By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
I can’t break out my Magic Markers™ for the Sanders v. Clinton debate last Thursday because there’s not enough time in the world. So I want to look at three seemingly distinct topics: corruption, health care, and what the smart people who ride the Acela call “theories of change.” For each topic, I will compare and contrast Sanders and Clinton; and I’ll weave the three topics together at the end.
Before I begin, though, let me set the context for the (“truly great”) debate: Elite panic at Clinton’s performance. McClatchy:
Dick Harpootlian, a prominent criminal defense lawyer in Columbia, South Carolina, and former chair of that key Southern state’s Democratic Party, said the addition of more debates reflects panic among Clinton and Democratic figures who support her in the wake of Sanders’ unexpectedly strong challenge.
“Hillary was against having more debates, now she’s for debates,” Harpootlian told McClatchy. “This is what’s wrong with our party. The minute she’s in trouble, they decide they need more debates. If she had done much better in Iowa, there wouldn’t be more debates.”
Others agree. The Los Angeles Times uses more measured language than (Sanders supporter (!)) Harpootlian, which is not hard, but the conclusion is the same:
The fact the session took place at all was a reflection of the changed nature of the contest. Originally, Clinton agreed to just six debates sanctioned by the Democratic National Committee, which has weathered criticism it tried to shelter the party’s front-runner and stave off a serious challenge.
Her willingness to join Sanders onstage — and agree to later debates in Michigan and California — was just one sign the race has grown much tougher than Clinton and her supporters had hoped.
Now, I’m assuming Wasserman-Schulz is still di– messing around with the schedule, and so a viewership ranked 17 of 19 debates, equivalent to a Republican undercard debate, wasn’t a bug, but a feature. If that’s true, I’d argue that the Clinton campaign hoped both to keep Clinton wrapped in tissue paper and land a knockout blow in the form of an admission or a gaffe suitable for YouTube; Clinton’s diatribe on “If you’ve got something to say, say it directly” looks a lot like a setup for such a punch. If so, Sanders didn’t fall for it and wasn’t rattled, and he wins by not losing. (In fact, the Sanders campaign landed a solid counterpunch of its own, as we shall see under “Corruption,” below, and enabled Sanders himself to stay on the high road. That’s how it’s done.)
Our famously free press doesn’t like to use the word “corruption” — that’s Third World stuff — but let’s go ahead and call things by their right names. From the debate transcript at the Washington Post:
SANDERS: What being part of the establishment is, is, in the last quarter, having a super PAC that raised $15 million from Wall Street, that throughout one’s life raised a whole lot of money from the drug companies and other special interests.
To my mind, if we do not get a handle on money in politics and the degree to which big money controls the political process in this country, nobody is going to bring about the changes that is needed in this country for the middle class and working families.
CLINTON: Yeah, but I — I think it’s fair to really ask what’s behind that comment. You know, Senator Sanders has said he wants to run a positive campaign. I’ve tried to keep my disagreements over issues, as it should be.
But time and time again, by innuendo, by insinuation, there is this attack that he is putting forth, which really comes down to — you know, anybody who ever took donations or speaking fees from any interest group has to be bought.
And I just absolutely reject that, Senator. And I really don’t think these kinds of attacks by insinuation are worthy of you. And enough is enough. If you’ve got something to say, say it directly.
CLINTON: So I think it’s time to end the very artful smear that you and your campaign have been carrying out…
Shorter Clinton: “You say I’m corrupt. Prove it!” In longer form, Clinton makes the strong claim that “you will not find that I changed a view or a vote because of any donation that I received.” This claim can be disproved with a single example. Here ya go.
Let’s look at what Elizabeth Warren has to say on Clinton and the bankruptcy bill; note the appeal to those burdened with student loans. (Many of you may have seen this, but it’s well worth a second look. The video was “blasted out” to the press “almost instantaneously” by the Sanders campaign, to whom we should give credit both for being both better at oppo and more agile than we might think.) Here it is:
From the 2004 transcript at Bill Moyers:
ELIZABETH WARREN: One of the first bills that came up after she was Senator Clinton was the bankruptcy bill. This is a bill that’s like a vampire. It will not die. Right? There’s a lot of money behind it, and it…
BILL MOYERS: Bill, her husband, who vetoed…
ELIZABETH WARREN: Her husband had vetoed it very much at her urging.
BILL MOYERS: And?
ELIZABETH WARREN: She voted in favor of it.
BILL MOYERS: Why?
ELIZABETH WARREN: As Senator Clinton, the pressures are very different. It’s a well-financed industry. You know a lot of people don’t realize that the industry that gave the most money to Washington over the past few years was not the oil industry, was not pharmaceuticals. It was consumer credit products. Those are the people. The credit card companies have been giving money, and they have influence.
