Bernie vs. Barack

Nice take from Jon Cohn:

But lurking behind this argument about the future is a dispute that’s really about the past. It’s a debate over what Obama accomplished in office — in particular, how significant those accomplishments really are. And it’s been simmering on the left for most of the last seven years.

On one side of this divide are activists and intellectuals who are ambivalent,disappointed or flat-outfrustrated with what Obama has gotten done. They acknowledge what they consider modest achievements — like helping some of the uninsured and preventing the Great Recession from becoming another Great Depression. But they are convinced that the president could have accomplished much more if only he’d fought harder for his agenda and been less quick to compromise.

They dwell on the opportunities missed, like the lack of a public option in health care reform or the failure to break up the big banks. They want those things now — and more. In Sanders, they are hearing a candidate who thinks the same way.

On the other side are partisans and thinkers who consider Obama’s achievements substantial, even historic. They acknowledge that his victories were partial and his legislation flawed. This group recognizes that there are still millions of people struggling to find good jobs or pay their medical bills, and that the planet is still on a path to catastrophically high temperatures. But they see in the last seven yearsmajor advances in the liberal crusade to bolster economic security for the poor and middle class. They think the progress on climate change is real, and likely to beget more in the future…

To be clear, these differences of emphasis belie the relatively similar views that Sanders and Clinton have when it comes to what America should really look like. Both are committed progressives. Both want government playing an active role in guaranteeing economic security, setting rules for the economy, protecting traditional victims of discrimination and preserving the environment. Both think Obama advanced this agenda, but that there is still more to do…

In this [Sanders’] view, voters within and outside the Democratic Party are craving a radical change, something more sweeping and transformative than anything Obama achieved. And while enacting such an agenda may not be politically possible in the next two years, Sanders can use the inevitable Republican resistance to rally the public behind Democrats in the 2018 midterms — a point a top Sanders adviser made to The Huffington Post’s Sam Stein earlier this week. In the meantime, Sanders supporters, he will be generating support for a much more liberal agenda, and setting the terms of debate in a way that pushes legislative compromises further to the left. It’s not a crazy argument.

But ignoring or denying the progress of the Obama era also carries risks, as Clinton supporters point out. Republican politicians and their allies in the conservative movement speak in one consistent voice, arguing that the Obama agenda has been not just a failure, but a catastrophe. Absent a strong defense of these programs, average voters may listen and conclude that his programs must not have done much good. In the long run, that can undermine the public’s faith in government activism of any kind. It can also set up liberals for a perpetual cycle of disappointment, as they discover over and over again that the compromised progressive reforms coming out of Washington don’t match their lofty expectations.

Reasonable argument.  Reasonable people can disagree.  My experience and knowledge put me firmly in the Clinton camp.  Maybe I’m wrong, but we’ll very likely never now as I still think it highly unlikely Bernie could ever get the nomination, much less win the presidency.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

2 Responses to Bernie vs. Barack

  1. rgbact says:

    Hillary’s supporters don’t seem too concerned about Bernie at this point. Not seeing shrillness set in yet, Its probably right to be confident that Bernie will fade after the “white states”, but we’ll see.

  2. R. Jenrette says:

    Bernie is acting a lot like just another politician these days with first wanting more debates in the interest of democracy and then when politically expedient expressing his obedience to the Democratic establishment rules. What? He wants a revolution but he won’t revolt against a short sighted, decidedly undemocratic policy of the Party to limit debate, reportedly to help his opponent?
    It’s hard to represent big ideas and then pretend to be an obedient rule follower of a Party you never were a member of.

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