Bernie, Hillary, the binding constraints of cramped reality, and the Overton Window

January 27th, 2016 at 6:30 pm

I may be a bit out of my depth here but let me offer a few thoughts on a debate among progressives that leaves me scratching away at the old noggin.’ Here are the bones of the thing, as I kinda understand them:

Argument 1: “Bernie supporters, you’re going to blow this for us!”

–Hillary’s ideas are less radical than Bernie’s, ergo they’re more politically realistic.

–If you don’t get this, you too are not realistic and, by getting behind an un-electable candidate, you’re going to lose everything for the left.

Counterargument 1: “Hillary supporters, wake up and smell the revolution!”

–Your limited vision is why progressives can’t get anywhere. Stop trying to slam shut the Overton window (the range of acceptable discourse) that Bernie is trying to open.

–You’re a shill for Wall St.

Counterargument 2: “Bernie supporters, I don’t smell anything, and neither would you if had a nose for politics!”

–There will be no revolution. Not even close. Come out from under your rock and look around.

–Therefore, we must assiduously protect and maybe, if we’re really lucky, build on what we have, and not get distracted by fantasies of single payer, free college, and so on.

I’m somewhat sympathetic to all the above. In fact, I’ve both advocated for putting aside political constraints and, particularly around health care, putting such constraints front and center. If that’s muddled, so be it. Like Walt Whitman kinda said, I think, “So I contradict myself. I’m large. Like the ocean.”

But what I don’t understand is the urgency to shut down one side or the other. You’d need an electron microscope to find the differences between Hillary and Bernie compared to the differences between them and the R’s. From where I sit that’s what’s most important. As this blog ceaselessly argues, what’s needed is a Reconnection Agenda, and they both get that.

The rest is politics. It’s democracy. It’s messy. If you think you know how this is going to turn out, and who’s electable and who isn’t, you don’t. If Bernie’s overtures to the Overton window make you nervous, feel free to say so, but I’d stop way short of making the case that he’s leading his followers and thus the nation down the road to perdition. That’s way too presumptuous.

If Hillary’s incrementalism is too cautious for you, so be it. I will not lecture you on realism in American politics today and I’d urge other aging pundits to follow my example. But, ftr, cautious politics not equal to Wall St. shill.

Reality is way too cramped as it is. If there’s value added in making it more so, especially at this stage of the game, I don’t see it. If you think you do, look again.

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5 comments in reply to "Bernie, Hillary, the binding constraints of cramped reality, and the Overton Window"

  1. Mark Garrity says:

    So Jared what do you think of Gary Gensler as one of Hillary’s top economic advisers? Is it true this guy as Undersecretary of Treasury in 2000 helped Phil Gramm ram thru the legislation that prevent any regulation of credit default swaps?

  2. Amateur says:

    I think the most important thing you said was to inform pundits and reporters to stop lecturing people on politics. This is precisely why people don’t vote. You can’t get young people to vote if you act like a pompous expert on politics. There might be experts on political science, but there is no expert on politics.

    What is the message these people create? I think it is this: You people are not informed enough about POLITICS to know how to vote. How disrespectful! This is a problematic attitude. Regardless of actual policy goals, this attitude is toxic to the system.

  3. Amateur says:

    If I have hurt someone’s feelings, I will certainly apologize for that, but I won’t ever apologize for pointing out when the so-called experts are just out of touch with the people. This is the major problem we have today from the perspective of voters. We have 2 worlds that have contact only through AI-generated political speeches. We need a political revolution to change that. Will it work? We have no idea. Nobody does.

  4. Chris G says:

    > You’d need an electron microscope to find the differences between Hillary and Bernie compared to the differences between them and the R’s. From where I sit that’s what’s most important.

    +1. That stated, I’m with Corey Robin:

    “Politics Without Bannisters

    There’s a lot of fretting — both well meaning and cynical — out there about whether Sanders can win.
    Here’s the deal, people. For the last decade and a half, we’ve been treated to lecture after lecture from on high about how if you want things to change, you have to build from below. Well, that process has been going on for some time.
    Unlike purists of the Left and purists of the center (who are the most insufferable purists of all, precisely because they think they’re not), I look at the various fits and starts of the last fifteen years — from Seattle to the Nader campaign to the Iraq War protests to the Dean campaign to the Obama campaign to Occupy to the various student debt campaigns to Black Lives Matter — as part of a continuum, where men and women, young and old, slowly relearn the art of politics.
    Whose first rule is: if you want x, shoot for 1,000x, and whose second rule is: it’s not whether you fail (you probably will), but how you fail, whether you and your comrades are still there afterward to pick up the pieces and learn from your mistakes… [At] some point, you have to put that knowledge to the test. Now the Sanders campaign is putting it to the test. Is it too soon? Maybe, probably, I have no idea. None of us do. But you can’t possibly think we got anything decent in this country without men and women before us taking these — and far greater — risks, taking these — and far greater — gambles.
    Sometimes I think Americans fear failure in politics not for the obvious and well-grounded reasons but because they are, well, Americans, that is, men and women who live in a capitalist civilization where success is a religious duty and failure a sin, where Thou Shalt Succeed is the First Commandment and Thou Shalt Not Fail the Tenth.
    Is it not the right time for the Sanders campaign? The Republicans control the Congress, Sanders might lose to Trump or whomever, we don’t have the organizational forces in place yet? Well, re the first two concerns, when will that not be the case?
    As for the third, well, that’s a very real concern to me. But we won’t know in the abstract or on paper; we have to see it in action to know.”

    Link =

  5. Carol Spade says:

    Mr. Bernstein, I couldn’t disagree with you more that the differences between Clinton and Sanders are microscopic, even as compared to the Republican contenders. HRC is a shill for the Military industrial complex. Her diplomatic talents in foreign policy are abysmal, as is her logic in these matters, in my opinion; much the same as the other side. With a Clinton presidency, the perpetual WW III (as similarly described by the new Catholic Pope) will continue. She will not stand up to the powers on Wall Street who support her campaign and pay her to speak. Her voting record as Senator is another indication of her future as President. No doubt she will protect women’s rights, but Marian Wright Edleman certainly has an issue with her (and her husband) on welfare reform and how it affected the poor, which included blacks and other minorities. Her dishonesty is amazing; she’ll say whatever It takes to be elected.