BILL MOYERS: And Mrs. Clinton was one of them as Senator.
ELIZABETH WARREN: She has taken money from the groups, and more to the point, she worries about them as a constituency.
Well, so much for “artful smear.” (I saw that one go by on the Twitter, and thought “Uh oh,” but then it suddently died, as if some decision had been made no longer to propagate it. Perhaps this video was why.)
Note how narrow Clinton’s definition of corruption is: Money in exchange for a vote. That is the criminal definition of corruption — the quid pro quo — as we’ve seen from Zephyr Teachout, but corrupton as the Framers understood it, as an infection in the body politic, has a far broader definition: “The self-serving use of public power for private ends.” Clearly, using one’s official position as a former Secretary of State and a likely future President to collect $675,000 from Goldman is exactly that. And I’m amazed how many Clinton supporters, at least on the Twitter, simply refuse to see this. Do they believe, as Yves asks, that Goldman is investing in Clinton with no thought of return? If so, I’ve got a campaign headquarters I’d like to sell. Transpose the example from high politics to local politics. Assume Clinton’s running for re-election as dog-catcher. She gives a speech at Premier EZ Catch, Inc. for $675, and then later awards Premier EZ Catch the contract for dog catching nets. Am I entitled to call that corrupt? Of course; Clinton would never have been offered the $675 had she not been, as a public official, in a position to award the contract. Would I vote to re-elect Clinton as dogcatcher? Of course not.
And now to compare Clinton to Sanders: Things are a lot simpler with Sanders; his net worth is $419,000. Let me break out my calculator… And so his lifetime accumulation of wealth is $256,000 less than the $675,000 Clinton made for three speeches at Goldman. And then there’s the campaign fundraising model: 70 percent small donors. “[T]he $20 million it reports to have raised in January came almost exclusively from online donations averaging $27 a piece.” So, with Sanders, even if we use Clinton’s definition of corruption, the question of quid pro quo doesn’t arise. There’s not enough quid.
To health care. Rather than shredding Clinton’s false claims about Sanders on health care policy, I want to compare and contrast their health care policy successes. First, Clinton. The transcript:
CLINTON: Before it was called Hillarycare — I mean, before it was called ObamaCare it was called Hillarycare because we took them on, and we weren’t successful, but we kept fighting and we got . Every step along the way I have stood up, and fought, and have the scars to prove it.
With “kept fighting,” Clinton is being a little disingenuous. The Clinton administration began their effort in 1993, and the “Health Security Act” was deep-sixed by the leadership in 1994. The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) was only proposed in 1997; it’s not part of the Health Security Act’s legislative history at all. That said, it’s a good program, and Hillary Clinton can take some of the credit for passing it. From Factcheck.org:
Hillary Clinton took a major role in translating the new law into action. The program leaves to the states the job of setting up coverage and getting children enrolled, a task that continues to be a struggle to this day. … In April that year the first lady gave a speech saying nearly 1 million children had been enrolled during the previous year, but that increasing the figure was “one of the highest priorities” of her husband’s administration. She said the president would seek $1 billion to fund a five-year “outreach” effort, with a goal of increasing enrollment to 5 million by 2000. Our conclusion: Clinton is right [to take credit].
In 2014, over 8 million children were enrolled in CHIP.
Second, Sanders. The transcript:
SANDERS: And let me just say this. As Secretary Clinton may know, I am on the Health Education Labor Committee. That committee wrote the Affordable Care Act. The idea I would dismantle health care in America while we’re waiting to pass a Medicare for All is just not accurate. …
So I do believe that in the future, not by dismantling what we have here — I helped write that bill — but by moving forward, rallying the American people, I do believe we should have health care for all.
Sanders, with “I helped write that bill,” is claiming at once too much and too little. Too much, because — thank heavens — Sanders didn’t architect or draft the ACA; that was a job for Max Baucus and the insurance companies. Too little, because what Sanders did do was get Community Health Centers into the bill:
However, as negotiations were in their final stage, Sanders successfully pushed for the inclusion of $11 billion in funding for community health centers, especially in rural areas. The insertion of this funding helped bring together both Democratic lawmakers on the left and Democrats representing more conservative, rural areas.
“There was no one who played a more important role than Sen. Sanders” in securing that funding, Daniel Hawkins, vice president of the National Association of Community Health Centers, told the Intercept last year. (Sanders’ camp forwarded PolitiFact the Intercept article as evidence for his statement.)
