With Vermont Senator and Larry David impersonator Bernie Sanders widening his lead in New Hampshire and pulling ahead in Iowa, former Secretary of State and Democratic Presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton has gone on the attack. She used Sunday night’s nationally broadcast debate to hammer Sanders on his supposed coziness with the gun lobby and lack of foreign policy experience. Meanwhile, she’s had her surrogates hit the campaign trail to deliver shots at the democratic socialist.
However, in the past few days, and specifically since Sanders has released his health care plan that reveals a path to Medicare-for-all, Clinton has personally gone after Bernie for being a wide-eyed dreamer who will never get anything done. At the same time, she’s presented herself as a pragmatist who knows what can and can’t be passed in Washington. She’s telling voters that she won’t present ideas or policies that won’t have any chance of getting through the partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill.
While politically this might make sense, as she is trying to differentiate herself from a surging candidate who is threatening her predestined run at the White House, to many voters it is sure to come across as both cynical and peddling establishment politics, which is the death knell of this election cycle.
This past week in Iowa, she tried out her new attack line against Sanders, saying she’s “not interested in ideas that sound good on paper but will never make it in real life.” Pointing out that she likes his ideas “in theory,” she is instead someone who deals in “reality.” The message is clear as day — I will not push the envelope or fight for you because it is just too hard and not worth the effort in the end.
And, that may actually be the case. We saw that play out in real time these past seven years. At the same end, voters don’t want to hear a candidate say that she’s going to start in the middle and work her way back from there, which is exactly what Hillary’s doing right now. By promising to already capitulate and not even try, progressive voters already know that they’ll get more quarter-measures and non-attempts on issues that matter the most to them.
What’s even more galling about Hillary’s latest Bernie attacks is this is almost exactly the same thing she did to Barack Obama in 2008 when his ‘Hope and Change’ and ‘Yes We Can’ messages started gaining traction with Democratic primary voters. She made it appear at that time that he was a naive dreamer who was too liberal and wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything in Washington. Her message at that time, like now, was to trust her because she knows the game.
The thing is, hyping up your inside connections and ability to horse-trade is not going to strike a chord in this populist-dominated election cycle. Telling voters that you know how to do backroom deals, play ball with lobbyists and give away 90% so as to get 10% is exactly what people are sick of seeing. They want someone who is going to be a fighter, even if that person fails in the fight more often than not. It is the effort they want to see, not resignation before the fact.
Is Bernie a starry-eyed idealist throwing out utopian fantasies? Yeah, probably. But he believes in his vision and he’ll fight for it. And that’s something that is lacking with Hillary, and it is starting to become a problem (again) for her with progressive voters.
Image via CBS News/AP