500 Words on Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Incrementalism

I’ve spent a lot of time in the past month talking with my friends who support Bernie Sanders. And ahead of the New York primary this Tuesday, I wanted to share some of my thoughts about how things get done in government. Because in the end, that’s what matters.

The number one thing I’ve heard from friends is that Bernie Sanders is pushing for the ideal — the fundamental restructuring of the way America works, one that is radically more fair. It’s an inspiring, admirable goal.

But the change Bernie Sanders is pushing for is based on a world where Democrats take back the House and Senate. One where his free college plan is adopted by Republican-controlled state legislatures. Where special interests are overpowered by the will of the people. And, in the country we live in, that’s incredibly unlikely this election.

Take the free college proposal. To pass it, you need to flip the house and flip the senate. Pretty unlikely. But if you can’t, let’s imagine you peel off a few Republican votes. Now you need to implement it. His plan works by giving states matching funds to subsidize their state education systems at a 2–1 rate (the federal government pays 67%, the state pays the remaining 33%). Six states are Democratically-controlled, and a few like Massachusetts might move on it. But now you need to convince the other 40 states — the majority controlled entirely by Republicans. Medicaid expansion under ACA was 9–1 matching funds and we STILL haven’t convinced 19 states to expand.

So the question is, how do you get things done in a government where you don’t control everything? What can you get done?

The answer is deal-making and incremental change. Using executive powers where you can. It’s NOT inspiring. But it’s how President Obama has made any progress at all since 2010. It’s the art of the possible.

And it’s something Hillary Clinton knows: Her plan is designed to get something done. To move the ball forward in any way possible and protect the gains we’ve made under President Obama. And if we can get more done in the unlikely occasion that we take back both chambers, it’s not hard to scale up those aspirations.

Maybe, on some level, Bernie Sanders knows this, too. But we haven’t heard that from him. What we’ve heard is that incremental change isn’t good enough. That we need total revolution to achieve his (admirable) goals. He hasn’t outlined a plan for what we do when that doesn’t happen.

I want a candidate who has a plan, because they’ll need it. If we’re going get anything done in the next four years, that candidate better know what they’re getting into now and how they’ll deal with it. They need to be a progressive who gets things done. It’s not sexy, but that’s how change happens.

If you’re in New York, get out there and vote on Tuesday. Find your polling location.


You can troll me on Twitter at @ezramechaber.