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Run to Make a Difference, Not Just to Win
by Gary Ferdman
MANY PROGRESSIVE Democrats are conflicted about the 2016 presidential campaign. They see themselves, unlike Republicans, as having the opportunity to choose between two responsible adults with vast experience and progressive positions on most crucial issues. They should cast their votes for the first candidate who not only says what she or he wants to do when in office, but explains how they plan to do it.
While both Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders talk a good game about implementing their ambitious agendas, they are both only half right about the kind of political actions that will actually make a difference on income inequality, global warning, money in politics, affordable higher education, women’s rights, minority rights, immigration, etc.
In spite of all the evidence to the contrary, they both cling to the “reach across the aisle” myth that they can actually find enough sane Republicans to make bipartisan support for crucial reforms a reality. As many a New York Democratic primary voter would say, fugetaboutit.
And Senator Sanders, for all his Congressional experience, fails to connect the dots explaining how having millions of people stand up as part of his revolution, translates into political influence and change. Reminder: millions of people stood up unsuccessfully to try to stop the invasion of Iraq. Sorry Bernie, but protest alone is not the way that “change always takes place.”
SECRETARY CLINTON was going in the right direction in the Univision-sponsored debate in Florida when she started to talk about taking back enough congressional seats to get serious anti-global warming legislation passed. But elections skewed by big, self-interested political donors, and our arcane and anachronistic electoral college system, which concentrates presidential candidates’ time, money, and organization on a small number of battleground states, can shorten presidential coattails in non-swing states.
Both candidates have historic opportunities -- so here’s what they should do:
Announce that legendary football coach Vince Lombardi had it wrong when it comes to the presidency -- winning it isn’t everything or the only thing, real victory is being able to get things done on behalf of the American people. So they will structure their campaigns to assure the election of as many like-minded Democrats as possible.
For Secretary Clinton, that would mean using her justified and hard-earned popularity among women voters to help elect Democratic women to the Senate, the majority of whom are running in non-swing states. And, because a Senate majority is currently not enough, she should encourage those candidates to commit to pushing for filibuster reform once elected.
On the House side, she and Bill, her Surrogate-in-Chief, should also campaign in “safe” states like California and New York, which, because Common Cause (full disclosure -- I work for them part time) and its partner organizations have put an end to gerrymandering, are rich with contestable House seats. And she should assure her supporters that the Democratic Party will never again be asleep at the switch as they and President Obama were in 2010 when almost a dozen state legislatures were handed over to Republicans just in time for them to control redistricting.
SENATOR SANDERS should motivate and mobilize his young, energetic supporters to get involved in campaigns for House and Senate seats that could go from red to blue. More importantly, to counter the big corporate contributions cascading into Republican campaign coffers and PAC’s from the likes of the Koch Brothers, he should gin up his record-breaking grassroots money machine to help elect primary and general election candidates who support his agenda. In dozens of races, Senator Sanders has the opportunity to almost singlehandedly implement, de facto, the small-donor funding system that campaign finance reformers have advocated for decades. He should publicly announce tomorrow that he is urging his millions of donors to send $5 and $10 contributions to candidates who sign a pledge refusing to take money from fat cat PACS and large corporate donors.
As my philosopher wife reminds me, electing the right president is a necessary but not sufficient condition for addressing our nation’s most pressing issues. A campaign strategy focused on electing a critical mass of progressive Senators and Representatives is equally important. And the presidential primary candidate who walks that walk is the one who should win.
Gary Ferdman is a not for profit executive and political activist based in San Diego, CA. This article is reprinted with his permission from the Huffington Post.