Fine, give the GOP four years: The liberal case for either Bernie Sanders, or electing a Republican president

Democrats can't hold the White House forever. Losing in 2016 might make more strategic sense than losing in 2020

Published January 17, 2016 3:30PM (EST)

 Ted Cruz and Donald Trump (Reuters/Tami Chappell/Chris Keane/Photo montage by Salon)
Ted Cruz and Donald Trump (Reuters/Tami Chappell/Chris Keane/Photo montage by Salon)

Nobody is acknowledging it yet, but in all likelihood the next president, be it a Republican or a Democrat, will have just four years to get as much done as possible before passing the torch to the challenger in 2020. Republicans have little hope of a two-term presidency (let alone winning in 2016) due to changing demographics, and a narrative shift that favors acceptance and diversity over traditional values, and Southern dominance. There is a realignment occurring in the United States the likes of which we have not seen since the Solid South became solid red.

Democrats, however, should be concerned for a different reason. The last consecutive two-term presidents from the same party were James Madison and James Monroe, who were both Democratic-Republicans. That transition occurred before the formation of our modern two-party system.

The 2020 election is one Democrats cannot afford to lose. It is a census year, which means the future of the House will be determined for the next decade. It is also highly possible that at least two (or three) seats will open on the Supreme Court, given the ages of the justices—more than are likely to open between 2016 and 2020. If the Democrats do not win, the GOP will have a solid hold on government for at least another 10 years.

And that raises one very important question: Do Democratic voters really want to hitch their wagon to four years of a center-right candidate like Hillary Clinton?

The Democratic Party as a whole is moving to the left—albeit slowly. Elizabeth Warren would never have gotten elected in the '90s, let alone become as influential as she has. It can easily be said that the Democrats are no longer the party of the Clintons (the New Democrats), and are instead, the party of Elizabeth Warren. If Hillary Clinton wins the nod in 2016, and manages to win the general, it is unlikely she will be able to excite the base of her own party in four years—as the DNC may slowly be realizing. She's a hard enough sell now in spite of every effort chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz has expended on her behalf. Many on the left will not turn out to vote for Clinton—in fact, a new poll showed that 20 percent of Democrats would defect and vote Trump over Hillary in a general election.

Clinton's problems start with image. More Americans mistrust her than trust her. This may be due to her various “scandals,” especially her private email server. But it probably also has something to do with the fact that she is politically expedient. A look at her campaign strategy throughout her career is telling. In this regard, she is nearly indistinguishable from the GOP. In 2008, her campaign reportedly circulated a picture of Barack Obama dressed as a Somali elder without providing context for the image, in a seeming effort to stir fears that the now-president was a Muslim. In this current election cycle, Clinton has relied on Republican talking points to attack Bernie Sanders. Specifically, she cited Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal's faulty analysis of the cost of his domestic plan. Clinton has gone as far as attacking him for proposing universal health care—a move 2008 Hillary called out as a Republican tactic.

Clinton has also resorted to Republican talking points to justify opposing a $15 minimum wage. Though she calls them her greatest enemies, her argument relies on the same false premise as the GOP's: it will cost jobs. First, Clinton purposefully ignores that a raise to $15 per hour would be gradual. Additionally, she pays no heed to the fact that evidence indicating such increases will cost jobs is thin. In fact, studies overwhelmingly suggest that minimum wage hikes have no impact on employment.

Additionally, many on the left worry that there is no way for Democrats to know what Hillary Clinton will morph into, given her numerous flip-flops. And for all of her talk about fighting for the middle class, she has an uncomfortably cozy relationship with Wall Street and powerful private industries (oil, private prisons, big banks, cable companies, etc.).

But Clinton’s problems run much deeper than impressions of her character. As a candidate, Hillary is closer to George H.W. Bush or Ronald Reagan than to the heart of the Democratic Party, FDR. Progressives know this about her. She exists out-of-time—propped up by a Democratic establishment similarly stuck on Third Way politics. Hillary is a New Democrat in 2016; she’s caught between two narratives: the GOP/Reagan narrative that government is too big, and inherently inefficient, and the Democratic narrative, that government can and should work for all to solve the problems we face as a country.

