The Lady or the Tiger: Some Theses—by Peter Eisenstadt

images-211) The question of the hour for liberal Democrats is the choice. Who will it be? For those living in South Carolina, where the primary is coming up in a few weeks, the decision is imminent.

2) Hillary Clinton has been at the forefront of American politics for an astonishingly long time, for a quarter-century. No one else on the scene from the early 1990s, including her husband, is still a major political player. It is a career with few parallels, male or female, in recent American political history.

3) The Clintons were experts in the art of political survival, both ideologically and personally. For the Democratic Party, at a time of a sharp turn to the right, of growing conservatism in almost every aspect of American life, they are the main reason that after three Republican presidential terms, since 1992, even granting Bush the goddamn 2000 election, there have been four Democratic presidential terms to two for the GOPs.

4) The art of survival is often not very edifying, and usually involves hard choices and unfortunate compromises. But this is how the Clintons maintained a viable centrist alternative to the increasingly reactionary Republican Party. Obama of course ran against the centrism of the Clintons, but once in office he revealed his inner Clinton, and there’s a lot of both Bill and Hillary in Barak.

5) Bernie Sanders has been around a long time as well, and he too is a political survivor, and he couldn’t have survived so long in Vermont politics without making a few deals of his own, as his somewhat checkered gun control record shows. But he has been a stalwart for the left wing of the Democratic Party, a wing that the Clintons, rightly or wrongly, have felt was a liability in winning national elections. If the Republican Party has embraced its non-centrists, mainstream Democrats have generally shunned theirs. Sanders campaign is an indication of the latent power, the frustration that many have felt, for a good number of years, on the direction of the country and the direction of the Democratic Party. Good for them for calling attention to themselves. The crowds and the good will Sanders has generated has been an inspiring sight to behold.

6) It’s trite to say, but the Democratic Party needs both of its wings; the pragmatists and the idealists, the problem solvers and the troublemakers.

7) Bernie Sanders is a product of the radicalism of the 1960s. His socialism reflects a belief in the ultimate primacy of economic issues over everything else, and that, given a chance, people will vote their economic self-interests. He is comfortable in speaking about “revolution” and by this he does not mean a new generation of cellphones or abolishing the income tax. Ultimately he believes that economic interests are more important than differences over race, religion, immigration, terrorism. This is of course the main political postulate of socialism and socialists for the past two centuries. And one reason, not that many people call themselves socialists anymore is that all too often, it doesn’t seem to be true.

8) Hillary Clinton is a product of the second-wave feminism of the late 1960s and early 1970s. She does not have one overriding political idée fixe, but is generally more concerned with inclusion than transformation. She believes in the politics of coalition, of women, blacks, Latinos, white workers finding common ground, empowering one another. She is a feminist, and by this she has always meant that women need power, and by women she has meant women who care about women’s issues—not the Margaret Thatchers and Sarah Palins. And her belief has always been that if feminists like her ever gain real power, America would be a better place for not just women, but for men as well, blacks, LGBTQs, and so on. Hillary sees the world through its racial and gendered divisions. Economic justice has been important for her, but never at the core of Hillary’s worldview.

9) Many people hate Hillary. There are a lot of silly things being said about her. She is not a moderate Republican, whatever that now obsolete political category means in 2016.  On all the important issues of the day, the difference between her and the most “moderate” of her opposite Republican numbers is vast. But anger is not her strongest suit.

10) Many dismiss Sanders as politically irrelevant. He is not. The groundswell of support he is receiving reflects the increasing anger at the concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny group of plutocrats, the weakness of the labor movement, the role of money in politics, and their inability to do anything about it, and their conviction that changing this will require something more than politics as usual. They are right. Anger is Bernie’s strongest suit, and it is nothing to be ashamed about.

11) Elections have two purposes in a democracy. One is to have your voice and interests heard and represented. The other is to win elections. These two functions of democracy are often at cross purposes.

12) I think Bernie has a better chance of starting and catalyzing the “political revolution” this country so desperately needs, as many of his supporters are arguing.

13) I think Hillary has a better chance of winning the general election.

14) I don’t find the argument of Sander’s supporters that he will be someone to energize millions of people, the supposed silent majority, who usually don’t vote, to vote in November. This never works. If Bernie is nominated, he will be shredded by the GOP in the fall as a radical and someone without foreign policy experience. By contrast, especially if Trump or Cruz gets the nomination, Hillary will seem like a sober, experienced leader, and will get much moderate support. Hillary, God knows has her baggage, and is unfairly weighted down by the sins of her husband. I may be wrong, but I think she would be a stronger candidate.

