We’re in the final sprint to the first Democratic primary contest, which occurs in Iowa on February 1. Over the past week, an amazing thing has happened: Bernie Sanders has soared, and Hillary Clinton has stumbled. The former Secretary of State, who enjoyed an autumn resurgence after the first Democratic debate on October 13, is once again struggling in the polls and facing bad news from multiple directions. Bernie Sanders has increased his lead in New Hampshire polls, is pulling even with Clinton in Iowa polls, and has received some positive endorsements that may shake things up.
Rattled by her recent stumbles on the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton appears to be lashing out. Doubling down on her criticism of Bernie Sanders over his past gun control votes, Clinton is now encouraging that a debate be had over their political differences. Obviously, the irony is thick: Clinton, who once supported the Democratic National Committee’s decision to limit the primaries to only four debates prior to the Iowa caucus, is suddenly itching for a chance to talk. Sadly, this is not a new tactic for Clinton. Back in 2008, when the then-U.S. Senator from New York began falling behind against rookie U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) during the Democratic presidential primaries, she demanded more debates with Obama.
Evidently worried that she is about to face a humiliating repeat of 2008, Clinton is hoping to cut off Sanders at the knees before he gains momentum. Thus far, she has garnered a lot of press by continually bludgeoning Sanders over old gun control votes, trying to portray him as weak on the issue and pandering to [conservative] gun owners. Occasionally, she has jabbed at Sanders over his proposals to fund comprehensive economic reforms through small payroll tax increases on all citizens, insisting that she will fund her own proposals entirely through tax hikes on the wealthy.
Aside from those two issues, Clinton has only her broken record insistence that she is more “electable”…an assertion which has been widely discounted through polls revealing that Sanders has greater popularity against Republicans in head-to-head matchups.
Despite this recent blitz of good news for Bernie Sanders, it must never be forgotten that Hillary Clinton is a skilled and formidable political opponent. She is still the nationwide frontrunner and is backed by both the Democratic Party establishment and the mainstream media. For Sanders to have a real chance to win the presidential nomination, he must strike while the iron is hot. We must strike while the iron is hot.
Clinton and her supporters will do their worst between now and February 1, hoping to tear down Bernie Sanders and sow doubt among undecided voters. Having lost in 2008, Clinton will almost certainly go to extreme lengths to prevent a repeat. Back then, she and her campaign underestimated the more liberal U.S. Senator from a minority background…they will not make the same mistake twice.
Bernie Sanders must accept Clinton’s challenge of a debate and use it to challenge her over his two boldest and most prominent proposals: Universal health care and tuition-free public higher education for qualified students. He must not get bogged down in her gun control mud-slinging. He must publicly address his reform proposals and emphasize that Clinton disagrees with them. He must control the message.
Universal health care and tuition-free public higher education are winning issues, backed by wide historic and international support. By challenging Clinton to explain why she does not support these proposals, he will force her to blather foolishly. Few could argue eloquently why these reforms are not in America’s best interest, and Clinton is certainly not one of them. Trying to argue that privatized health care and profiteering universities are better for America will force Clinton to get downright conservative, which would be political suicide.
If Clinton argues that higher education should be more privatized, a devastating Sanders zinger would be to ask why she wouldn’t try to privatize K-12 education. If Clinton tries to argue that the free market is better for health care, Sanders could ask why she wouldn’t trust those same market forces to govern our K-12 education, our military, or our public infrastructure. Historically and internationally, education and health care have been more effective, and cost-effective, as public goods instead of private goods. The former Secretary of State would talk herself in circles trying to argue otherwise.
There is a reason why Clinton has shied away from debating Sanders over his two boldest proposals – she knows she cannot win. And, from the sounds of it, she is definitely not winning the punditry battles over her Wall Street and taxation proposals, either. Critics argue that Clinton’s “only tax the rich” proposals would be insufficient to fund her desired reforms and would leave the taxes vulnerable to being removed later on. Sanders’ plan to use payroll taxes, by contrast, would be similar to how we fund Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid: Untouchable by angry Republicans.
To win big, Sanders must challenge Clinton on economic issues, forcing her out of her comfort zones of gun control and foreign policy. So far, Sanders has been made to sweat being out of his comfort zone and being criticized for his intense focus on economic inequality…let’s turn the tables and force Clinton to explain how her own economic proposals compare.