Clinton’s background creates a disconnect between her policies and those of her party.

Hillary's “strongest issue” is foreign policy, given her years of experience at the State Department. Unfortunately, her foreign policy ideas don’t fit with many on the left. Put simply, she is an interventionist hawk. In 2008 Barack Obama compared her to George W. Bush, and that comparison still seems appropriate. She did, after all, vote for the Iraq War and support the use of torture on detainees. Although she has called her war vote “a mistake,” we must look at it in its proper context. When we consider the initiatives she pushed at the State Department (the bombing of Libya, arming the Syrian rebels, and selling arms to Clinton Foundation donors), as well as her current plans, like the no-fly-zone in Syria, it seems less of a one-off, and more like part of a pattern.

Clinton's strategy is to deal with ISIS is nearly indistinguishable from Marco Rubio's: defeat ISIS rather than contain them by forming a coalition with our allies to take back territory, sending in ground troops, disrupting their recruitment, and ramping up airstrikes.

Hillary's plan, like those of the Republicans, is predicated on the idea that by taking out ISIS, U.S. involvement in the region can end.

What Clinton's and the Republican plans fail to take into account is political culture. Changing political culture within a generation is impossible, let alone changing it in a part of the world Westerners, as a rule, barely understand; where people mistrust and resent us, and where democratic tradition is a novel concept.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is not the only part of the globe where intervention is Hillary’s modus operandi. Her involvement in legitimizing the violent coup regime in Honduras indicates that as president, interference would also define her Latin America policy.

Besides intervention, Clinton’s foreign policy prioritizes "free markets." She appears to view the world through the lens of how much multinational business, rather than domestic companies or workers, benefits. Though she has now flip-flopped on both the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), her years of support for each suggest her shift is politically motivated.

All things considered, it is safe to call Clinton a neoconservative.

Economically speaking, in spite of touting herself as a “progressive who likes to get things done,” Clinton is essentially a moderate Republican—which makes economic progressives angry. Her capital gains tax proposal does not increase long-term capital gains taxes, and instead targets short-term investments. This might sound solid on paper, but, as I've said before, it will impact new investors and the middle class, while preserving the status quo where billionaires, who keep the majority of their assets wrapped up in long term investments, pay lower rates than their secretaries. She is also against reinstating Glass-Steagall, and breaking up the banks—instead opting for a game of regulatory catch-up to monitor "shadow banking." Her plan barely tackles symptoms while leaving the underlying illness untouched. To make matters worse, this issue is time-sensitive as there may be another financial crisis brewing with subprime auto loans. A collapse would spell disaster for the Democratic Party should it hit after eight years of President Obama with another Democrat in the Oval Office.

However, Hillary seems unconcerned. She’s even attacked proponents of a new Glass-Steagall, on the premise that her policy is stronger—the only plan that tackles shadow banking. As Zach Carter of the Huffington Post explains in his recent article titled “Hillary Clinton Is Not Telling the Truth About Wall Street,” her claims are dishonest. Shadow banking is a direct consequence of the too-big-to-fail model. The concentration of financial power in just six institutions is the fundamental problem we face. The size of the banks allowed them to exert unprecedented influence over rating agencies like S&P or Moody’s, due to the pay-per-rating model. This undermined the integrity of our entire rating system. At the same time, lenders were taking insurance policies out on their loans and products. The size of the banks and by extension, the sheer volume of the insured debt is why, when borrowers began defaulting, insurers like AIG went under. All of this could have been avoided with a decentralized banking system like the one Bernie Sanders is proposing.

