Winners and losers

Oct. 21, 2015, 11:59 p.m.

Tuesday, Jim Webb dropped out of the Democratic primary race. Wednesday, Joe Biden announced that he wouldn’t enter. Five candidates remain, but only two credibly stand a chance of winning the nomination.

Last week we had the first opportunity to see the Democratic presidential candidates debate each other on national television. Shortly after, ABC News, Bloomberg, CNN, The Guardian, The New Yorker, The New York Times, NPR, POLITICO, Slate, TIME, Vox, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and a multitude of other political commentators told us that Hillary Clinton was the clear winner. The pundits generally defended their choice by writing about Hillary’s poise and her command of the debate stage. But before long, they were lambasted by the Internet for misleading the public. Apparently, Bernie Sanders actually won the debate by a large margin, or at least that’s what the online surveys, focus groups, Twitter mentions and Google searches indicated. Not to be outdone, the “beltway press” seemed compelled to strike back: denouncing those internet statistics as unscientific and instead urging the public to trust other polls that show that Hillary Clinton indeed won. At this point, the casual voter’s head must have been spinning. Who really won the debate last Tuesday?

My first impression after the debate was that the two candidates each succeeded in different ways. Subjectively, Hillary Clinton had a commanding performance that ought to have dispelled many doubts about her potential nomination, while Bernie Sanders seized the opportunity to spread his revolutionary message to millions of new people. Objectively, Bernie Sanders had a big fundraising haul after the debate, while Hillary Clinton sparked a recovery in the New Hampshire polls. In the end, I believed that the Democratic Party as a whole was the true winner.

Perhaps I was too naïve.

The aftermath of the debate last week proved that the winner/loser framework that we insist upon serves only to divide the party. The “establishment media” versus “the Internet” falsely promotes the notion that only one candidate can be for the people, and the Democratic Party could end up being the real loser of the process.

Bernie Sanders doesn’t have to run as a third-party candidate in the general election to pull a Ralph Nader.

Bernie Sanders has repeatedly vowed not to engage in negative campaigning, but he doesn’t need to when his supporters will do it for him. Sanders is winning the college student and young adult demographics, and, with them, the Internet. If you’re reading this and you’re a part of either of those demographics, you’re likely to have seen a meme demonizing Hillary Clinton on social media (or to have shared one yourself). The issues for which Bernie Sanders advocates are important, but the anti-establishment frustration that he inspires could benefit the Republicans in the long run. Should Sanders not win the nomination, I don’t think his supporters would ever vote for the GOP nominee. However, voting is something you must actively go out and do. I don’t believe many of the young adults inspired to political engagement only by Sanders’ rallying cry would be very motivated to vote in a general election for someone less revolution-minded than their ideal leader. The notion that Bernie Sanders is the only good guy in a system in which everyone else is beholden to special interests does not lend itself well to coming together later down the road.

The same problem of negativity could be said for Hillary Clinton’s supporters. Some of them must also come to recognize that liking one candidate does not necessitate disliking the others. The labeling of Bernie Sanders as old, radical and would-be-ineffective seems to suggest that a moderate and composed Republican, like Jeb Bush, would be a better President. But for Democrats, that is simply untrue.

As Martin O’Malley pointed out in his closing statement last week, the differences between the Democratic candidates are trivial when you consider the chasm that exists between the Democratic Party and the GOP. Unfortunately, that’s not what some Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters would have you believe, and that should be a cause for concern. I don’t advocate that supporters become content with the opposition, but rather that they temper the ferocity with which they attack each other. Some differences will have to be overcome for voters to succeed in electing any progressive candidate next November. So if you’re a Bernie Sanders fan or a Hillary Clinton fan, show your support by emphasizing the policy differences that make your candidate better, instead of insisting that there are characteristics of the other that make him or her worse.


Contact Ruairi Arrieta-Kenna at ruairi ‘at’

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

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