The Future of the Democratic Party

Oct. 7, 2015, 11:00 a.m.

Last week at a Stanford in Government function, I overheard a student say that he supports Senator Bernie Sanders for the presidency and would never vote for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, even in the general election, calling her “the absolute worst politician.” I was taken aback.

It seems as if most Democrats are either Feeling the Bern or Ready for Hillary, the notion being that the two are mutually exclusive. The leading candidates have yet to directly attack each other, but the former is often viewed as a revolutionist, the latter a calculated establishment politician. But must the Democratic Party really choose between idealism and pragmatism? I don’t think so.

Having attended events by both campaigns this summer, I am not surprised that Bernie Sanders is resonating with liberals, particularly young progressives, as a plausible alternative to Hillary Clinton’s seeming inevitability. It is much more exciting to get behind a “political revolution,” as Sanders describes his candidacy, than it is to support the party establishment candidate who seems to be continuously riddled by controversy.

As Elizabeth Warren recently stated to CNN’s Jake Tapper, “Bernie gets out and he fights for what he believes in. He fights from the heart on these issues, and I think he’s done an enormous service by pushing them forward into the agenda.” So why then did Warren, the standard-bearer of the progressive left, decline to endorse Bernie Sanders?

I believe that Elizabeth Warren knows that, barring the unforeseeable, Hillary Clinton will win the Democratic nomination. The amount of political capital Clinton’s campaign has amassed–from the most endorsements by party elites to a thorough grassroots organizing network — is almost insurmountable. But Warren also knows that a Hillary Clinton nomination would not preclude a leftward shift for the Democratic Party.

Clinton, who has long portrayed herself as a centrist, has recently evolved on social issues to adopt more liberal opinions (read same-sex marriage, Keystone pipeline, etc.), and with the pressure of Sanders’ rising popularity, she will continue to be forced to do the same on economic issues in order to gain the support of the increasingly growing progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Supposing she wins the nomination, Clinton will need the backing of former Sanders supporters in order to beat the Republican nominee. But unlike what she may have previously believed, moving left on the political spectrum may actually serve to increase her base in the general election since the Republicans seem to also be moving further and further away from center.

But what would this mean for the future of the Democratic Party? If the establishment candidate embraces the progressive movement, it is likely the Democratic Party would follow suit, making progressive reforms all the more feasible. I believe the best thing that could happen for the progressive movement would be the appointment of Elizabeth Warren as Secretary of the Treasury in a Hillary Clinton administration. After all, the progressive movement concerns itself most with domestic economic issues, particularly income inequality and the regulation of Wall Street. But such an outcome may only be possible if Democrats make an effort not to divide between the establishment and the progressive movement, but rather to unite the two.

Contact Ruairí Arrieta-Kenna at ruairi ‘at’ 

Ruairí Alfredo Arrieta-Kenna (BA Political Science '18) was a columnist for the Stanford Daily.

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