April 20, 2016

KOWALEWSKI | The Democratic Rift

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After months of contentious campaigning, the Democratic Party is poised to nominate a historic candidate for president. Yet, many Democrats have stated that they will refuse to support this individual in the general election. Instead, they continue to favor an alternative candidate who has severely questioned the judgment and qualifications of the front-runner. Although the overall outcome of the race appears increasingly certain, this persistent rift threatens to imperil the party’s chance of winning in November.

Of course, I am referring to the 2008 primary between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Eight years later, it may be easy to forget the extraordinarily acrimonious tone of their contest. Both candidates unleashed a relentless onslaught of negative advertisements against each other, suggesting that the other was an unacceptable choice. Nonetheless, in the end, Hillary Clinton made peace with Obama’s nomination. Today, after serving in his cabinet, she frequently invokes the need to protect President Obama’s legacy.

This is a necessary context for understanding the 2016 race. It is true that the contours of the primary have changed since the beginning, particularly as Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) has closed his initial gap in support. While the Sanders campaign continues to be nominally “positive,” his accusations against Clinton have grown increasingly severe. He has assailed Clinton for speeches to Wall Street, pushed her to embrace a $15 minimum wage and even deemed her “unqualified” to be president.

Some observers have pondered if this foretells a major schism in the Democratic Party. Not so. Indeed, as mentioned above, this is simply the way that modern presidential politics works. In fact, Clinton and Sanders have not even come close to matching the invective of 2008. The White House, unfortunately, isn’t often won by being nice. All candidates play the same game; they trade barbs, they insist they will be the nominee and, eventually, they unite around the winner.

There is little reason to think that this cycle will be any different. Quite a few states still need to vote, and both candidates continue to campaign. But the primary process is winding down. The Sanders campaign insists that they will take the fight to the convention if necessary, but this is mostly just political posturing. If Hillary Clinton continues to lead both pledged delegate totals and the popular vote, it is virtually impossible for Sen. Sanders to plausibly take the nomination by convincing superdelegates. I expect he realizes that.

If Sen. Sanders ultimately is not the Democratic nominee, I also anticipate that he will have no issue with endorsing Clinton. On numerous occasions, he has indicated that he would back Clinton in the general election. However, while this would represent a technical concession for Sanders, this obscures his greater victory. Indeed, he won the battle for the Democratic Party’s future before primary voting even began.

The Democratic primary has generally been framed as a high-stakes choice between Clinton’s measured reforms and Sanders’ call for a political revolution. Certainly, this has been encouraged by Sanders himself. But this obscures the fact that the actual differences between Clinton and Sanders are quite small. Since the announcement of her candidacy, Clinton has emphasized her outreach to the left flank of the party. Indeed, when Clinton is compared to prior Democratic candidates — even Obama — her vision stands out as an unusually bold statement of progressive principles.

This is the truth that should comfort those who support Sanders; the ideological heart of the Democratic Party is firmly with him. Overwhelmingly, Democratic voters have sided with progressives such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on the need for major policy shifts. Clinton has not built her delegate lead by fighting back against this tide. If she had, she would have lost. Instead, she has framed herself as the best shepherd of the country through this particular moment. The supposed rift, therefore, hardly exists at all. For the most part, Democrats agree on the direction we need to go. We just wonder the best way to take.

Overall, the differences between Clinton and Sanders are small. Yet the differences between Clinton and Trump or Cruz are enormous. Both Trump and Cruz, in their own unique ways, represent the culmination of the GOP’s turn toward extremism. It is hard to overstate the damage they could do in the White House. Should either win the presidency, the progressive cause would be paralyzed for more than a generation.

After the mists of the primary have cleared, this ideological valley will be unmistakable. And I believe that even the staunchest supporters of Sanders will come to Clinton’s side. There is too much to lose — the Affordable Care Act, the Supreme Court, any hope of immigration reform  — to let political stubbornness prevail. We should all recognize the grave lessons of 2000.

Finally, I want to say that I do not intend to minimize anyone’s opinion. The disputes between Clinton and Sanders may be small in the larger scheme of things, but they are sincere and strongly felt. This primary has had a crucial role in adjudicating these controversies, and my hope is that this has clarified the priorities of the Democratic Party. Once we keep the White House, we should make certain that we push our leaders to fully implement these core beliefs.

Nonetheless, the journey of real change has to be taken step by step. And if we lose the presidency, we will be racing merely to stay in the same place. This is why it is critical that we have a united Democratic Party. Clinton and Sanders both know this. It may seem hard to imagine now, but the day will come when they share the same stage not as opponents, but as allies.

When that happens, may it serve as a lesson to all of us. That’s what the Democratic Party believes in. We know that change doesn’t come from one person; we know that we have to work together. But for now, in these closing weeks of the primary, let us continue to debate, campaign and vote. It’ll be great preparation for November.

Kevin Kowalewski is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at krk78@cornell.edu. Democratic Dialogue appears alternate Thursdays this semester.

  • Herb

    You say the differences are small, yet give nothing to back that statement up. They are far apart on trade, Healthcare, Taxes, Wall Street, Student loans, Foreign policy, and the war on drugs. Because Hilary has changed her view on some things in the past year, doesn’t mean you should actually believe that’s how she feels. And no, Sanders supporters want a progressive, not a centrist president who will do more of the same. So don’t assume we’re going to just automatically start backing Hilary.

