Friday, June 10, 2016

On the Pyramid and the Scaffold

A few days ago, once it became clear that Clinton would win the Democratic nomination, I posted this to my Facebook page:

Yes, it was a little snarky, and that may have obscured what I consider to be the main point. I have seen many of Sanders' supporters positing outlier scenarios by which he could still win the nomination (and the party resources that come with it), but to me, Sanders is much better positioned to spearhead the movement his campaign has jump-started without all the trappings of the Oval Office. The presidency is a high profile position, but whenever the election draws nigh, and candidates start making grandiose pronouncements of what they will do in office, we all seem to collectively forget how severely limited its powers can be (especially in terms of domestic policy) in the face of an unfriendly Congress.  As my post reminded everyone, the Congress that will be elected this fall will not be friendly to a Democratic president, as the House districts that we currently have are structured such that the GOP can retain its majority there even if their candidates collectively receive far less than 50% of the total House votes cast. In the sort of polarized environment we currently find ourselves in, any Democrat in the Oval Office will need a solid base of support to stand firm in the face of the restoked conservative hate machine. Clinton has an experienced, well organized, battle tested, and determined army of professionals and volunteers in her corner. She also has strong ties to many Democrats currently in Congress as well as others in positions of power and influence. In short, she has a pyramid. 

Also, as those of us who have seen all those memes from Sanders' supporters well know, Clinton is a master of the dark political arts that will be needed to get anything at all done until new districts take effect prior to the 2022 mid-terms. Rather than a mark against her, to me this makes her the quintessential Rooseveltian "woman in the arena": one who is not afraid to get her hands dirty if it will accomplish something worthwhile, and who does not let the perfect become the enemy of the good. 

Sanders, on the other hand, has...a good start. He has something, that is certain, but exactly what that something is or what it might become is unclear. What he really has is a scaffold. Around eight years ago Obama also had a scaffold, but unfortunately the building it attempted to construct had a weak foundation and as a result the energy and enthusiasm that attended his victory in 2008 did not carry over when he was not on the ballot two years later. This missed opportunity ensured his presidency became one of maintaining a wedge under that not-quite-Sisyphean boulder of progress rather than trying to push it further up the hill. What will Sanders try to build with his scaffold? Hopefully a new skyscraper that is transparent, democratic, and less influenced by money. 
If you want the ideal office holder, you first have to create the system that will produce one, and as I and many other have noted, the current system does not do this. So for now let Clinton fight the (almost) hopeless battles; she is well trained for it, and may even enjoy it to a certain extent. More importantly, she gives Sanders and his supporters the cover they need to do the nitty gritty, state level organizing and lobbying that must happen to enact the necessary systemic changes that will de-polarize our political discourse, and enable us to meaningfully tackle the issues that we collectively face. Clinton's pyramid may not be everything that you want, but it is the bulwark you will need to safeguard you as you create whatever it is that will replace it.