Clinton's stance on social programs and spending is equally disappointing to many liberals and progressives. Though she used to, she no longer supports universal healthcare. She explained her flip-flop during one of the few sanctioned DNC presidential debates by saying, "[t]he revolution never came." Hillary is also against expanding Social Security. She does not support free college tuition for all. Instead she feels it should essentially be a means-tested welfare program. And speaking of welfare, Hillary has stood by her husband's signing of the disastrous Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996 (aka welfare reform), deeming it "necessary" in spite of evidence that it caused a spike in extreme poverty particularly in minority communities. This bill was a Republican initiative—part of the “Contract With America.”

Clinton isn't exactly Nancy Reagan on drugs, but her "evolution" on marijuana/cannabis has not come very far since the '90s—and that's difficult for many young Democrats to accept. Clinton also scares many environmentalists. She used to be in favor of the Keystone Pipeline until it became a political liability for her, and her State Department helped spread fracking to the rest of the world.

She also has trouble convincing some people of her support for LGBTQ equality. It wasn’t until 2013 that she fully embraced same-sex marriage. Prior to that she believed that marriage was a “sacred bond between a man and a woman.” She also supported the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

She hasn’t even been consistent on gun control. Sure, Clinton talks a big game now about background checks and modest reforms, supporting President Obama in his executive actions. But in 2008, she was “Annie Oakley,” accusing Obama of being hostile to hunters’ rights.

Everything about Hillary Clinton’s record suggests that she will negotiate from the center/right—leaving only one direction to go in compromising with Republicans: further right. Like her husband before her, she’ll likely use social programs and financial reform as bargaining chips. After all, she's already given up on universal health care. Her commitment to campaign finance reform is also doubtful considering how much she is raising for this campaign from big donors (Time Warner and Morgan Stanley are both in her top 10). Clinton is not the candidate Democrats should back.

This leaves the Democratic Party with two options:

1) Nominate Bernie Sanders. He’s the candidate drawing the largest crowds; the candidate beating the GOP field by the widest margins in a majority of polls; the candidate Americans feel is honest. If anyone has a shot at breaking the trend of back-and-forth in presidential elections, it is Sanders for the simple reason that he has been an independent for the majority of his political career. His outsider image gives him the greatest chance at beating the odds against consecutive two-term presidents from the same party.

2) Let a Republican have four years. With a Hillary ticket, this scenario isn’t out of the question—especially if the candidate is Donald Trump, who can run on the fact that he donated to Clinton. There's a cold logic in this move. In 2020, Democrats can run someone like Elizabeth Warren who excites the base. Coming off of four years with the GOP, a two-term presidency would be easily attainable with the added benefit that any economic downturns that happen between now and then would be blamed on Republicans. Even if one hit during the first term of the newly elected Democrat, the GOP would still take the fall. Also worth mentioning, people typically vote down the party line—which is good for Democrats, considering it is a census year. 2020 could see the Democrats take the presidency, the House and the Senate—and with the likelihood that two or three seats will open on the court, they’d control all three branches of government.

The downside to this option is that Senate Democrats would have to obstruct for four years. Such a move will exact a political cost, but as the Republicans have shown, obstruction isn't a death knell in elections. Of course, the main drawback is the fact that people will suffer as budgets are slashed.

There's also the high probability that liberals will lose one seat on the Supreme Court, as well as federal judge appointments—all of which be damaging. The only mitigating factor is that, as previously mentioned, there's strong possibility that more seats will open up on the SCOTUS between 2020 and 2024 than between 2016 to 2020.

"Bernie or Bust" is undoubtedly a controversial position, as many Democrats insist that if Hillary Clinton gets the nod, she should be elected president. This argument relies on the-lesser-of-two-evils mind-set; vote Hillary because she’s better than the GOP. However, with all things weighed and considered, it is clear that Clinton should neither be the Democratic nominee nor the president, and that her differences with her opponents are not so stark. The 2020 election cycle is far too important to risk it on a candidate who can barely relate to her own party now—especially taking into account historical trends. Democrats must ask themselves where a Hillary presidency leaves the country in four years. Would her half-measures be enough that they would feel comfortable handing the keys over to the GOP in 2020? That is why "Bernie or Bust" is the real "lesser-of-two-evils" option.

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