Now that Hillary Clinton has adopted or triangulated with nearly all of Bernie Sanders’ positions on issues ranging from the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership and gay marriage to paid maternity and family leave and ending for-profit prisons, the choice facing voters in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary is less about the candidates’ contrasting positions and more about their future trajectories. In erasing the contrast between herself and Sanders, Clinton is trying to present herself as the safer, more pragmatic candidate (even though she got less done in the Senate than he did). However, even from the standpoint of narrow pragmatism Sanders is the best choice.
Because a Clinton presidency will look like the Obama presidency minus the historic voter turnouts in 2008 that gave the Democratic Party fleeting dominance (not quite control) over the Senate and the House of Representatives. All of the available evidence to date indicates that hardly anyone aside from Clinton and her diehard supporters is excited by the prospect of yet another Clinton presidency — her support among women is shaky, attendance at her biggest rallies is measured in the low thousands (compared to tens of thousands for Sanders), and only 17% of her donations come from small donors. She may have locked up the support of the Democratic Party establishment but that does not count for much in terms of real-world legislative results when today’s Republican Party controls both houses of Congress, 70% of state legislatures, over 60% of the nation’s governorships, and 55% of attorneys general and secretaries of state. Not since 1928 has the Democratic Party had so few officeholders.
If politics as usual prevails over the political revolution and Clinton rather than Sanders is the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, we are looking at a politics-as-usual presidential election in 2016 characterized by misleading negative ads and ugly personal attacks from both parties that will dampen voter enthusiasm and turnout. Low or even average voter turnout in November 2016 will mean the following:
- The Senate will remain in the hands of the Republican Party.
- The outcome of the election will hinge on winning razor-thin margins of victory in swing states to get beyond the 270 Electoral College vote threshold necessary to secure the presidency. The closer the election in swing states, the more Republican Party efforts to suppress the vote will sway the outcome as in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004 which gave us two disastrous terms of George W. Bush.
- Even if Clinton wins the White House and manages to avoid a repeat of the 2000/2004 scenario, she will be confronted with a Republican Senate and House. There is no need to speculate about what Republican-dominated Washington politics-as-usual will look like with Clinton at the center of it — we already have nine hours of stupefying footage of her testimony before the Benghazi committee.
If you want the next four years of American politics to look like those nine hours, vote for Clinton.
If political revolution prevails over politics as usual and Sanders pulls off the greatest upset in American political history by defeating the Clinton machine on its home turf in the Democratic primary, that will only because he successfully drew millions of previously inactive seemingly apathetic Americans into a massive political struggle against the two-party establishment, the media establishment, Wall Street, and Corporate America. Such an upset can only be the product of tremendous voter interest and participation in the political process that, in turn, will generate still more interest and participation just as Obama’s unlikely but hard-fought victory over Clinton in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary inspired millions of first-time, young, African-American, and Hispanic voters to stand in line for up to 8 hours to vote in the general election that followed.
This is not to suggest that Sanders would be a shoe-in for the presidency on the Democratic ticket; far from it. If Sanders manages to upend Clinton’s coronation, we will be in uncharted waters politically. The Democratic Party establishment would be in serious disarray. Clinton’s billionaire class backers might remain loyal to their class interests by turning traitor and supporting the Republicans in the general election just as Democratic Party bigwigs did in California’s 1934 gubernatorial race when insurgent socialist Upton Sinclair won the Democratic nomination in a huge upset. A Correct the Record-Fox News-Koch brothers alliance from Hell would be formidable opponent even for the strongest, most well-funded and most popular grassroots presidential campaign operating in ideal conditions.
The point is this: the only way Sanders beats big money to become president is if voter turnout and participation in both the primary process and the general election is high. High voter turnout in November 2016 will mean the following:
- The Republican Party loses control of the Senate and its majority in the House narrows.
- The outcome of the election will not hinge on winning razor-thin margins of victory in swing states to get beyond the 270 electoral vote threshold necessary to secure the presidency. A Sanders victory is admittedly a huge unknown in terms strategic forecasts since an independent democratic socialist has never been on the presidential ticket of one of the two major parties before, but given that high voter turnout benefits Democratic candidates while low turnout benefits Republican candidates, a landslide for Sanders either in the popular vote or the Electoral College or both is a distinct possibility.
- Republican obstructionism in Washington will be greatly reduced when they control only one house of Congress and their numbers in the second house are diminished.
- Most importantly, tens of thousands — hopefully millions — of otherwise apathetic and inactive people will have become active in political struggle and in the political process not just for one election but until the political power of corporations and their armies of lobbyists has been sufficiently beaten back so that badly needed broadly popular reforms can become law. That project is a multi-stage, multi-election cycle process that has to happen at the federal, state, and local levels of the political system; it is a massive and complex undertaking to say the least, but there is only one presidential candidate in this election that stands a chance of sparking that kind of change and that candidate’s name is not Hillary Clinton.
To sum up: voters in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary face a stark choice between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders despite their surface-level similarities on individual issues. One candidate’s positions shift from moment to moment while the other’s positions today are largely what they were half a century ago. One candidate’s victory in November will intensify and lock-in partisan gridlock in Washington for the foreseeable future while the other’s victory in November will begin to turn the page on politics as usual over the course of the months and years that follow. One candidate represents politics as usual, the other represents political revolution.