In the Democratic Primary, which ended a mere 4 months ago despite seeming like it took place in another age all together, Hillary Rodham Clinton billed herself as a political realist, someone who could get things done in the too often gridlocked Washington D.C. This was in opposition to Bernie Sanders, who was labeled, by himself and Clintonites, as a pie-in-the-sky dreamer who refused to face facts. The driving narrative of the election eventually became that Clinton would be the only candidate who could enact reforms, no matter how slight and that Bernie would be an ineffectual dreamer, incapable of getting anything done.
This is Bullshit.
“Political realism,” the idea that one should temper what is actually possible to get done, is a fine political tactic when looking internally. Being aware of what you can and cannot get, and what you are willing to give up in return for something else is an important skill for any politician. But as a way to run a campaign and as a way to enact long-term change that will enrich the lives of American citizens, it’s absolutely garbage.
The United States will not be fixed by incremental changes to the Earned Income Tax, or non-gendered bathrooms. The only way the U.S. gets and stays better is through enactment of sweeping reforms that fundamentally change the relationship between capital and labor in America. These changes, which would most likely take multiple Congresses, and Presidencies, will not start under a political realist. The US doesn’t need someone to tell it to lower their expectations. The US needs a President willing to say that the brightest future is possible and that they are willing to work toward it, even if they know that that future won’t be reached under their rule. Long-term goals are meant to seem unreachable at first. It is only in the act of working towards them that they become seen as possible.
There is also a more “practical” reason why the Clinton strategy of downplaying what is truly possible will in the end be ineffectual. They’ve started out their bargaining with no room to move down. It’s true that a president has to bargain with Congress and the houses have to compromise with each other and with themselves. But one of the key tenets of bargaining is that you always start from a point you’re willing to negotiate down from. Don’t ever go in to bargain with lowered expectations. Clinton has attempted to lower the expectations of millions of voters when all she is doing is giving herself a worse place at the bargaining table. Also, running on a platform of “realistic expectations” has never excited anyone but gateway Acela-humping pundits. If the Democrats want to survive, they need to excite the young base, a base which voted heavily in favor of Bernie’s “unreachable goals” in the primaries. What happens when Clinton runs against someone she can’t paint as a nuclear war waiting to happen? Or in the midterms?
Politicians should be cognizant of the fact that not everything will get done the way they want it too, but they must understand that goals can’t be reached if they are dismissed immediately.