Community Health Centers, too, are a good program:
The new law provides an additional $9.5 billion in operating costs and $1.5 billion for new construction. With this additional funding, community health centers will be able to double the number of patients they serve to up to 40 million annually by 2015.
That’s 20 million.
Now let’s step back and compare and contrast Clinton and Sanders:
1) Sanders, just like Clinton, is capable of being “pragmatic,” if that’s defined as settling for a partial good. Clinton got CHIP initiated; Sanders got CHC expanded.
2) If we take coverage numbers as a metric, Sanders is a more successful pragmatist than Clinton; 6 million covered by Clinton, vs. 20 million covered by Sanders.
3) Sanders is most certainly capable not only of legislative achievement but of coalition-building. In a time of divided government and partisanship even more ruthless than under the Clintons, Sanders could “bring together both Democratic lawmakers on the left and Democrats representing more conservative, rural areas.”
So one could certainly make the case — at least in health care — that Sanders is a more effective politician, and a more effective pragmatist, than Clinton. (Of course, Sanders didn’t have to cope with the reputational effects of the HillaryCare debacle. So there’s that.) Why would that be? I think there are two reasons (and I’ll get to the second in the next section). First, Sanders had set high goals in the beginning of the legislative process. He didn’t negotiate with himself, or start from the perspective that he had to ask for half a loaf because that’s all he was going to get. Politifact summarizes the legislative history:
Still, when Sanders says he “helped write” the bill, it would be reasonable to imagine that Sanders was an integral player in the crafting of the bill over a long period of time — an insider in the process. And that’s not the reality.
Before the final bill was enacted, Sanders and his allies on the party’s left flank regularly expressed frustration at the concessions they had to make during the legislative process.
“Public-option proponents, including Sanders and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, say they already have given up enough,” Politico reported in late November 2009. “They agreed to forgo a single-payer system. They decided not to push a government plan tied to Medicare rates. And they accepted (Harry) Reid’s proposal to include the opt-out provision. That’s it, they say.”
Politico went on to quote Sanders saying, “I have made it clear to the administration and Democratic leadership that my vote for the final bill is by no means guaranteed.”
If Sanders had started from Clinton’s perspective of fear of “contentious debate” and what is “achievable,” and made his first offer his final offer, would he and his allies have achieved even as much as the CHC? I doubt it.
Theory of Change
Elsewhere, I contrasted Clinton’s theory of change as “trench warfare” with Sanders’ theory of change as “breakthrough.” Here, I want to weave together theories of change with corruption, using health care as an example. Above, I presented one reason that Sanders is an effective and pragmatic politician: He set high goals. (Clinton characterizes having a high goal as an initial offer as “Making promises you can’t keep.”) Here’s the second reason: He had the right kind of outside pressure to help him. To see this, let’s look at the what happened to single payer advocacy in the HillaryCare debacle. From Vicente Navarro, who was inside the process:
Jesse Jackson, Dennis Rivera (then president of Local 1199, the foremost health care workers union), and I went to see Hillary Clinton. We complained about the commitment to managed care competition without due consideration of a single-payer proposal supported by large sectors of the left in the Democratic Party. We emphasized the need to include this proposal among those to be considered by the task force. Mrs. Clinton responded by asking Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition to appoint someone to the task force with that point of view. And this is how I became a member of the White House task force. I later found out that there was considerable opposition from senior health advisors, including Starr and Zelman, to my becoming part of the task force. According to a memo later made public and published in David Brock’s nasty book The Seduction of Hillary Clinton, Starr and Zelman disapproved of my appointment “because Navarro is a real left-winger and has extreme distaste for the approach we are pursuing”– which was fairly accurate about my feelings, but I must stress that my disdain for managed competition and the intellectuals who supported it did not interfere with my primary objective: to make sure that the views of the single-payer community would be heard in the task force. They were heard, but not heeded. I was ostracized, and I had the feeling I was in the White House as a token — although whether as a token left-winger, token radical, token Hispanic, or token single-payer advocate, I cannot say. But I definitely had the feeling I was a token something.
(If only Jesse Jackson had run, and not Michael Dukakis!) This is the inside game: “appoint someone to the task force” Then comes the outside pressure:
It was at a later date, when some trade unions and Public Citizen mobilized to get more than 200,000 signatures in support of a single-payer system, that President Clinton instructed the task force to do something about single-payer. From then on the battle centered on including a sentence in the proposed law that would allow states to choose single-payer as an alternative if they so wished.
