Hillary Clinton Still Doesn’t Get It

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Carlos Barria/Reuters

By ABE ASHER

Hillary Clinton’s new memoir, entitled What Happened, isn’t slated to hit bookshelves until September 12 — but on Monday, Labor Day, several pages of the book were released early on a pro-Clinton Twitter account.

Included in those pages was an airing of Clinton’s grievances with her Democratic primary rival Bernie Sanders and his campaign. Some of those criticisms are breathtakingly dense.

There’s the idea that Sanders “pav[ed] the way” for Trump’s attacks on her in the general election — as if Trump would have rolled over in the fall if only Sanders had been more docile in the spring.

Then there’s Clinton hitting Sanders because he “isn’t a Democrat,” and complaining that he “didn’t get into the race to make sure a Democrat won the White House,” arguing, in essence, that Sanders serves people and not a party and missing, again, why that makes him so popular.

But one passage — about debating policy with Sanders — strikes at the heart of a fundamental difference between the two candidates.

In it, Clinton writes that an aide told her that Sanders’ strategy was reminiscent of a scene from the 1998 film “There’s Something About Mary,” in which a hitchhiker announces that he intends to top eight-minute abs with seven-minute abs, to which Ben Stiller’s character responds, “Why, why not six-minute abs?”

“That’s what it was like in policy debates with Bernie,” Clinton writes. “We would promise a bold infrastructure investment plan or an ambitious new apprenticeship program for young people, and then Bernie would announce basically the same thing, but bigger. On issue after issue, it was like he kept promising four-minute abs, or even no-minutes abs. Magic abs!”

Sure. But here’s the funny thing: Sanders won those policy debates. Nearly all of them.

Free public college tuition? Nearly two-thirds of Americans back it — and states across the country, of every political persuasion, are taking steps to make it a reality.

In April, New York passed a budget guaranteeing free college tuition for children of families making less than $125,000 per year. Oregon, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Delaware, and even Arkansas have all passed or are in the final stages of passing laws to cover tuition for all community college students.

A fifteen dollar federal minimum wage? Sanders — along with Chuck Schumer, Patty Murray, and 28 other Senate Democrats — introduced legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Keith Ellison and Bobby Scott introduced the accompanying bill in the House with 152 co-sponsors.

When Sanders introduced the same legislation two years ago, he found only five backers.

Single payer universal health care? A June Pew Research Center poll found that a majority of Democrats now support it — with a full 60 percent of the country subscribed to the belief that the government is responsible for ensuring that all people have care.

Sanders is preparing to introduce a Medicare for All bill in the Senate in September, and he’s already lined up big-name co-sponsors ranging from Elizabeth Warren to Kamala Harris to Kirsten Gillebrand.

Even Claire McCaskill, a moderate Democrat up for re-election next fall in a state that Donald Trump won by nearly nineteen points, has said that she regrets not supporting the addition of a government-run public option in the Affordable Care Act.

When Sanders introduced the same Medicare for All bill in 2013, he got zero co-sponsors.

It’s the same story in the House, where Detroit-area representative John Conyers has been introducing legislation to nationalize health care without success every year since 2003.

This time around, though, 60 percent of the Democratic caucus has lined up to support the bill — which, in virtually eliminating all cost-sharing from health care coverage, is two steps ahead of anything Sanders talked about in 2016.

It won’t become law anytime soon. It’s unlikely that anything Sanders — or Clinton, for that matter — backs has a shot at being passed until 2020 at the earliest. Even then, universal health care and free college tuition will be mighty big asks.

But Sanders has laid the groundwork for his ideas. He’s pushed them into the mainstream. The next Democratic nominee for president, whoever it is, will support Medicare for All, oppose the death penalty, and talk about the rigged economy.

Sanders might have lost the primary, but his vision was victorious. That was clear as early as the night of the Iowa Caucuses, when a majority of Democratic participants told entrance pollers that they considered themselves socialists rather than capitalists.

Sanders used his campaign to push the Democratic agenda as far left as it’s gone since the early 1960s — when noted radicals such as John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson sought to eradicate poverty and end segregation.

Clinton used her campaign to hector him about it and lose to Trump.

Kennedy’s New Frontier was audacious; Johnson’s Great Society equally so. Great campaigns are about the art of the possible. They’re in part about what’s achievable tomorrow, but they’re also about deciding where we want to go, five, ten, twenty, and fifty years down the road.

Sanders’ belief that the United States should do more to help its middle and lower-class citizens is bone-deep — borne in part, perhaps, out of watching his parents die at ages 46 and 57 trying to scrape by in the world’s richest country — and he communicated that belief with zeal and purpose.

Sanders believes that change happens from the outside-in — that if you convince people that your ideas are the right ones, political leaders will follow. That’s what he means by Political Revolution. We’ve seen plenty of evidence in the last year that he’s right.

Clinton felt like Sanders over-promised. But if you listen to Sanders, he rarely makes promises at all. Instead, he speaks in shoulds — what we should do, and why — and works from there.

That’s why his rhetoric is bold, and it’s why it connected. The 2016 race was for the presidency of a country struggling rampant inequality and diseased with racial hatred. No one cared about a new apprenticeship program for young people.

Clinton didn’t and seemingly still does not understand this. She was altogether too focused on the micro, too dismissive of Sanders’ support, and too dismissive of the power in his theory of politics.

Maybe she feels that she cleaned his clock in those policy scraps because her math added up more often. But at the end of the day, it’s Sanders who is remaking Clinton’s party in his own image.

Clinton’s animosity for her primary rival is real — she endorsed over the weekend a new website called Verrit that ran a story the week of its launch accusing Sanders and the “mainstream media” of handing Trump the election — but it’s misguided.

Just as Clinton didn’t cost Barack Obama the 2008 election, Sanders — who, by the way, campaigned for Clinton and Democrats in no fewer than fourteen states in the fall — didn’t cost her the race last year.

What Happened is 500-some odd pages. Clinton points the finger at plenty of people, including herself. She’s going on book tour. Sanders? He’s still talking about magic abs — and maybe, just maybe, starting to get somewhere.

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