Reprinted from Campaign For America's Future
The face-off between Senator Bernie Sanders and Secretary Hillary Clinton last night in New Hampshire highlighted the strengths and vulnerabilities of both. Both put in impressive, strong performances. Both got their message out. Voters are left to decide whom they choose to believe.
The clear victor of the night was populism. Sanders, of course, drove that subject, with his core message of a rigged economy and a corrupted politics. Clinton chose once more to compete as a progressive populist, both rhetorically and with stronger rhetoric about breaking up banks, and taking on the drug and insurance companies.
Populism sets the terms of the debate in the Democratic Party. Sanders champions it; Clinton has chosen to embrace it. It is amazing to watch a debate in which the two Democratic candidates argue about who is the real progressive.
The Sanders Challenge
Sanders dominated the early portion of the debate, repeating his core message about the rigged economy and corrupted politics. In response to moderators quoting Clinton saying "It's very hard to see how any of his proposals could ever be achievable," Sanders reminded voters that "these are not radical ideas."
He took on Clinton's "No, We Can't" refrain directly: Every major country in the world "has managed to provide health care to all people as a right and they are spending significantly less per capita on health care than we are. So I do not accept the belief that the United States of America can't do that." The same is true, he said, with tuition-free college and standing up to the ripoff of the drug companies.
Sanders' argument is that our politics are corrupted and the rules are rigged to block these and other reforms. So we need a political revolution -- millions of Americans standing up and demanding change -- if we are to break the hold of big money and entrenched interests.
The Clinton Response
Clinton's response to this is that Sanders is overpromising. She claimed to be a "progressive who gets things done," and won't "make promises I can't keep." She shared Sanders big goals, she said, but she knows how to fight and make progress.
The chattering classes generally scorn Sanders' political revolution and paint as realistic Clinton's call for "working with committees"; reaching out to Republicans, Democrats and independents; and unearthing, as she put it in an earlier town hall, "slivers" of common ground.
But we all witnessed Republican scorched-earth obstruction of anything President Obama proposed. No one expects Republicans to lose control of the Congress in 2016. If Republicans dislike Obama, they loathe Clinton. It's hardly plausible that she could get more done. That reality gives the lie to her statement that she's not making promises she can't keep. Sanders' political revolution may be the only way even Clinton's promises could see the light of day.
The Sanders Indictment: Money and Corruption
Last night, Sanders continued to highlight the contrast between his decision to fund his campaign with small donations and forgo building a super PAC, and Clinton raking in big donations from Wall Street, insurance companies and others. These banks and companies aren't making their contributions for nothing. They are seeking and often get a remarkable return on their dollar.
When asked why Clinton enjoyed the most endorsements, even from Democrats in his home state, Sanders said that was not surprising since Clinton was part of the "establishment."