© Josh Sager – February 2016
While anybody to read my blog on a regular basis knows that I am 100% behind Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary, I am also a realist and will vote for Hillary in the general if she wins the nomination. In this capacity as a realist, I would like to point that there are several political issues which make Hillary extremely vulnerable to criticism during the general election that she absolutely must find a better way to address. If she fails to do this and still manages to beat Bernie, there is a very good chance that she will be hammered in the general by the Republicans and Democrats, as a party, will suffer.
Hillary supporters who simply ignore these issues or try to minimize them are not helping the party or their candidate. These issues will not stay buried and will become political land mines if they are not addressed up-front. Bernie Sanders hates making political attacks thus has not focused on these weak points—at worst, he has made some oblique criticisms on entirely substantive grounds—but any prospective Republican will not be nearly as magnanimous.
First and foremost, Hillary needs to deal with her connections to Wall Street and other big money interests. At this point, virtually every politically-involved American knows that Hillary took millions of dollars in personal income for speaking to Wall Street, big-pharma and telecom/high tech firms (over $150 million dollars over her career), and has taken even more money to run her campaign from these groups. Even if one believes that Hillary is uncorrupted, the fact remains that she has done an amazingly bad job defending herself on this issue.
Her first line of defense is to claim that she may have taken money from these groups, but that this doesn’t make her corrupt or bought. In effect, she is trying to convince the average American—who makes around $50K a year—that these big interests pay her millions of dollars a year and promise even more come campaign time, yet she is in no way influenced by this. Put simply, this doesn’t pass the smell-test and her argument is, at best, that she has accepted legal bribes from Wall Street but plans to double cross her donors once in office by not delivering on the quid pro quo (curiously, these interests still donate to her while she makes this argument).
Ironically, this first line of defense is directly contradicted by Hillary’s own position against Citizens United. From one side of her mouth, she decries the evils of big money in politics and the corruption that such money creates while, on the other, she claims that she isn’t wrong to take big money because it won’t affect her. This is internally inconsistent and even the most tepid follower of politics can understand this.
When her initial defense has failed Hillary has been known to make some truly cringe-worthy excuses to bolster her case. In the November Democratic debate, Hillary tried to use 9/11 to excuse her acceptance of Wall Street campaign funds and was absolutely pilloried for it in the media. Similarly, she has taken to claiming that the “majority” of her donors are women, while neglecting to mention that this is based around the number of donors, not the amount they give (e.g. a $5 donation from Aunt Betty in Spokane and a $100,000 donation to her PAC from a private prison are both “1 donation”). These defenses are desperate and actually harm her in the eyes of any honest and informed person.
On this issue, Hillary needs to reform her messaging, lest she cause real harm to her own candidacy and Democrats down the ticket. If Hillary can’t fight the perceptions of corruption created by these donations, she risks giving the Republican candidate an opening to capture well-meaning anti-corruption moderates. Additionally, her obfuscations and fumbled defenses may cause anti-corruption liberals/progressives to simply sit this election out, further decreasing her chances of getting elected.
In addition to fixing her messaging on money in politics, Hillary needs to stop her ideological kamikaze attacks against Bernie—namely, claiming that he would repeal Obamacare and throw people off of their insurance and break the bank paying for Donald Trump’s kids’ college. These attacks are not only manifestly dishonest, but they attack progressive values that the majority of Democrats support. They create the very real danger of progressive demobilization during the 2016 election and would set back progress on these issues for years to come.
Bernie wants to reform healthcare in the USA and, while you can debate about the merits and feasibility of his plan, there is no honest way to argue that he will repeal Obamacare without passing his plan. Similar to how Hillary passed universal coverage for kids through a state-implemented CHIP program without repealing Medicare first, Bernie will push for his system without destroying the current reforms. Hillary knows this and anybody who knows anything about health policy can see how dishonest this is.
Additionally, Hillary has attacked the very idea of single payer as unfeasible and too expensive, despite the fact that single payer has been the progressive solution to health care since FDR. Lest you forget, the ACA was adapted from the old RomneyCare plan of Massachusetts as the market-based solution to the socialized single-payer plan. Hillary’s decision to attack single payer is simply anti-progressive and she should push for her incremental improvements without treading on long-established progressive ideals.
Similarly, saying that we can’t afford to pay for Trump’s kids’ free public higher education is a betrayal of the long-held liberal ideal that education is a right. Conservatives who want to destroy free K-12 education through privatization/voucherization use this very attack (why pay for a millionaire’s kid to attend public high school?) and it is very dangerous for Hillary to adopt their position on higher education. The natural conclusion to this though process is turning public education into a type of welfare rather than a universal right, and it is far easier to attack welfare than something that everybody benefits from. As a final note on this attack, the actual costs of paying for millionaires’ kids’ education at state/local universities is actually negligible, as almost all of these kids go to private schools.
On these issues, Hillary should simply be honest and stop straw-manning Bernie Sanders. She has two very coherent plans for higher education and health care and should simply fight for her ideals on their merits rather than trashing progressive values.
Finally, Hillary and her proxies (e.g. Gloria Steinam) need to stop making the specious argument that Bernie supporters are simply “Bernie Bros” who dislike her because they are sexist. She tried this argument in 2008 against Obama and failed (actually, the Hillary supporter who coined the term “Bernie Bros” also coined the term “Obama Boys” in 2008 while levying the exact same attack).
If you actually look at the polling, the divide in the Democrats between Bernie and Hillary is based in age, not gender. A dominant majority of young people support Bernie, including a strong majority of women under the age of 45, and the assertion that all of these people are simply sexist “bros” is demonstrably inaccurate. While I would readily concede that there are likely some sexists who support Bernie (just as there are likely some anti-Semites who support Hillary), this is by no means a widespread issue. Even in the face of this criticism’s manifest inaccuracy, Bernie has publically denounced any sexism in his name and said that he doesn’t want the support of sexists.
Fake accusations of sexism, designed to cover up valid criticisms, help validate the GOP talking point that liberals engage in fake culture war victim claiming and undermines real efforts to promote more equality. Every nonsense accusation of sexism devalues real sexism and gives conservatives more ammunition to fight against equity movements (I.E. it creates a “girl who cried wolf” situation).
If the Hillary Clinton campaign doesn’t correct its course during the remainder of this primary, I am seriously worried about the general election. Anti-Wall Street sentiment could push well-meaning moderates into the pocket of the GOP while progressive demobilization depresses Democratic turnout. This is a recipe for disaster not only on the presidential level, but in the Senate/Congress and in state level races. We, as a nation, cannot afford a GOP trifecta in Washington, as the damage that they could cause may very well be impossible to reverse.