by Andy Schmookler
The Democratic Race: A Prescription
Bernie Sanders’ candidacy has brought something important into the Democratic race—let’s call it “The Spirit of Bernie.” It is a spirit of moral passion, and of a willingness to speak the plain truth, and press the battle in fighting for justice. Bernie has embodied that in his issues and in his person, and millions of Americans have responded with passionate enthusiasm to that spirit.
That is a spirit that the Democratic Party – and the nation—need. And it would be a great thing if the Spirit of Bernie could be kept alive even as the mantle of the Democratic nomination is placed – as I argued in the first installment it is now almost inevitable that it will — upon the shoulders of Hillary Clinton.
Here’s how that might be done.
When the time comes for Bernie to acknowledge Hillary as the victor in their contest, he should precede that acknowledgment with a challenge to Hillary:
Will you pledge to fight the battles that I would have fought, had I become president? And in fighting those battles, will you enlist the help of the American people, as I have said is necessary for us to do if our democracy is to be rescued?
Presumably, Bernie Sanders could couch those battles that he would have fought in terms both sufficiently strong as to represent a meaningful agenda on his central issues and sufficiently broad to allow a president room for maneuver.
And presumably Hillary Clinton could respond to that challenge in terms sufficiently strong to satisfy the important constituency backing Bernie Sanders. (Indeed, she has already substantially coopted those issues.) And she could respond in terms well enough crafted not to give her Republican foes ammunition against her in the general election.
By this means, the Spirit of Bernie can be passed on to the Democratic leader, which is about going after the force that’s risen on the right in defense of our democracy, of the battered middle class, and of a livable planet. And that spirit can in this way be separated from such vulnerabilities – think “socialist” – that came with Bernie himself.
And by this means, Hillary can be given a gift along the lines of what FDR said to labor leaders in 1932: “I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.”
It will be a gift because the public is likely to respect such a conversation, publicly conducted, between Bernie and Hillary, and respect a pledge – to address issues on which a majority of Americans substantially agree with Bernie – given by Hillary in uniting the Party behind her.
When elected president, Hillary would have a mandate – even the moral duty that is conferred by a pledge — to wage those battles. That publicly assumed duty and electorally conferred mandate will strengthen her hand in those difficult fights. Those battles will be cast, by these means, in a light that will inspire more public support.
My optimism, about such a scenario, is premised on the idea that Hillary has both the ability and the will to go after that right-wing force, to win over the public against that force, and by that means drain away from that force the power with which it has been damaging the nation.
The question of whether that premise is correct I will take up in the next installment.