talking strategy with Hillary supporters

Dear friends who lean towards Hillary:

Now that Bernie has appeared on the cover of Time and is leading Hillary Clinton in the polls in both Iowa and New Hampshire, let’s talk some strategy. First, let’s agree that it’s not just about the personalities: maybe you find him annoyingly self-certain and monotone, but Hillary’s lifetime of poll-driven equivocation is also not particularly heartwarming. And they’re both smart and have records of getting things done — modest records in both cases. And the policy differences are real but there’s still more overlap than not: e.g., economically, his democratic socialism is not anti-capitalist (think Denmark) and she’s no market fundamentalist. The real question is strategic.

I do NOT think the answer is just about preventing a Republican president in 2016. If that’s the only question you ask, if you put all your eggs in that basket, your candidate gives off a smell of fear: not very attractive to the independents and swing voters that are necessary to win. I think that had a lot to do with why Gore, Kerry, and many others failed to follow in Bill Clinton’s footsteps down the path of triangulation and moving toward the center. And even under Bill Clinton, we got a lot of Republican policies and a Republican dominated house. Someone once said having the courage of one’s convictions is worth about 6 points in an election. That actually seems high to me, but most elections are won or lost on smaller margins. Having a vision and a broad movement, having something deeply positive to say, certainly was key to Obama in 2008. 

Back in July, Barney Frank, for whom I have a lot of respect, made the case for HIllary against Bernie. But I’m not persuaded: he exaggerates Hillary’s progressivism, and just takes for granted that she’s more likely than Sanders to defeat a Republican, without really explaining why. (Hillary certainly has broad name recognition, and her support is still wide, but I also suspect that much of her support is thin: for many, I think she’s least-worst, not someone that generates fire in the belly. That’s not a formula for certain victory.) And Frank doesn’t seem to understand that Sanders’ arguments are to a large degree strategic, not ideological. Bernie’s not looking for purity, he’s just looking to move the polity in a better, electorally more successful, direction. He’s long been a believer in the What’s the Matter with Kansas argument, which is not that Republican’s have pulled the wool over working people’s eyes with social issues, but that because Democrats have largely ignored working people and adopted policies that do little or nothing for them, working folks will go with social issues that seem to them better than nothing. The solution is to actually do something that matters for working people, listen to them, and explain how you will help them in plain language; that will get votes, Bernie believes, and his own electoral successes, past and present, lend some credence to his view.

Regarding the effect of an extended primary battle between Sanders and Clinton, as I said in my last post, “if Clinton is forced to get her head out of the NYTimes and the polls and start actually making clear arguments for specific positions to the general public, I think respect for her and for the Democratic Party among a significant number of independents would likely rise.”

One piece of puzzle is Congress: without more Democrats in Congress and across the country, neither a Sanders nor a Clinton presidency will be able to get much of value done. Bernie’s answer to the nationwide question is first, grass roots organizing to create a movement. What’s Hillary’s? How do we get to a better place? 

[this post is derived from a discussion on Facebook; I’m still trying to figure out where to best post stuff.]