Now let’s contrast the outside pressure — considering national union leadership as outsiders, for the sake the argument — for single payer when ObamaCare was being passed. There were petition drives, and also (some) unions, like National Nurses United, though shamefully not the SEIU. But there were also these forms of elite reaction to outside pressure (somewhat reformatted):
(1) The Democratic nomenklatura, which censored single payer stories and banned single payer advocates from its sites, and refused even to cover single payer advances in Congress, while simultaneously running a “bait and switch” operation with the so-called “public option,” thereby sucking all the oxygen away from single payer;
(2) Democratic office holders like Max Baucus, the putative author of ObamaCare — Liz Fowler, a Wellpoint VP, was the actual author — who refused to include single payer advocates in hearings and had protesters arrested and charged;
(3) and Obama himself, who set the tone for the entire Democratic food chain by openly mocking single payer advocates (“got the little single payer advocates up here”), and
(4) whose White House operation blocked email from single payer advocates, and
(5) went so far as to suppress a single payer advocate’s question from the White House live blog of a “Forum on Health Care.” (Granted, the forums were all kayfabe, but even so.) As Jane Hamsher wrote, summing of the debacle: “The problems in the current health care debate became apparent early on, when single payer advocates were excluded [note, again, lack of agency] from participation.”
(It looks like the lesson the Democratic establishment took from the HillaryCare debacle was not to appoint single payer advocates at all, instead of putting them on committees and then shunning them.) All these examples exhibit outside pressure exerted by single payer advocates on elites in the Obama administration and its allies in the political class. Now review Navarro’s narrative. Do you see any similar examples there? (It’s possible that such examples did happen — readers? — but it seems unlikely to me that Navarro would not have mentioned them). It could be that I’m too close to the single payer battle to be objective, but this is a distinction. I don’t recall people getting arrested on behalf of single payer in Senate hearing rooms when HillaryCare was going down, for example. So that, to me, is the second reason for Sanders success with CHC.
And where, pray tell, would such outside pressure on the political class come from, in a Sanders administration? Well, that would be the political revolution that Sanders constantly speaks of:
SANDERS I’m running for president because I believe it is just too late for establishment politics and establishment economics. I do believe we need a political revolution where millions of people stand up and say loudly and clearly that our government belongs to all of us and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors.
And is there an example in recent history of a movement that could perform this task? Why yes. Yes there is. It was called Obama for America, and it was highly effective in 2008. Here’s what happened to it:
As Jessica Shearer, a top Obama field organizer in 2008, who managed nine key states for the campaign, said a year ago at our PDF symposium on networked organizing after the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, the Obama team had basically “kneecapped” their grassroots after the 2008 victory. “If Dean had been put in charge of the Democratic Party after that election, that list might have really built the democracy. It might have built a party. It might have allowed people a place to engage. Instead, it was this weak echo chamber, where they couldn’t be one step to the left or one step to the right of anything the president said.”
Marshall Ganz, who initiated and organized Obama for America, agrees with Shearer:
President Obama, Ganz says ruefully, seems to be “afraid of people getting out of control.” He needed the organizing base in 2008, but he and his inner circle were quick to dismantle it after the election. Yes, Ganz concedes, they kept Organizing for America, with its access to the vast volunteer databases, alive; but they made a conscious decision to neuter it, so as to placate legislators who were worried about the independent power base it could give Obama. Following a meeting of key members of the transition team, they placed it under the control of the Democratic National Committee.
So a Sanders theory of change doesn’t have to be that hard: Don’t replicate the Democrat’s strategic failure — I’m being very charitable here — of gutting a movement once built. We know how to do the right thing; so do it. Change is hard; but the theory of change is not hard.
And this brings me right back round to corruption. The Democrat Party and, more importantly, its voters and constitutents, are not faced with a choice between Clinton’s incremental, insider-driven trench warfare strategy, and Sanders’ breakthrough, outsider, movement strategy. The first cannot work; the second can. Why?
The insider strategy founders on corruption. You saw that in Warren’s video on Clinton and the bankruptcy bill. When Clinton’s private interests changed after her transition from First Lady to Senator, she flipped on policy to favor her new Wall Street contributors constituents; “the self-serving use of public power for private ends.” And exactly the same thing will happen with any insider strategy today; corruption will defeat it.
A movement strategy is the only way forward. And we already know how to do it!
 Under oligarchy, we might ask ourselves if corruption is the normal — indeed, normative — interface between state and civil society, at least for elites.
 I know that’s way above average for the United States; it seems like a lot to me. But it’s way below average for Presidential candidates and Senators. Sanders is the 86th poorest Senator in a Senate where the median net worth is about $2.8 million. Clinton’s net worth is estimated at 50 times greater than Sanders.
 So put that in your “electable” pipe and smoke it.