  • Holly Dellinger

    You are living in fairy land if you believe HRC will woo over Bernie Sanders’ supporters. She is miles apart from Bernie in character, she has taken millions of dollars from big corporations and she plays the dirtiest politics of all, including the republicans. As a Bernie supporter I’m here to tell you I’m never supporting Hillary Rodham Clinton. I will write in Bernie if I have too and I know there are many who feel the same.

  • George

    Supporters of Sanders hate Hillary. Hate! For good reason.

  • Patrick

    I you can’t bring youself to support Hilary, Vote for Trump or stay home. It’s that simple. The process wil continue without you.

    • Darryl Thomas

      I won’t tell you who to vote for, so don’t tell me to vote Trump or stay home. Maybe you think an FBI indictment hovering over Clinton’s head doesn’t matter, but the process is far from over. You fail to realize that most of Bernie’s support comes from Independents and half the party will split away from the DNC due to the rampant voter suppression and electoral fraud by Clinton and the DNC. This piece is more wishful thinking than anything else. The revolution is here to stay, and Clinton and the corrupted DNC won’t be a part of it.

  • The democratic party has fully embraced Reagan’s neoliberal philosophy, and Clinton’s platform is filled with positions that leftist have been actively protesting against for decades. The democratic party has long abandoned the left, and many on the left simply cannot stomach any more. Bill Clinton was as much of a disaster for this country as his neoliberal republican cohort. His policies decimated the educational system, the social safety net, exploded the prison population and helped accelerate the funneling of public resources and workers money to the upper wealth holders. Judging from Hillary Clinton’s platform, she plans more of the same. This does not even count in the many independents, who have absolutely no interest in the neoliberal democratic party, but are willing to vote for an old style run of the mill new deal democrat – not “the party”. Arrogance and entitlement seem to cloud the reasoning capacity of the campaign, and they refuse to believe what they are being told, and prefer to plaster their own narrative over the voices of dissent. Clinton may be the “progressive” choice (see phil ochs “love me i’m a liberal”) but for many people on the left who have been paying attention to the origins of the structural violence of poverty in the u.s., she is not plan b.

  • Pamela

    A vote for HRC is a vote for a Trump/Cruz candidate. I refuse to hold my nose and vote for the lesser of evils

  • Enus

    If they want to unite the party, whoever wins the nomination should pick the other for VP.

  • John Marlowe

    The author disregards one glaring fact ; the “youth vote” is solidly behind Sanders . Will they become “good little Democrats” and switch allegiance to Clinton ? Doubtful !

  • Theo

    I will be voting Sanders, likely, or Trump if I choose to vote out of spite. There is no excuse for partisan dominance so strict that millions of independents are denied a right to vote. The Superdelegate system is corrupt, also. Many high profile insiders, former governors and others bought out by Clinton’s Dynasty.

    We need a revolution badly. Voting for the status quo is not compatible with revolutionizing a heinously broken and corrupt campaign finance system (as well as the rest of government with respect to interest influences over policy.)

    I feel morally conflicted even thinking of voting for Hillary, as I know many Sanders supporters feel the same. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz needs to go, as does Hillary and other elites.
    Millennials want more honest government and they are simply incompatible.

  • George Khoury

    yet another political hobbyist who doesn’t quite get it. Comes closer than many, but still misses the heart of it, for reasons that are??? If actions speak louder, there’s only one candidate (period).

  • Drew

    Me and my friends refuse to vote for her without Sanders on the ticket! Without Sanders we won’t get senate or congress! He’s the only adult up there!

  • Paula Kaartinen

    Bernie’s for Social Security expansion, banning fracking, labeling GMOs, organic farm support, helping veterans more, health care for every single person, and breaking up big banks. Hillary’s stances on these issues are weak or nonexistent. I don’t trust her, because her ties to banking and industry obligate her to help them maintain the status quo. The differences between her and Bernie are monumental.

  • Millennial Voter

    As a millennial voter and a Bernie supporter, I assure you the rift is VERY large. I and many of my friends will NEVER vote for Hillary Clinton and over 33% of Bernie voters have agreed in kind. If it comes to a choice between Trump/Hillary I will vote for a 3rd party candidate or abstain. This is not out of some youthful naivete or somehow giving in to blind idealism, instead it is about reality, to me.

    My reality and many people in my generation is one of perpetual economic instability. I am college educated, but I work 2 part time jobs and have a side business just to be able to afford a one-bedroom apartment with my pregnant wife in our city. Sometimes we have to put our groceries on our credit card just to get through the month. Forget owning a home or any other trappings of the so-called American dream… at this point we are just trying to survive. This is all while, as Bernie continues to share, the top 1% of our country continues to amass enormous wealth. Do you think that is going to stop under Hillary Clinton? NO.

    Our system is fundamentally broken. It is like the engine of our car has thrown a rod. And if that is the case, a Tune-Up candidate is just not going to do. It won’t make a difference to me or people like me and that is why we are only going to vote for someone like Bernie. And yes I realize how hard it will be for him to accomplish ANYTHING, again I am not naive. Since I have been able to vote, our political system has been chaos… My first election was Gore/Bush. But someone once told me you may only achieve about 10% of what you set out to do so you must have big ideas in the first place if you hope to get anything done. And personally I think Bernie’s 10% would accomplish a hell of a lot more than Hillary’s.

    And as to the question of Hillary losing and Trump winning if my generation doesn’t coalesce and get in line behind Hillary like we are told, you know what I have to say about that… so be it. I know it is cynical in some since and I know Trump will be an absolute unmitigated disaster for our country but maybe 4 years of that will wake enough people up to see that we need to fundamentally change course of our politics and Hillary and the democratic establishment are not the ones to do it.