Minnesota Democrats heading to caucus on Tuesday face a dilemma similar to that of South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, dean of the Congressional Black Caucus, who recently said that his “heart and head” were in different places when it came to endorsing Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. After reflection, he came down on the side of Clinton, where he said “my heart has always been.”
We believe Clinton is the clear choice over Sanders for heart and head alike. A force on the national landscape for more than 30 years, Clinton has distinguished herself in foreign and domestic policy in ways that make her well-suited to represent the party in November.
Americans’ first real introduction to Clinton came when she led the fight to overhaul health care in the early 1990s. When the GOP and the insurance industry defeated what was then called “Hillarycare,” Clinton began anew, building a coalition of Democrats and Republicans that forged the Children’s Health Insurance Plan, which helped states cut the uninsured rate for children by half. And although her initial health proposal failed, it also formed the basis of what became the Affordable Care Act, which helps insure millions of Americans and bars the use of preexisting conditions as a barrier to health coverage.
That episode in a long career speaks directly to how Clinton approaches public service. Capable of setting big, visionary goals and tackling complex policy, Clinton also has repeatedly shown the patience and discipline to work with opponents on compromises that result in degrees of progress. Critics can call that incrementalism. A more mature grasp of politics in a democracy recognizes that nonviolent revolutions often are accomplished over time, piece by painstaking piece.
This is where Clinton differs most strikingly from her opponent, the Vermont senator whose somewhat cranky brand of charisma and goals for a more egalitarian society have propelled him straight into the hearts of progressives and younger voters who yearn for a warrior to right the wrongs they see.
To such voters, Sanders offers pure idealism, untainted by the nasty concessions and accommodations required in the real world. And their frustration with the current order should be recognized. It’s no accident that the two most popular figures in the 2016 election contest so far, Sanders and GOP businessman Donald Trump, also are the most polarizing, with outsider messages that highlight their willingness to take a wrecking ball to the status quo.
But Sanders has fallen short on just how he would accomplish his political revolution. The burden on the self-proclaimed democratic socialist to demonstrate how he would accomplish his objectives without throwing the American economy into chaos is, and should be, high. What are the long-term implications of taxing Wall Street to provide tuition-free college? Of a progressive estate tax on the richest of the rich? Of reversing many of our major trade agreements, starting with the North American Free Trade Agreement? What happens to job creation when employers are required to offer up to 15 weeks of paid leave a year that runs the gamut from medical leave to vacation to sick days and a base pay of no less than $15 an hour?
Clinton is not without the scars that major politicians accumulate in the course of a lifetime in the limelight. The drip-drip of e-mails has dogged her campaign and will continue to do so. Her early campaign was plagued by too much emphasis on her résumé and too little on the inspiring vision voters seek in a president. Her support for the Defense of Marriage Act and votes on the Iraq war and other issues have haunted her and have contributed to a disturbingly high level of mistrust that she must work to overcome.
No single candidate will satisfy every voter. But Clinton has shown a dogged commitment to Democratic values while fighting not at the periphery, but front and center. When denied the whole loaf, she takes a piece and keeps coming back for more.
Where Sanders threatens to bust up Wall Street and big banks, Clinton proposes changes that are less sexy but more realistic: Shifting capital gains incentives to favor long-term investments, tough prosecution of wrongdoers and imposing greater accountability all could provide needed change while avoiding wholesale disruption that could threaten an economy that shows signs of fragility. Among the more intriguing proposals: a tax credit for companies that offer profit-sharing on top of wage increases.
President Obama has said his biggest regret was his inability to breach the divide between Democrats and Republicans. The next president must demonstrate some capacity for working with opponents, for seeking reasonable compromise, while remaining committed to a firm set of values. Clinton has done so throughout her career.