I don’t really like American football, but I do really like American politics; and I love analogies.
In today’s state of partisan polarization, we can think of the Republican and Democratic Parties as two different football teams with different goals (or end zones, if you will). It would be nice if the two teams didn’t hate each other so much and just worked toward the common interests of the American people (the fans in this metaphor), but the two-party system has catalyzed such an unprecedented level of antipathy between parties that cooperation and compromise seem like fantasies. The country will either move in a more conservative direction or a more liberal one. Whether it moves right or left, and by how much, is akin to the football’s position on the field in this game that is federal politics.
At the moment, the Democrats have possession (with Obama as their quarterback), but all the other players on the field are the members of Congress, and the quarterback can’t do much when the defense is so much bigger than the offense.
So quarterback Obama has been running the ball himself lately. He’s been trying executive action after executive action to move the ball forward; while he’s made progress on some runs, he’s been stopped on others.
The Democratic Party is ready to sub him out (technically they have to because of Constitutional laws that don’t translate to football rules, but you get the idea: It’s election season). The Democrats have a choice: Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton. The establishment (the coach) wants to put in Hillary. She’s experienced and has been with the team for a while, waiting her turn to go in as quarterback — not to mention how momentous it would be to put in the first female quarterback in a game dominated by men since it began.
But there’s a growing portion of fans who want someone else. They want Bernie, even though he’s not the most athletic, he only joined the team to become quarterback and his game plan is highly unlikely to succeed. Despite the years of hard work Hillary’s been doing on the sidelines to get the job, the fans are starting to want someone else, again.
People love Bernie’s passion, a passion many fans just don’t see in Hillary. Hillary knows the other team is difficult to work with, and she pledges to do her best to take the ball incrementally forward. She talks about first downs, but Bernie wants touchdowns. How can anyone not be excited about that?
I must admit that I think Hillary would be best for the job, but I don’t dislike Bernie — his game plan is just too risky. He’s counting on the fans to recruit an entirely new team for him. His proposals are largely unattainable with the current Congress and with the next one. He needs a political revolution to elect like-minded politicians to the House and the Senate over the next few years in order to be able to start going for those big goals, those long passes down the field toward the end zone.
I don’t believe Bernie Sanders isn’t electable in the general election, but I do doubt that the revolution is coming — certainly not at the necessary scale or duration.
The political realities of today’s America have left us with a House that will stay majority Republican for years into the future because of the ways districts have been drawn. The realities of today’s America mean that no matter how many liberals support Sanders, a sizable portion of the population will never support a self-proclaimed socialist (Republicans and moderates do consist of more than just the top 1 percent).
The Democrats really need to make sure that the Republicans don’t get the ball. If they do, they will probably win the game. The country will move sharply in a conservative direction if a Republican is elected. They will have the quarterback, the better team (a majority in both houses of Congress), and likely the refs (the Supreme Court) all on their side.
Fortunately for the Democrats, the Republicans are pretty hopeless when it comes to finding a quarterback.
So the Democrats have two options this season: They can elect Hillary Clinton to keep the ball and to try to build off of the yards that Obama has gained, or they can elect Bernie Sanders and put in the grassroots efforts needed to stage a sustained political revolution. Those who support Hillary should not make any pretenses that she will be scoring touchdown after touchdown, but those who support Bernie should be aware that if the revolution doesn’t come, the ball will probably be turned over to the other team.
Contact Ruairí Arrieta-Kenna at ruairi ‘at’ stanford.edu