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Thursday, February 4, 2016


Let me begin by asserting two propositions that are, in my judgment, incontrovertible.

1.  If Clinton is elected president, under the best of circumstances the Democrats will take back control of the Senate but still fall far short of regaining the House.  Therefore, Clinton will be utterly unable to shepherd incrementally progressive legislation to enactment.

2.  If Sanders is elected president, under the best of circumstances the Democrats will take back control of the Senate  but still fall far short of regaining the House.  Therefore, Sanders will be utterly unable to shepherd radically progressive legislation to enactment.

What then would be the differences between a Clinton and a Sanders presidency?  I suggest there would be two major differences, and possibly a third more important still.

A.  Clinton would use the considerable executive authority of the presidency to deal lightly and favorably with Wall Street, in a manner that they would find comfortable.  Sanders would use the considerable executive authority of the presidency to deal harshly with Wall Street, in a manner that would seriously interfere with their ability to milk the economy while risking another meltdown.

B.  Clinton would embrace the Imperial project that has defined American foreign policy under all presidents since Truman.  Sanders would adopt as non-imperialist a foreign policy as he could get away with without being impeached.

C.  Clinton would do absolutely nothing to stimulate, encourage, or lead a movement designed to make radical changes in the orientation and distribution of power in the American political system.  Sanders might undertake, as president, to lead such a movement.

These three differences lead me to conclude that Sanders would be a significantly better president than Clinton.

Now let me offer an opinion about which, I am well aware, there is considerable disagreement on the far left, where I hang my hat.

It matters greatly whether the Democrats or Republicans win the election for president.  I do not want to argue for that opinion here.  I have defended it elsewhere on this blog.

Thus, I [but perhaps not you] must ask:  Which candidate, Clinton or Sanders, has the better chance to win?  This strikes me as a much harder question to answer than the generality  of political commentators suppose.  In my judgment, Clinton would do better than Sanders against Rubio, and both of them would be able to defeat Cruz.  But I also think Sanders would do better against Trump than Clinton.  What leads me to these conclusions?

Against Rubio:  Rubio would run a smooth, conventional center-right campaign, trimming back to the middle on immigration and expressing hawkish sentiments acceptable to the electorate.  Clinton would run a center-left campaign, emphasizing experience and making as much as possible of the fact that she is a woman.  Rubio would not do well with Hispanic-Americans, who are well aware of the unique and not much beloved position of Cuban-Americans in that community.   Sanders and Warren would campaign vigorously for Clinton, and she would very probably win a strong but not overwhelming victory.  Sanders, on the other hand, would be tarred and feathered as a commie [the hammer and sickle are already on exhibit], and would not have the unquestioning loyalty of the African-American voters.

Against Cruz:  Cruz would run a hard-right campaign, and as Americans got to know him, they would come to loathe him as much as his Senate colleagues do.  He would lose badly.

Against Trump [who still is, in my judgment, the probably nominee]:  Clinton, I fear, would do badly against Trump.  She is an awkward campaigner who does not inspire affection, and she would be vulnerable to Trump's non-stop outrageous personal attacks.  I think he might destroy her.  Sander s would be completely invulnerable to Trump's style of attack.  Aside from his age, there is really nothing personal about him that could be a target for Trump.  Sanders would leach away some of the working-class White support that has buoyed the Republicans for decades now, potentially winning a big victory.

What to do?  Wait and see who gets the nomination, I guess.


Chris said...

"Sanders would adopt as non-imperialist a foreign policy as he could get away with without being impeached."

I think he would certainly be less hawkish than Clinton, and he has never struck me as a hawk, but he has come out in favor of Obama's overall drone policy, which seems to me a large portion of what engenders feelings of deep terror and anxiety in middle eastern countries, and subsequently exacerbates retaliation terrorism.

s. wallerstein said...

Chris, I agree with you that the drone policy is counter-productive and that it most probably exacerbates or helps to exacerbate terrorism, but if Sanders wants to get elected, he can't come on as openly anti-imperialist. That's why he poses with an American flag, etc. Chomsky, who is openly anti-imperialist and will never pose with an American flag, is not going to get elected.

Profesor Wolff, You leave out one very important variable in the electoral process. Clinton can count on much more money than Sanders to finance her campaign (since she has friends on Wall St.) and money helps to win campaigns, to get otherwise apolitical potential voters to vote. It may be that Clinton could count on more Wall St. money than Trump.

Seth said...

How does Trump's showing in the Iowa caucuses affect your thinking about the Republican race? Does the Trumpertantrum help or hinder The Donald's march to the nomination?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I want Trump to win, since I think he would destroy the Republican Party, but I am very fearful that his support is fragile. We shall see after New Hampshire and South Carolina. I fear Rubio, who could beat Clinton and -- I suspect -- swamp Sanders. Maybe it is a good thing that I am old.

Tom Cathcart said...

Bob, I have one modifier to your Difference A (their respective treatment of Wall Street.). One contribution that Bernie has already made is that Hillary, if elected, can't just cozy up to Wall Street with impunity. The world will be watching. By the way, when you and I were both at the U. of Chicago and going to CORE meetings, is when Bernie was one of 13 arrested and jailed for sitting in at the. UC real estate office. One of the other 12 was my then wife, Fontaine. Tom the Unknown

Chris said...

I forgot to mention that he's also always been as pro-Israel as every other democrat and republican, which often leads to aggressive or at least implicitly odious foreign policy decisions.

s. wallerstein said...

Professor Wolff,

If the Republican Party is destroyed (by Trump), what kind of party or parties will fill that space?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I have brooded on that a great deal and I am not sure. I will try to write about that in a while.

Unknown said...

Professor Wolff--
would you mind pointing me in the direction of your other posts on why it makes an important difference to elect a Democrat rather than a Republican? I would welcome your analysis, considering that I myself am worried about this question: I like Jill Stein of the Green Party better than even Sanders, and am back and forth about how to proceed.

s. wallerstein said...

I'm not Professor Wolff and he undoubtedly has thought things out more carefully than I have, but for the first time a candidate, Bernie Sanders, who has a chance of winning the Democratic nomination and even of getting elected president, promises free single-payer healthcare for all, free tuition at all public universities and a decent minimum wage. If Sanders is nominated, that means his ideas will be repeated and re-repeated in the mainstream media for several months, reaching an audience that they have never reached before and becoming mainstream common sense, even if they awaken bitter opposition from the right and even if Sanders is not elected. The Sanders campaign could be the spark that lights a more genuinely socialist movement and even if it doesn't, having healthcare and not having to pay university tuition bills means a lot to a lot of people as well as being basic minimum social justice.

John said...

I remember reading this post in the winter. As the map was turning red last night in poor rural white areas, it burned in the back of my mind, and is, I think, the most prescient analysis of the election.