I recently had a great series of conversations with a college friend of mine who is a devout "Bernie Bro" about the future of the Democratic Party and party politics in general. The debate mainly centered on the merits (or lack thereof) of Clinton and Sanders as candidates. The conversation ranged from whether Bernie could've won if he received the nomination (I argue it's impossible to model the but-for world, my friend was fairly convinced he would have) to whether things really are as dire across the country as television and social media seem to indicate.
The Bernie versus Hillary debate is still relevant in my opinion since it deals with a key schism in the Democratic party and American politics writ large. Establishment versus renegades. Slow versus fast progress. Through our conversations I have been able to gain a bit more clarity on some of my thoughts on how I plan on thinking about politics moving forward. Hopefully they spur some healthy debate on your end as well.
I'd like to dive deeper into each of these themes. Each deserves an in-depth post, but this is hopefully a helpful high-level primer on what I believe are some key differences in thinking between the two wings of the Democratic Party and also a divide between some Trump voters and those who voted Clinton.
For my friend and I (and this probably mirrors a lot of Bernie vs. Hillary debates) the key points of debate were as follows:
1) Revolution vs. Realism at the Federal level
There is a lot baked into this point. I personally believe that consequential politics happen at a local level, so it is the responsibility for the Federal level of government to be moderate and move at the margin. I argue radical experimentation in policy should be bottom up, i.e. tried and tested at a local level and scaled up as necessary. A lot of my thinking comes from working on-the-ground in politics and working my way through the weeds of a piece of legislation. When you have both of these experiences, you're more likely to appreciate how difficult revolution truly is at the Federal level (and how it can many times be undesirable). Some people believe, on the other hand, that this experience makes you an "insider" and therefore less likely to hear more radical ideas. I tend to disagree. You can be an idealist with an educated understanding of how the process works. It's one thing to say we should reform Wall Street, it's another thing to understand how that actually gets done. Having policy/political experience (even a small amount) makes you more likely to understand the key levers to actually succeeding. Ideas are great, but action is even better.
I am very Tocquevillian in my thoughts on local politics. Local politics and community organizing are how real progress gets made in this country. When you place too much faith in the Federal government to enact radical change, you are bound to be disappointed just by the sheer scale of the bureaucracy. Mind you, I'm a registered Democrat, but that is mostly for my belief in strong civil rights support and a robust safety net. I am also not as convinced that the market is flawless and can solve every wrong.
I think people should use this election as a way to rethink how they engage locally in politics.
2) Is our country generally moving in the right direction?
Most people can agree that there are several key problems our country faces. The question is: are we making good progress or are we stagnating/regressing? When people argue the former, they typically point to the numbers. When folks argue the latter, they point to their anecdotal experiences that indicate pretty convincingly that there is a lot missing from these numbers. If you believe the country is moving in the general right direction, you're more inclined to be supportive of the Obama Administration and its natural successor -- Hillary (or a moderate Republican if you're conservative...my friend argues that the difference between a moderate Republican and Clinton is negligible). However, if you believe that the numbers are missing some fundamental truth and that the Obama years were a wash (or negative), then you're more inclined to vote for Sanders, maybe Trump (on the right), etc.
The stats indicate we are on the path to progress, but public opinion polls indicate otherwise. I do think there are places where the stats don't tell the complete picture, but I feel our modern media landscape (or lack thereof) perpetuate a myth of a decaying America. I am currently working on a documentary about my trip to the RNC in which some friends and I try to talk to people to gather anecdotal evidence of what they think is going wrong. I am inclined to believe after some experience visiting "flyover country" and considering myself somewhat well-versed in the data, that key problems exist, but our country really is moving in a positive direction. That is probably biased based on my very privileged existence, but when you look at social, economic, and technological progress over the past few decades, it's fairly convincing that life is objectively better now for the vast majority of Americans. There is a lot that needs to be improved, but progress takes time.
People feel divided over things like our outdated prison system, racial tensions, cultural rifts, economic prosperity, and the list goes on. I would argue that these problems have always been around, they are perhaps more vivid in the era of increased social media-powered transparency. Unfortunately in politics perception is reality. That is to say, it doesn't matter what the numbers say if the perception is far more negative. To fix perception, we need to change our media and we need to solve these critical problems. Progressive actions take time since the court of public opinion moves slowly in its decision-making process. We have to continue to solve these problems, but in the meantime, work to ensure the American public doesn't have some false and warped vision of how the country is going to shit because of InfoWars, HuffPo, or whatever.
3) Sanders' vs. Clinton's prior political track record
This question caused a lot of debate during the primaries. Is Bernie all talk and no work? Is Clinton going to legislate for the people or the banks (or legislate at all)? Luckily, much of this information can be drawn from public record; however, there are other data points (e.g. Congressional sway, leadership, crossing the aisle, etc.) that are more difficult to quantify.
I would argue political effectiveness can be measured by how one gets policy and positive change made both in front of and behind-the-scenes. The latter is difficult to ascertain, but there are some roundabout ways (i.e. discussions with political operatives, politicians, etc.) that can reveal how a particular candidate worked behind-the-scenes to push key initiatives forward.
Clinton and Sanders actually have somewhat similar track records in pushing legislation through the Senate. I think they both had pretty active pre-Senatorial careers as well, Sanders as an activist and Representative, Clinton as an attorney and First Lady (of Arkansas and the USA). They operated in different spheres of influence, however. Clinton worked as a part of the system to enact high probability, but relatively low marginal impact change (there were, of course, exceptions). Whereas, Bernie went for big targets with high probability of failure given the realities of American politics. I think Clinton was a better collaborator, but Bernie the better firebrand and better at galvanizing the court of public opinion. Comparing them as politicians depends on what you value as a citizen -- there are several metrics to compare them to each other and I'm not sure if one holds weight above the other in my mind. I will say, however, our country faces a serious problem of political partisanship. I think Clinton would do a better job as a listener, collaborator, and moderate in achieving those goals (I highly recommend reading the article linked here) than Sanders would be as a relatively more divisive candidate.
Additionally, there is each candidate's likelihood of victory. Many posit that Sanders was more likely than Clinton to win over Trump. As I said earlier, the but-for world is difficult to model, but I would acquiesce that the probability is quite high considering some of Trump's key states in his victory (e.g. Michigan, Wisconsin, etc.). Clinton would be a better sitting President, but as my friend astutely pointed out, "do you want to be right or do you want to win?"
I look forward to diving deeper into these topics in the future. There are a lot of similarities between the two sides and, in my opinion, it's more important than ever for the two branches of the Democratic party to come together in opposition to the current administration.