managed, and realized. Does fundamental and real change in big leaps forward or in increments hard won at every step?

This argument often breaks down demographically by age. It’s far too easy for Clinton supporters to see Sanders’ team as young and naive, unaware of the time spent in the trenches that it took to win the small victories we have achieved over the last generation. That argument is, reasonably, frustrating when it far too easily becomes patronizing. After all there is a case to be made for large scale systemic change especially given how much change is being digested socially and economically already.

There is a good case to be made for government to be in front of the obvious changes that shape the world today. Our political system, however, favors the development of consensus and necessarily moves slowly. More importantly, Republicans are not going to go away tomorrow.

The easiest way to resolve this debate is to say that there is room for both – for the ideal and the deal, the energy of youth and the experience of age. But doing so does more than punt – it makes a strong case for Clinton to the extent she portrays herself as both a liberal and a pragmatist.

2. Executive Leadership

No one trusted FDR to lead the progressive cause.

No one trusted FDR to lead the progressive cause.

This is a view that I tend to espouse, and have articulated in Barataria. The principle is that the system we have, like it or not, is based on a strong executive that necessarily has to balance many competing views in order to actually get things done. This view sees managing change as an attempt to balance different interests and pull them along as necessary.

The Sanders counter is that intellectual leadership, a new way of seeing and doing, is far more important than ever. Call this the “revolution lite” view of Sanders, it stresses his consistency over the years as a champion of working people – even as they kept taking it on the chin.

Which style of leadership is the most important? Again, it’s easy to punt and see both, but the true Sanders followers often pull out the “power corrupts” card at that stage. They don’t trust Clinton because she’s been too quick to make a deal, which is to say that what could be seen as her greatest strength they see as her greatest problem. She’s already sold out, long ago, and can’t be trusted.

3. Follow the money!

Feel the Bern?

Feel the Bern?

This position was articulated very well by Paul Krugman in his regular column. It comes down to this – what is the greatest problem facing the US today?

If you say it’s the way money has corrupted our political system, the odds are you are for Sanders. If you see the problems we have as a nasty cauldron of intolerance and separation, you’re probably for Clinton.

This view tends to cleave the supporters along racial lines, which is to say lines that are poisonous to the cause, the party, and the nation. White people with some level of investment in the system see the corruption as a huge problem largely because they don’t see any other real barriers to their success. Non-whites see many other barriers to their success built into the system, essentially racism in many different forms.

There is no resolution to this debate. Both sides have a good point, but talking past each other or, even worse, deliberately antagonizing each other will pull us apart. More on that later.

4. You say you want a revolution?

Workers of the world Unite - it is one big economy, after all.

Workers of the world Unite – it is one big economy, after all.

Some Sanders supporters do not have much time for the political system we have. They see this as a revolution, a war of sorts between “The 1%” or “The Banksters” and the rest of the world. You’re either on one side, or the other.

In this view, Clinton is part of the system and as good of an emblem as to what has to be overcome for real progress as anyone. There isn’t a lot of difference between her and the Republicans, it goes, given that she has been bought and paid for by the same ruling class.

This view takes at least two forms, which I’ll call the light side and the dark side. On the light side, it’s critical to push the revolution wherever we can. We wont’ win Congress over right away? We’ll get it next time. It’s better to stand up and fight to show that we can first take a stand, for once, and win over people where we can.

On the dark side we have the “Bernie Bros”, the name for the harshest warriors. They are dismissive of those not “on their side”, as you’d expect from revolutionary believers. People who haven’t seen the light? Tools. The actions of this group have cause Sanders, himself a decent and respectful person by nature, to apologize to the Clinton campaign.

Whether from the light side or the dark side, there is no dealing with the hard-core. They believe the nation is divided and the lines of war are drawn. At their worst, they believe what is essentially right-wing rhetoric that the nation is divided and engaged in a cultural war. There is no room for a call for unity because unity is impossible. At their best, they get to call the Clinton team the naive ones – the ones that can’t see the war in front of them.

Now What?

Left or Right?  That's not the important question.

Left or Right? That’s not the important question.

Which view of change will win out in the end? The fourth group may not ever be brought fully into the Democratic Party fold if Sanders is not the nominee. But the others can be if we all focus on what it important. Progress is possible, but condescension and exclusion won’t get us there. Leadership is essential in many forms if we are indeed to ever make progress, too. And there are many problems in this nation, some of which are indeed made much worse by the fundamentally corrupt systms we rely on at all levels.

It all depends on your view of change as to where you are now. But the future depends on your respect and commitment. If you care about progress this is a debate you should care about – but not to the exclusion of views that are different from yours.

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15 thoughts on “Four Views, Two Candidates

  1. I guess I’m with Hillary on all four. I have encountered the Bernie Bros online and they are disgusting. Not saying all his supporters are sexist racist pigs but I can’t believe how ugly it gets. I always thought the DFL was a safe place, yeah right. We have our problems too.

    • There are problem people everywhere. I do not think that the “Bernie Bros” and other intolerant people are anything but a tiny minority, but they sure are vocal. I’m really sick of them, too, and I don’t consider their talk personally all that insulting or threatening. White people of privilege do bother me, however. We have a few like that on the Clinton side but they have a tendency to be much more quiet.
      We’ll work this out. I do believe that all the Sanders people have a good point.

  2. Progressives should go with their convictions in Sen. Bernie Sanders.

    The Clintons have had too much power already.

  3. I just received a message from heaven and Marco Rubio will be defeating Hillary Clinton this fall. : )

    –Marco Rubio is the JFK of the Republican Party.

