With less than a week left until the Iowa caucuses and the latest polls showing the two Democratic front-runners neck-and-neck in that state, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have intensified their attacks against each other and further contrasted their messages to potential voters.
Hillary Clinton is painting herself as the rational and pragmatic candidate touting “sensible, achievable” plans that would benefit the middle class. She accuses her rival of being too idealistic whose ideas “will never make it in real life“. Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, is calling for a “political revolution” to put forth a bold agenda to fight the “grotesque level of income inequality” and “a corrupt finance system”.
Many pundits seem to side with Hillary Clinton (see here, here and here). They essentially argue that a Republican Congress will never allow Sanders ambitious ideas to flourish… that they’ll be dead-on-arrival. Instead, focusing on a more realistic goal, which is “incremental change“, would be more worthwhile than getting nothing from a Bernie Sanders presidency.
Are the pundits right?
I had a discussion with the world most-renowned intellectual and Professor Noam Chomsky about the Republican Party and gridlock in Congress. He explains:
The gridlock in Congress results from the fact that the Republicans over the years have ceased to be a normal parliamentary party. The highly respected conservative political commentator Norman Ornstein describes them as a “radical insurgency” that has abandoned parliamentary politics. That’s the result of their shift to the far right since the Reagan years, with total dedication to extreme wealth and corporate power. They can’t get votes that way, so have had to mobilize a base of evangelical Christians, ultranationalists, terrified little men who think they’d better carry an assault rifle into Starbucks to protect themselves, etc.
Noam Chomsky, who thinks that Bernie Sanders has the best policies, agrees that Sanders big ideas are unlikely to be implemented if one of the two houses of Congress is controlled by Republicans. But that fate would also apply to Hillary Clinton and her not-so-ambitious plans. She will not be able to expand on the Affordable Care Act. She won’t be able to repeal the Hyde Amendment. Hillary Clinton’s agenda is also dead-on-arrival.
When Hillary Clinton was asked how she will be able to work with a Republican congress in yesterday’s Democratic Presidential Town Hall, she said:
I have no problem saying: Yeah, we have political differences. We’re on opposite sides. But we’re gonna work as hard as we can. And here’s what I know about how to get that done. It takes building relationships and that is one of the hardest things to do in politics over ideological and partisan lines. So I’m just going to give them all “bear hugs”, whether they like it or not. We’re gonna get together. We’re gonna talk about what we can do. Maybe we can get something done together. If not, maybe I can find that slice of common ground to find somebody who will work with me on achieving a goal that we want.
This is wishful thinking. If anything, Hillary Clinton would face more obstructionism from Republicans who really don’t like her, despite her claim of bipartisanship which was rated as false by Politifact. Her main challenger, Bernie Sanders, might be called a communist, but he is still well respected and trustedamong his peers, and has a track record of breaking the gridlock in Congress.
Even Barack Obama won’t be able to do much beyond executive orders should he be allowed to run for a third term. When the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank were passed, Democrats had control of both houses of Congress. When that changed in 2010 mid-terms, Obama wasn’t able to pass many legislations since. Democrats main role in Washington was to prevent extremist right-wing agenda from being passed, such as defunding Planned Parenthood or repealing the Affordable Care Act.
Bernie Sanders recognizes this challenge better than the supporters who adore him, or the skeptics who doubt him. He said:
Let me tell you something that no other candidate for president will tell you.
And that is no matter who is elected to be president, that person will not be able to address the enormous problems facing the working families of our country.
They will not be able to succeed because the power of corporate America, the power of Wall Street, the power of campaign donors is so great that no president alone can stand up to them.
That is the truth. People may be uncomfortable about hearing it, but that is the reality. And that is what this campaign is saying loudly and clearly: It is not just about electing Bernie Sanders for president, it is about creating a grassroots political movement in this country.
If Democrats want real change, they need to focus on electing not just a president, but also congressmen and congresswomen who would espouse their desire for change. And if they are successful in achieving that goal, Bernie Sanders big plans are just as achievable as Hillary Clinton pragmatic agenda.
This piece was originally published on Daily Kos.