Much has been spoken and written about the philosophical differences between the top Democratic candidates: Bernie is idealistic and inspirational, while Hillary is realistic and pragmatic. While the Sanders campaign continues to raise important, progressive issues that many Democrats support, the recent Clinton response – echoed in much of the media – is that Bernie would be wholly unable to enact his agenda, presumably due to the expected Republican control of Congress.
The underlying message is that a Clinton presidency would result in incremental change that either (i) Clinton manages to cajole the Republicans to support, or (ii) the Republicans force Clinton to accept. Any other option puts her in the same place as Sanders. Given the long-time animosity within the Republican party for all things Clinton, I have a hard time believing option (i) is likely, and I believe option (ii) is not particularly desirable. So perhaps all a good progressive can hope for, in the short term, is that no harmful legislation is passed (and signed into law) and good thoughtful jurists are nominated to the Supreme Court, both of which Bernie and Hillary are capable of.
So, in a time where Washington gridlock is unlikely to end until Democrats have a fair chance to regain control of the House of Representatives, we should be looking to the elections that could have more impact on a progressive political agenda: the 2017, 2018 and 2019 gubernatorial elections in over 40 states. The Republicans adeptly sought state houses in and around 2010 so that they could control the redistricting process after the 2010 census. If the Democrats (and other progressives) want to reverse the harm done then, they need to develop the message that the 2016 election is only the first step in the process, and that the energy usually found in Presidential election years needs to carry over to the years leading up to the 2020 census.
In this light, I believe the inspirational, “revolutionary” candidate is more likely than the pragmatic incrementalist to build the movement necessary to carry this energy forward. Simply preventing a Republican from gaining the White House in 2016 – however important that is – is not enough if the Democratic party fails to have influence over the redistricting process in 2021. Short of having more nonpartisan redistricting commissions in place, or the greater adoption of ranked choice voting or proportional representation, that influence will come from getting more progressive voters to the polls in coming years, not just in 2016. I believe Bernie is more capable, and better positioned, to provide the inspiration and generate the interest and energy needed to accomplish this. Unlike the Clinton candidacy, which is focused on the incremental change that might be possible in the short term – essentially an Obama third term – the Sanders campaign is built specifically to build the requisite progressive movement. In fact, continued gridlock could serve as the rallying cry from the right bully pulpit. The Democrats need to begin their “long game” now, and Bernie, more so than Hillary, represents that long game.
We may have to accept congressional gridlock no matter the Democratic choice for President, but we shouldn’t have to accept it forever. But that will require us to elect a President who can inspire and energize the electorate beyond 2016. Bernie Sanders can do, and is doing, just that.