Thursday, February 4, 2016

Note To Democrats: Debate Policy, Not Character

Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya
Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya
Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya
Oh Lord, kumbaya  
Someone's singing Lord, kumbaya
Someone's singing Lord, kumbaya
Someone's singing Lord, kumbaya
Oh Lord, kumbayah
In 1980, the first presidential election in which I was eligible to vote, I couldn't abide Jimmy Carter's conservatism and voted for third-party candidate John Anderson.  In 1984, I supported Jesse Jackson for president, but I had learned my lesson, and when he lost the nomination to the remarkably uninspiring Walter Mondale, I campaigned hard for Mondale.  True, Ronald Reagan handily won both these elections, but the take away for me was that at the end of the day, no matter how you feel about the Democratic nominee, a Republican president is going to be disastrous for the economy (unless you are a corporation), for the environment (unless you live in a self-sustained eco-system), for civil rights and human rights (unless you are a xenophobic, homophobic, right wing, religious bigot) and for national security (unless you are an arms manufacturer), and we need to do everything we can to ensure that there is a Democrat in the White House. That has never been more true than today.

The Democratic National Convention is being held in Philadelphia at the end of July.  At that time either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders will become the Democratic nominee.  A week earlier, the Republicans will have nominated their own candidate -- someone who does not believe in climate change or campaign finance reform or a woman's right to choose or that Black Lives Matter or LGBT rights or humane immigration reform or gun control or foreign diplomacy or criminal justice reform or raising the minimum wage or regulating Wall Street or making college more affordable -- someone who does believe in torturing terrorism suspects and tax cuts for the wealthy and repealing Obamacare and cutting Social Security and gutting the Iran nuclear deal and deregulating industry and allowing unfettered campaign contributions.  In addition and not insignificantly, four of the nine justices on the Supreme Court are over the age of 75, giving the next president an opportunity to reshape the court for a generation.

In other words, the stakes for the future of this country -- and the world -- couldn't be higher. 

The great danger of this primary season is that unrestrained and unprincipled attacks by the Clinton and Sanders campaigns and their supporters directed against each other are sowing the seeds for deep anger and resentment that will tamp down voter enthusiasm and participation in the general election and undermine the united front critical to defeating whatever horrifying nightmare the Republicans put up. 
A vigorous debate between the two Democratic candidates about their policies and how to achieve them is welcome, indeed, it is essential. It is important to hash out the areas where the two disagree and the many others where there is common ground.  There is a necessary discussion to be had about whether a pragmatic, more incremental approach to pursuing policy goals would be more productive than staking out bold positions and negotiating from there.  And there are concerns worth raising about which candidate can best appeal to the core constituencies of the Democratic Party that are essential to defeating the Republicans.  But attacks on character, distorting an opponent's positions on issues (past and present) and using right wing tropes to undermine progressive proposals should be off limits.  Such tactics are counterproductive and will only provide fodder for the GOP machine down the road.

Hillary should not be implying that Bernie's call for a "political revolution" -- one that seeks to effect change through our democratic process -- is some kind of radical plot to overthrow the government.  And she should not, as she did in the last debate, raise questions about Bernie's integrity (seriously?) or, for example, mischaracterize his health care plan.  It is perfectly appropriate to argue that many of his proposals -- such as single payer health care and college free tuition -- are unrealistic given the state of the Congress, and that she has better, more practical policy ideas.  It is fine to ask what specific plans he has to get Big Money out of politics (particularly given his comment that "any Supreme Court nominee of mine will make overturning Citizens United one of their first decisions," which makes no sense).  It is even ok to make the argument that Bernie is not as electable as she is.  But, as Charles Pierce puts it:  "Bernie Sanders is running a campaign completely within what can reasonably be called the mainstream of his party and of our politics. Discreet red-baiting and disingenuous scaremongering helps nobody."

And Bernie's supporters need to tone down the vitriol and over-the-top personal attacks in which Hillary is tarred as a corrupt, morally bankrupt, untrustworthy Wall Street shill and unrepentant hawk. There are legitimate questions to raise about her Goldman Sachs speaking engagements -- what she spoke about and what impact her relationship with investment banks will have on her willingness to tighten and enforce regulations.  It is fair to draw a contrast between Bernie's grassroots fundraising and Hillary's reliance on Super PACs.  Certainly, she should be called to account for her actions as Secretary of State.  But, come on folks.  Sure she had a bad patch of supporting her husband's horribly misguided policies in the 1990s, and there is no excusing her Iraq War vote.  It is also probably true that she would not be touting her progressive credentials as fiercely if she weren't facing Bernie Sanders in the primaries.  But, at the same time, she does have long history of supporting core Democratic positions on reproductive rights, on childhood poverty, on health care, on gun control and a host of other issues.  As pointed out at FiveThirtyEight, she was one of the most liberal members of the Senate when she was there and has a history of espousing very liberal views.

So, come on all you Democrats out there -- progressive, moderates, independents -- and you disenchanted Republicans too -- join hands, and let's sing ...


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