15) There are many things I truly admire about Bernie; the way he has pushed the issues that matter to him and to us; the rising gap in income inequality, in a political system corrupted by money, in a society in which people feel they are always ever falling further behind. Some of his political proposals are impractical or vague. Single payer, in the current political climate, is simply a chimera. After reading his proposals, I still have no idea how he will breaks up the “too big to fail” banks, or restore Glass-Steagall in a world in which the 1930s division between commercial and investment banking (and the very meaning of investment banking) has changed so radically as to no longer exist. That said, it is true that without bold proposals little will be accomplished. But I worry about how they will be attacked in the general election.

16) A presidential campaign is a lousy way to transform American politics. Because if you don’t win both the nomination and the general election, you have accomplished absolutely nothing. Push from within your party for the candidates and causes that matter most to you—the Tea Party did this very effectively—rather than trying for everything, and likely losing everything.

17) And if Sanders ever should win office, he would have to make compromise after compromise; to keep the party harmonious, to get budgets passed, nominees approved by the Republican Senate. His most fervent supporters will abandon and anathemize him for being just another sellout.

18) It is extremely likely that over the next four years, the Democrats will not enjoy a majority in the House or a filibuster-proof supermajority in the Senate. That means, in all likelihood, as has happened for the past four years, little of substance will happen if a Democrat is elected.

19) There are real differences between Bernie and Hillary, but in any campaign these differences get emphasized and exaggerated, and people on both sides start loathing their opposite numbers. They have much in common, certainly in comparison to any potential Republican candidate. But Hillary is a known commodity. You can’t exercise power for as long as she has without some of its inherent Trumpian ugliness wearing off of you, and some of it has. Bernie, on the other hand, remains very much a tabula rasa, onto which we can project our fantasies of a better future.

20) I am more concerned with not electing a Republican in November, which strikes me as a very real possibility, than starting a political revolution, which strikes me as very unlikely.

21) The Democrats will need every vote in November, and the party needs to be united.

22) In some ways the fight between Bernie and Hillary is a debate over Obama’s legacy. He has been a good president, with flashes of greatness along with some truly regrettable lapses. But at his best, the Affordable Care Act, the recognition of Cuba, the agreement with Iran, some serious movement on climate change, he has been very good. He has not been a demagogue or racist. He supports gay rights and reproductive rights. He cares about gun violence. I have serious problems with aspects of his foreign policy, trade policy, and economic policy. I suspect a Hillary presidency would have a similar profile, and I can live with that. But it is not very exciting, and I understand why Hillary is admired and Bernie is loved.

23) So it all comes down to who has the best chance to win. And I think its Hillary. And it’s time we had a woman and feminist as president. And I suspect I will be alternatively pleased and disappointed, elated and infuriated at her presidency, as I was during the presidency of her husband and that of Obama, but will wake up every morning giving praise that a Republican was not elected.

24) I hope she appoints Bernie to be chairman of the SEC or the Federal Reserve, or even puts him on the Supreme Court. Bernie’s campaign has been inspiring, he has pushed Hillary to the left, and I hope she stays there. I am delighted that socialism is no longer a political love that dare not speak its name.

25) Fun fact for New Yorkers: There has not been a major party presidential candidate from New York State since Thomas Dewey in 1948. The Democrats will either nominate a New Yorker or someone who was raised in New York. If the Democrats nominate Hillary and the Republicans nominate Trump, both presidential candidates will be from the same state. This has only happened twice before, both times in New York State; in 1944, when it was Roosevelt against Dewey, and in 1904, when Theodore Roosevelt defeated Utica’s own Alton B. Parker, a person of remarkable unrenown.

26) When I was in Fourth Grade, I was made to read a short story, the “The Lady or the Tiger?,” written by Frank Stockton in 1882. Here’s the setup. A man somewhere in the “Orient” fell in love with a princess, and for daring to love above his station, he was sentenced to face a public ordeal in a coliseum. Our hero has to pick either door number 1 or door number 2. Behind one of the doors is a beautiful maiden to whom he will be betrothed. Behind the other is a very hungry tiger. (Sort of a silly premise.) His ex-lover, the princess has discovered who and what was behind each door, and signals for her lover to pick the door on the right. So does the princess want him to marry someone else, or to have a rendezvous with a wild beast? And that’s where the story ends, with the once famous last line, “And so I leave it with all of you: Which came out of the opened door—the lady, or the tiger?” The story is about our inability to know other people’s minds, and our inability to predict the future. And we Democrats will all, collectively open one of those doors.

27) I hope it’s the lady, but I can live with the tiger. Let us hope that whichever door we choose, we choose the candidate that wins in November.