I have recently been involved in a series of vigorous discussions among people all of whom hold a liberal political stance. The question at issue revolves around the relationship between electability on one hand and the clear articulation of policies important to progressives on the other. The core of the issue is whether solid progressives should support Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.
It seems increasingly clear that the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party has been enthusiastically taken with Bernie’s position on a variety of issues from economic disparity to despair over America’s recent series of disastrous wars. Bernie has also picked up support that had previously been owned by the very popular Elizabeth Warren, who chose not to enter the race.
On the other hand, Hillary has appeared to stay closer to the vital center of the political road, and may have had too little to say about concerns dear to the party’s more liberal wing. The series of attacks by the Republicans on her integrity and honesty seem to have only had a limited effect on her electability. To this point, which is well over a year from the election and ten months from the nominating convention, we are only involved in a few early chapters of these conversations, and as the months move toward the events in the summer and fall of 2016, much still needs to be clarified.
Here is where the argument is now joined. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party longs for a fresh approach to the nation’s problems. Bernie’s statements seem closer to satisfying that hunger. Among many of the party’s faithful, there is a sense that while Bernie may be nominate-able, he might not be electable. On the other hand, given the depth of her organization, her grass-roots support in almost every precinct and her ability to raise the multi-millions a campaign would cost, those advantages make her electability much more certain. While Bernie is not a registered Democrat, he has sided with the Democrats in organizing the Senate. Even so, since he is known as an Independent or a Socialist, those identifications might frighten off mainstream voters whose support would be necessary to achieve electoral victory.
My hope is that this conversation will continue for some months. The worst scenario would be to see the supporters on either side prematurely harden their positions, making any mutually beneficial accommodation much more difficult. That would not be good for the Democratic Party or the nation. It has been suggested that the reason Bernie is even in the race is not in the hope that he will be nominated; but that he would play an important role in energizing the Party’s liberal wing as that constituency pulls Hillary to the left. His arguments need to be taken very seriously. When Hillary was without substantial opposition there was no sounding board, only vigorous opposition from the Republicans, and it was easy for her to drift farther to the right. With Bernie making both solid gains and articulating increasingly popular positions, in the long run both Hillary and the Party will become stronger. At the same time, while the Republican opposition is currently engaged in self-immolation, the arguments among the Democratic faithful remain cautious and friendly.
If some scandal, misstep or failure catches up to Hillary, and if it appears that she is no longer electable, the Democrats still have a viable well-organized alternative. But if that happens I believe Joe Biden will get into the race, vigorously supported by every constituency.
As things stand now, while Hillary still appears highly electable, Bernie seems to be right on the important issues. While is far too early for any of this to play out, there is abundant time and energy for the side of reason to prevail.