It’s disappointing to see how simplistic so many people’s understanding of the political process is. It’s not about a stated position on the issues, nor even a demonstrated continuity of position. As unchanging as Bernie Sanders was, his uncompromising position on the issues assured that he would accomplish almost nothing during his 24 years in Congress. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton proved very effective. A realistic contrast between the two provides the perspective on political reality that too many liberals lack.
Politics is a lot like poker. You cannot bluff if you lay your cards out on the table—and Sanders has laid them all out there. This is what his support is all about. His supporters love his position on the issues. Unfortunately, his plan to use the “bully pulpit” to invigorate the electorate (his millions of voters) is a pipe dream.
“Now, in my view, the only way we can take on the right-wing Republicans who are, by the way, I hope will not continue to control the Senate and the House when one of us [is] elected president, but the only way we can get things done is by having millions of people coming together.”[sic] ~ Bernie Sanders, First televised debate between Democratic presidential candidates.
Not only is it unlikely that the Democrats can retake Congress before 2022, but the GOP has retained their base despite ignoring the majority Republican voter’s position on climate change, income inequality and other issues. They will stonewall him just as they did President Obama—unless he compromises.
Compromise will cause his support to evaporate, just as Obama’s support did—but Sanders will not have the advantage of a Democratic majority in Congress that Obama had during his first two years, the years in which he secured his greatest triumphs. The cynics who supported Sanders will jump ship, and hand the 2018 mid-terms to the GOP, possibly even cementing a Republican super majority in the Senate. It goes without saying that any seat on the Supreme Court that comes vacant over the next four years will remain vacant.
Clinton, on the other hand, demonstrates a lot of the same political savvy Obama did, albeit any mystery related to her political position has eroded because she appears to have thought it necessary to position herself further to the left. It’s not that she was not liberal and progressive. The Sanders supporters just paint her as such, because they are too cynical and lacking in understanding of the political process to differentiate him enough without vilifying her.
Simply contrasting Sanders’ and Clinton’s approach to the issues cannot fully demonstrate the mastery of the art of political positioning that the next President must demonstrate. Sanders does not, while Clinton does—as did Obama. Sanders has declared himself to be uncompromising, and this trait throughout his political career has rendered him ineffective.
Granted, Clinton may not be any more successful than Sanders in overcoming Republican obstructionism, but her pragmatic statement of willingness to compromise exhibits the political acumen that assured the Democrats a fighting chance to keep the White house in 2016. Obama positioned himself well as the “grown-up” in his bouts with the GOP over the last seven years. Whereas Clinton appears to understand this, Bernie appears ready to throw up barricades and stand his ground.
Standing one’s ground may be an admirable trait for a martyr, but it’s anathematic in democratic politics. Whereas Obama’s political “maturity” enabled him to tag the GOP with obstructionism, Sanders’ infantile demand that he get it his way will most certainly result in him—and the Democrats—wearing that tag by 2018.
Obama’s handling of energy policy provides both an excellent example of how he set himself up to minimize the effects of attacks from the right throughout his presidency, while losing the support of the cynical left, due to their lack of perspective on the realities of politics in a heterogeneous society.
While the cynical environmental extremists and others praised the president early in his first term for stating he would veto any attempt by Congress to push through the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline, his State Department’s endorsement of the pipeline early in his second term sent them into a rage. After all, he had touted an “all of the above” energy policy in each of his State of the Union speeches. Then there was the matter of his appointment of Ernest Moniz to the post of Energy Secretary.
Moniz is of course a nuclear physicist with financial interests in the fossil fuel industry—and an apologist for both industries. What more proof could anyone want that Obama was the anti-environmentalist president. No one cared that Obama still had not approved of KXL, or noticed that the EPA and DOE had issued no new permits for coal or nuclear power plants.
Obama remained an enigma to opponents and supporters alike during his tenure, and only recently took the offensive. He can afford to openly confront his political enemies as a lame-duck president, but only because he positioned himself as the grown-up from the beginning. Likewise, Clinton is holding her cards close to her chest, and behaving like an adult who understands she will not be able to have it her way if all she does is rant about the terrible inequities in our society.