The previous installment centered on Bernie Sanders keeping the campaign clean, sticking to the issues, and maintaining the progressive champion label. This piece will get into the nitty-gritty of the post-debate(s) political landscape, which has benefited both Clinton and Sanders. For Clinton, the benefits derive from strong debate performances; in Sanders’ case, his strict adherence to the issues has resonated well with debate viewers and helped improve his name recognition. Now, let’s get to the strategy aspects of the blog that can propel our favorite surly curmudgeon to the top of the ticket.
1) Advocate for small state progressivism in order to attract libertarians on both sides of the political spectrum.
The term small state progressivism is analogous to states’ rights with a slight nuance: Sanders can highlight some state policies, such as marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington, to increase their favor in the eyes of the American electorate. Rather than citing states’ rights in a fashion that demonizes all federal policies – a common tactic that the Right employs – it’s imperative that Sanders shifts the public’s gaze to succeeding state policies. For example, Sanders can connect the failed War on Drugs with federal marijuana policy to show the detrimental effects of mandatory sentencing. If disseminated correctly, this policy can attract Rand Paul libertarians and anti-establishment progressives.
Furthermore, Sanders’ political record demonstrates a general aversion to federal intrusion, which is exemplified by his no-vote on the Patriot Act. Remember, the term progressivism gets incorrectly conflated with Soviet-style communism, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. In actuality, progressivism should be associated with liberty-centric tenets. Moreover, Sanders’ skepticism of big state measures isn’t solely limited to government surveillance: Sanders voted no on the War in Iraq. This vote is crucial to understanding Sanders’ admirable political standpoints in relation to the issues that arise from unchecked military expansion (the exponential growth of the federal government diminishes individual autonomy). It all boils down to Sanders’ political record – he has to consistently emphasize these no-votes in order to woo conservative libertarians, and even some disenfranchised libertarian progressives.
2) Sanders’ stance on guns actually increases his appeal with the political center.
Clinton’s decision to take a hard stance on guns may backfire, but her objective was clear: throw Bernie under the bus to create a powerful political distinction. With so many of her stances being carbon copies of Sanders’ positions, Clinton knew that guns wouldn’t be an issue viewed as pure political opportunism. According to Clinton’s camp, a senator with a D+ rating from the NRA is too extreme for contemporary America. Clinton’s primary gripe with Sanders is his no-vote on the Brady Bill (Sanders claims that he didn’t vote for it due to an unacceptable provision – not the bill in its entirety). One must remember that he hails from a rural hunting state, Vermont (a state with very low gun violence), so having a tough stance on guns wouldn’t please his constituents, nor would it be a compelling state interest.
What’s more, Sanders’ position on guns is ostensibly more of a practical matter than a core belief. Sanders supports background checks, the closing of gun loopholes, and banning assault rifles – the notion that he’s pro-gun is a stretch. If anything, his few no-votes on gun measures at the federal level were driven by compromise (a system that functions on compromise), i.e., the insertion of pork barrel provisions or questionable amendments. Sanders’ presence in Congress—a political career with the longest span of any candidate—only contributes to the perception that he is qualified to be commander-in-chief. Pragmatism is key to being a successful president. Lastly, Sanders’ gun stances won’t frighten away pro-gun centrists from both sides of the aisle – whether we like it or not, America has an obsessive gun culture that stems from an incredibly ambiguous Constitutional Amendment.
3) Democratic socialism has to be defined in a straightforward, non-academic fashion.
Let me be frank: the definitions provided by the campaign so far have been somewhat weak, even after Sanders’ speech at Georgetown University. This is an instance where only talking about the issues hurts Sanders. Why? You can’t explain a government system without disclosing structural specifics. First of all, democratic socialism should be contrasted with communism because it permits free elections. A democratic socialist is elected by his constituents – he doesn’t obtain power by way of toppling the existing government. Secondly, democratic socialism allows the free market to function as long as voters want it to exist. Yes, hypothetically speaking, there could be a country in the future that only elects democratic socialists, who, in turn, completely nationalize private capital – but this is more of an Ayn Randian wet dream scenario than a plausible reality. Democratic socialism won’t change the manner in which America’s political mechanisms function.
The Sanders campaign should explain democratic socialism as follows:
“Democratic socialists are democratically elected. Democratic socialists favor a mixed economy (both private and public – which is what the US currently is) with a large social safety net. The social safety net would be reminiscent of the United States of the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Taxation will be higher for higher earners. Tax loopholes will be closed for major corporations. Regulations will remain strong. The middle and lower classes won’t see much of a tax increase – the lone exception being a slight increase in payroll taxes to fund paid maternity leave.”
Without a direct definition, the Right can prey on the definitional ambiguity of democratic socialism. Sanders has to praise American innovation and the wealth that the free market has created; while, at the same time, demonstrating that the ever-increasing wealth gap is unsustainable and thus potentially dangerous to the health of the economy (Sanders citing the ’29 and ’07 market crashes would validate his argument).
The third installment will be published next week.