Out of the Woods: Clinton’s progressive change from within a better bet than ‘revolution’
Updated 6:54 am, Monday, February 15, 2016
Sanders, the fiery, self-styled left-wing social reformer from Vermont who only a year ago added the word "Democrat" to his new party title as a "Democrat-Socialist," is hardly a committed Democrat who has spent his life working for the party's basic beliefs as enunciated by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Lyndon B. Johnson, John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton.
In his filing with the Federal Elections Committee last May, Sanders listed his party affiliation as “Democratic-Socialist,” the first time Sanders identified himself with the word "Democrat," even though he previously caucused with Democrats in the Senate. Even as he launched his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination after registering as a Democrat, Sanders contradicted himself by insisting at that time that he was not a Democrat.
"No, I am an independent who is going to be working with the Democrats," Sanders was quoted by the Vermont press in May of last year, cutting himself off mid-sentence. "I am what I am, and I will have to deal with the state-by-state regulations. But I am what I am."
In other words, he wants it both ways. Previously listing himself as an Independent in Vermont, Sanders has for the past year identified himself as an Independent and now as a Democratic-Socialist.
I find this disingenuous. At a time in the 2016 primaries where Sanders and Clinton are butting heads over who deserved the title of "progressive" as opposed to "moderate" in yet another battle over a labels, these names can become confusing to the lay voters who are trying to figure out what each candidate stands for.
In my view, even though Sanders' high-minded rhetoric has captured the imagination of young Democratic voters who see him as the new party visionary, and has stirred many of the older voters to renew memories of the pro-labor, anti-capitalistic Socialist Party of the 1920s and ’30s, he will not be middle America's choice. Perhaps seniors perceive Sanders' views as a continuation of their history-making, left-wing Depression-born cause to form a new kind of government more responsive to the working man.
Lest we forget, the Socialist Party of the good old "pro-labor, pro-union" days was heavily influenced and composed, undoubtedly, of members of the American Communist Party — extremists who wanted to do away with our capitalist society at almost any cost. In addition, while Sanders does surprisingly well among youthful voters who have little knowledge or memory of the past, there is a large mass of middle-aged voters who remember only too well when the word "socialism" was almost as repugnant as "communism."
Indeed, in the pre- and post-Depression era, millions of unemployed clung to the Soviet Union's idealistic political philosophy that the "state" could run the government better under communism than under capitalism. Frankly, this gives me cause for concern.
Clinton is appealing to those voters who believe that our political systems needs reforming, but that progress should be incremental, not in one dramatic "revolution,"as Sanders implies. "Break up the big banks" is a big rallying call. The big question Sanders has yet to answer, however, is: How? How is Sanders going to persuade veteran members of the House of Representatives and the Senate to completely reverse gears and eliminate the centralization of power and abuse of money in Washington that he constantly rails against? His platform attracts big crowds, but in my opinion his words are impractical and amount to nothing more than a feel-good pipedream.
While this political observer admires Sanders for his energy and for looking at the future through rose-colored sunglasses, and thereby gaining the backing of millions of young idealistic students (I was once one myself), I do not believe that the nation can be turned around 180 degrees since its founding in 1776. We have a solid grounding in our Constitution. All we must do is make it work. The Democratic Party, which Hillary Clinton now leads, has a record of generations of progressive reforms. She simply wants to carry that hard-won history forward.
I personally have based my own career working on so-called "establishment" institutions — The Washington Post, the New York World Telegram & Sun, IBM, the Westport News and worked from within to change and improve the communities and institutions in which those newspapers had the biggest impact. I passed up an opportunity to join the once-liberal New York Post in the 1950s because I would have been just another liberal on the staff. On the World-Telegram, a Republican-owned Scripps-Howard Newspaper, however, I crusaded for racial integration, exposed slum housing where blacks and Puerto Ricans were trapped, interviewed Malcolm X to clarify exactly what his views were, tried to influence Republican conservatives in towns on Connecticut's Gold Coast, such as Westport, and built close working relationships with civil-rights leaders and reported their views to suburban readers.
In this nation of such varied political views, I believe that Hillary Clinton's approach of gradual but progressive change will win over the voters more than Bernie Sanders’ "revolutionary" (Sanders' own phrase) changes from outside. She will also overcome any rational platform for reform any Republican candidate puts forward. Up to now, I have seen none whatsoever, except for the tiresome repeal of Obamacare.
Woody Klein is a Westport writer. His "Out of the Woods" column appears in the Westport News every other Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.