Hillary’s case:  I’m the pragmatist and Bernie is the misguided dreamer.  Wrong.  You don’t get reelected time and again, especially as a mayor (defeating both Democratic and Republican candidates), if you are a dreamer without pragmatic political savvy.*  But let’s look at how Hillary’s case plays out against Sanders in terms of a very significant issue, health care.  Her argument: it’s too risky to work toward a single-payer health care system.  It’s not doable and the Affordable Care Act will be undermined if we try.
Sanders understands how difficult it would be to get single-payer/universal health care approved in the current Congress, which serves entrenched financial interests.  He’s been in Congress for years and he’s no fool.  He is also clear that health care reform won’t happen without campaign finance reform, as he has said many times.  But Sanders also knows that a good defense requires an offense.  For example, do we really want to spend the next several years with the terms of the debate about health care being set by the Republican Right and current Democratic establishment, that is, let’s get rid of Obamacare or support it?  Given this framework, compromise would involve cutting back on the ACA.  After all, this would be the middle ground.  We don’t want this.  It’s a set up.  No, we want the GOP to know that there is strong support for a more comprehensive plan, for single-payer/universal health care.  (Polls have shown consistent support for a universal form of Medicare, a majority of Americans and around 80% of Democrats.)
Hillary’s political “pragmatism” here—it’s too dangerous to support alternatives to the ACA—would actually corrode the very thing that she wants to support.  The ACA is in danger of being nickel and dimed to death if there is no alternative vision to counterbalance the GOP’s criticisms.  Progressives need to counter the Republicans with a serious alternative vision about health care, as part of a larger package, including getting big money out of politics and addressing inequality.
This debate should not be framed in terms of how much political capital progressives should expend on health care versus other issues, as Paul Krugman recently tried to suggest.  We are not dealing with a finite amount of capital to invest.  You build enthusiasm by offering a vision of an alternative future, not conceding the games up when we are in the first few innings.**  It’s a mistake to let so-called “pragmatism” become a stand-in for the status quo.
The irony here is that Hillary’s “pragmatism” is actually less politically pragmatic than Bernie’s approach.
*Sanders won reelection to his Senate seat in 2012 with 71% of the vote in Vermont.  According to Gallop, in 2014 47% of Vermont identified as Democratic and 31% as Republican.  Given these numbers, there is little doubt that “Bernie the dreamer” was pragmatic enough to draw support from across the political spectrum, for a second senate term.
**This post is based on and quotes from a comment that I made to a New York Times article, “In Democratic Debate, Hillary Clinton Challenges Bernie Sanders on Policy Shifts,” January 17, 1016

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