In Florida’s Democratic primary, the choice for president is between Hillary Clinton — the most experienced and articulate candidate — and the long-shot bid by Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has galvanized a legion of followers by giving voice to their anger over the death of the American Dream.
The explosion of resentment against rampant greed that took shape in the Occupy Wall Street movement has found a viable outlet in the Sanders campaign.
His indignation over a system that devalues the little guy offers a resonant echo of Howard Beale, the TV anchor in the 1976 movie Network: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
Sen. Sanders understands better than anyone in the race, in either party, that many Americans felt cheated by the government’s failure to hold anyone accountable for wrongdoing on Wall Street. This has fueled his campaign and brought energetic young voters into the fold. In November, the party’s nominee will need those voters to win the White House.
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So the question is: Who can keep that energy alive and, at the same time, offer practical, workable solutions to fix what’s wrong with the economy — while also tackling all the other problems, foreign and domestic, facing the country?
When it comes to directing fire at Wall Street, Ms. Clinton is a late-comer to the party. The excitement that the Sanders campaign has generated is the only thing enabling Democrats to compete for air time and public attention with the barroom brawl taking place among Republicans. (Of course, a bare-knuckled fight is always more entertaining than a wonkish debate on policy.)
But Mr. Sanders, despite his unrealistic economic plan, is leading a movement of like-minded followers. The party needs someone who can attract a bigger following.
That role belongs to Ms. Clinton. She has broader appeal both among Democrats and the wider American electorate. She also boasts a better track record of success on Capitol Hill than her opponent from Vermont.
She has mastered the detailed approach to policy on a wide range of issues, everything from healthcare to foreign policy. She speaks for generations of women who have suffered discrimination in the workplace, energetically defends healthcare reform (when she ran in 2008, her proposal would have covered everybody), and has the character to confront critics in Congress — or work with them in a spirit of compromise.
No candidate in either party can match her résumé for the job of president.
But just as she comes with the most experience, she also comes with the most baggage. There are plenty of voters who would never “vote for Hillary.” No appeal can reach them. But Ms. Clinton isn’t winning any followers by a tone-deaf approach to some very real problems. She can fix that, at least in part, by dealing honestly with her critics.
First, she should release the private speeches she has made to Wall Street executives in return for hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s the only way to assure skeptics that she’s not saying one thing in public and another in private to her wealthy supporters.
Second, she must take the email controversy seriously. Yes, the scandal was stoked by her usual critics, and, yes, her predecessors at the State Department did much the same thing. But that rationale won’t satisfy anyone except her most diehard supporters.
A federal judge has ruled that her aides can be questioned under oath, so the whole thing can go on throughout the election year. She has to reassure Americans that she has nothing to hide.
If she can do that, she can confidently face the candidate who ultimately wins the Republican slugfest. In the 2008 debates, even Barack Obama seemed unsettled by her self-assured approach and substantive replies.
Bernie Sanders is the candidate for those who want to send a message about inequality. Hillary Clinton is the candidate for those who want to fix it. In Florida’s Democratic primary, our choice for presidential nominee is Hillary Clinton.