    –The electorate is not going to reward the Democratic party for stagnant wage growth.

    • Harry,

      Seriously? Marco Rubio is no JFK. He is merely a bought and paid for poser. If you are comparing his youthful looks to JFK I think your perspective is also skewed. JFK looked like a man and Rubio looks like he’s barely twenty. His entire adult life he has been supported by rich donors, who have bailed him out of his own profligate personal spending.

      • Erik,

        Exactly. He has been groomed for this. I think Cruz has as well. A while back I did a post on my blog comparing the two and their grooming. I think that Obama’s 2008 win got some Republicans to thinking: How can we find a young Latino Senator to snatch off some of the Latino vote and appeal to younger people. The problem with Cruz though it is seems he is personally rather unlikable and so my sense is the mantle will fall on Rubio’s shoulders.

        The back story with Cruz seems to be that he received some recognition in the Bush 2000 campaign even meeting and hanging out with W. When Bush won Cruz expected a high position in the administration and they blew him off. Supposedly because W. found him to be obnoxious, as did everyone else. They felt he was far too ambitious. After that, hurt, he decided to become a “rebel” and fully cast his lot with the Evangelicals and the Tea Party. Rubio, on the other hand is a more malleable commodity I think. AS a Florida resident I remember him from his days in Tallahassee as majority leader and he was to put it mildly awful.

  4. I have to say you highlighted a few things for me but still missed the mark. Yes I am a die hard Bernie supporter and nothing will change that opinion. First and foremost I don’t see his ideas of healthcare for all as a huge step. There are many a Republican that have proposed something along what he states. Donnald Trump, John Kasich, are both on board for a single payer system and John is calling it medicare. Beyond that most are avidly for adding healthcare options and removing borders for insurance companies adding voucher programs. I am not for Hillary on this because her stance of doubling down on ACA which has no Republican support baffles me. So its not a stance of more progressive in this area. At least to me its a point where Hillary has just missed the mark besides the fact that ACA does nothing but hurt the middle class.

    I tend to agree with your ideas around money and incremental vs large steps to some degree. The place where we probably don’t agree is that while Bernies steps are huge they would get watered down in Washington. He has a record of working across those lines and we have talked about that before. I don’t see that he will pass everything he wants as he states at all. I do see that their is a war between the 1% and the rest which has been happening for a long time. The corruption in Washington is exactly what caused the Republican party to shift. It’s well documented and a known fact. The idea that Hillary is some social justice person and Bernie is lacking their I find odd. Hillary has a much worse rating in every area on social justice, but it’s still decent. I just see her as a better sales woman and possibly the fact that she is a woman for that.

    What I cannot seem to get past is her problematic past. Take away all the scandals (whitewater, travelgate, humagate, pardongate, foundation favors, filegate, troopergate, Gennifer Flowers, and chinagate), her loss of her lawyers licence, the fact that she defended a rapist, or every other distraction including emails… I can’t support her bottom line position, because I don’t know what it is. She seems to change and has very much changed since the first debate. She seems to me like a person that will say anything to get elected. She has a history of being on the wrong side of every decision. What I found was that she voted around 90% for wars instead of Bernie’s 40%, and she has always voted for a trade deal. I also can’t stand behind her stance on drugs. Sorry but we are a nation that has the largest population in jail per capital. That has to change. So before you think Bernie supports are not going for her because of these 4 things… I could name tons of reasons even beyond this like the fact that Glass Steagal was removed under her watch. So it’s not sexism, it’s not social issues, it’s not even positions that would lead me to a different decision.

    The one position Hillary might be stronger on is finance, but she would have to understand the issue to know what to change. The problem is once again I don’t believe she knows the issue before hand instead she seems to know the band aid. The question then becomes would she follow through? She has known the issues with NAFTA for years and never did anything. So I see her as a flawed choice, sorry.

  5. Also you missed the mark in a very important area. I don’t see Hillary as even really understanding the middle class struggle. Right now we live a system where the supper rich get huge tax breaks. Corporations get huge incentives to not have funds here, or workers. Then on the opposite end you have the poor getting a free ride with healthcare, childcare, education, you name it. The middle class is gone, and she is not a champion here at all. I would do better if I make around 45k less a year with the system the way it is currently setup. My children would have better opportunities as well. That is not a system I want to see continue.

    • This piece is not about my candidate or yours, per se, but about the struggle in the party right now. I think it’s a real and important struggle which is long over-due.
      Most importantly, whoever wins the nomination has to be in a position where we unite and can march boldly forward towards actually getting something done. And yes, we have to stand for something important first – which is why we are having this struggle.
      I see both candidates as having flaws, which is only reasonable. We’re human. The experiences they both have are important and inform the progressive movement in different ways.
      This letter is more to the supporters of each candidate, addressing the need for unity and a clear platform when this is all over. Clinton supporters often don’t “get” what Sanders’ people are all about, and Sanders supporters often don’t “get” the need for experience in the consensus based system we have.
      We have to understand each other and be very clear. That will probably come from leadership as we close ranks going into the general, but you and I both know that the Democratic Party has always relied on grass-roots leadership if it’s going to stand for anything. And that has to be listened to as well.
      I’m much more worried about the process for us coming together with a solid agenda that moves us all forward than I am with the result at this stage. I wanted to outline the arguments we’re having so that we can move them all forward in constructive ways.
      Right now, the fight is a good one. It’s long, long over-due. If we can keep it productive and respectful we’ll not only win but actually start moving forward.

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