Some Bernie Sanders supporters are taking a philosophical view of Hillary Clinton’s first real victory in this election cycle in Nevada. Regardless of the outcome of the Democratic primaries, one told me, Bernie’s already won, he’s moved Hillary much farther to the left than she ever had any intention of going. Another claims the American people have made clear that we want the country to move in a more progressive direction and Hillary can’t buck us.
Print pundits are echoing the individual supporters to whom I’ve spoken. In January, Huffington Post posted Christian Chuliakis’s Why Bernie Sanders has already won and two weeks ago Rolling Stone published Tessa Stuart’s One big way Bernie Sanders is already a winner.
Chuliakis contends that Bernie has awakened America’s sleeping youth. Millennials are now so engaged in politics Chuliakis writes, even if Clinton defeats Sanders, “the old ways of doing business, the ways that the Gen-Xers and the Baby Boomers used to utterly trash the economy, the environment, and the geopolitical scene, will be rejected.”
In reaction to Bernie’s popularity, Stuart argues, Clinton has shifted left on healthcare, campaign finance reform, Wall Street, and “free” trade. Sanders has gotten into the act telling a crowd in Boston Monday February 22 that he is delighted that “Secretary Clinton month after month after month seems to be adopting more of the positions that we have advocated.”
It is understandable that those who back Sanders as well as some political writers might perceive Clinton’s decision to employ more populist rhetoric as a victory for Sanders. The former are hoping desperately, as people are wont to do, for a leader who truly acts in their interests. Russian serfs, perhaps apochryphally, believed the Tsar would take their side if he knew how terribly they suffered at the hands of aristocrats. The latter, always looking for a story, conflate change in the frontrunner’s tone and talking points with a substantive ideological shift.
The problem faced by those claiming President Hillary Clinton would govern as a progressive is she has not committed herself to any specific legislation. For example, she hasn’t even promised to veto the Trans Pacific Partnership if Congress approves it after President Obama leaves office.
In the foreign policy realm, where she has laid out her policy position in some detail, she has made clear she will, if elected, continue the neocon foreign policy agenda she championed as Secretary of State. In November, Clinton told the Council on Foreign Relations her plan to defeat ISIL included “a more effective coalition air campaign, with more allied planes, more strikes and a broader target set.” In December, she called for a “no-fly zone” over Syria which critics say could lead to war with Russia and Syria.
Neocon Robert Kagan who championed America’s disastrous war with Iraq told the New York Times in 2014 that he “feel[s] comfortable with her foreign policy.” Perhaps he was thinking about her strong support, when Secretary of State, for military intervention in Libya that led to the overthrow and killing of Muammar Gadafi in 2011. Libya quickly disintegrated into anarchy and much of the country serves as a terrorist training ground.
With respect to Clinton’s likely domestic agenda, two recent actions speak far more loudly than any words at a debate or townhall: (1) She left Iowa the week of the caucuses to raise money in Philadelphia from hedge fund managers. (2) Her campaign manager Robby Mook calmed Clinton donors in advance of the Nevada caucus at special meeting attended by Democratic establishment characters and major fundraisers, including Wall Street billionaire hedge fund manager Marc Lasry.
Given Clinton’s willingness to drop everything to glad hand billionaires, their reciprocation with bundles of cash, and the solicitude that her campaign shows for these funders, progressive Democrats and pundits should harbor no illusions when it comes to whose interests will come first if there is another Clinton administration. Clinton’s refusal to make public the content of her three notorious speeches to Goldman, Sachs should also douse any hopes populists had that President Hillary Clinton would champion ordinary Americans in any meaningful way.
But what about all those youthful voters who are feeling the Bern? What about the pressure they will undoubtedly bring to bear on the next President – whoever she or he is? What about it? President Obama was elected with an unprecedented outpouring of support from young adults and voters of color. Union members also championed his candidacy. Yet these groups have fallen farther behind over the past eight years. They have no reason to hope for more from Hillary Clinton than they have received from Barack Obama.
When it comes to millennials, they have been less engaged in this election cycle than their predecessors were eight years ago. It seems odd then to argue they will bring the kind of unrelenting street heat necessary to move a conservative Congress and a neo-liberal President. Sadly, if Bernie Sanders loses to Hillary Clinton, as now appears likely, he simply loses . . . and so do we.