(Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post on October 19, 2015 at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bob-herbst/get-on-board-progressives_b_8303646.html.)
There can be no debate about the debate. Hillary Clinton completely outshined her opponents. She did her homework. She was honed and razor-sharp. And surprisingly warm, too! She not only showed that she had the smarts, the competence and the experience to be President, but also the toughness and fire in the belly to endure this ridiculous 18-month marathon sporting event that we have made of our presidential election.
We progressives have had our concerns about Hillary. (Full disclosure: we were in law school together). Her prodigious fund raising juggernaut, both through her own campaign and Super PAC, and her own wealth and connections to the very rich, raised questions about whether she would defend us – the 99% — from the class war that has been waged against us by the billionaire class. (Oh Bernie Sanders, you are so right about that war!) Hillary’s hawkish stance on the use of military force in the Middle East has also been worrisome, where the mess we created in Iraq and elsewhere has destabilized the region and left the USA with no good options and a popular desire to minimize our involvement there.
While her recent decisions to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Keystone Pipeline were welcome, their timing left disquiet about the genuine depth of her progressive principles and her authenticity. (I’m not mentioning her “damn emails” which Bernie selflessly declared off limits.) Her declining favorability numbers and Bernie Sanders’s remarkable popularity in Iowa and New Hampshire led many to wonder whether the country might actually come to Feel the Bern, or whether there would be any sense in a belated Biden candidacy if Hillary could not right her listing ship.
But after Hillary’s stellar debate performance, I doubt we will hear a Presidential announcement from the VP. And it is time for some straight talk with my friends on the left side of the Democratic Party.
With the Republicans controlling the other two branches of the government, the 2016 presidential election is shaping up to be a watershed. With the entire country disgusted by the miserable state of our politics and the depth of our governmental dysfunction, the Republicans have hoisted to the top of their list three complete neophytes with no government experience at all. That may be fine for a party that hates government as an alien force, but for sensible folk who believe that government is an instrument of the people for the common good, learning to play that instrument is a professional endeavor that requires at least 10,000 hours to do well. (Thank you Malcolm Gladwell.)
After electing three Presidents with little or no Washington experience, paying them to learn and make their mistakes, we now have in Hillary Clinton a long-time Washington hand with substantial executive and legislative experience and the proven capacity to work with the increasingly endangered species of Republican actually interested in using government to accomplish something.
I know that many of our progressive hearts are with Bernie. I love his authenticity, his laser focus on the terrible inequality that besets our oligarchy today, and his ability at age 74 to get out on the stump and motivate huge numbers of Americans, young and old, to support the populist causes so dear to us.
His political altruism in disclaiming Hillary’s emails as a legitimate issue is the most decent and honorable statement by an American political presidential candidate I can remember. But he has a tough road to the nomination from South Carolina on, and in the general election, nominee Sanders would be spending much of his time defending his Democratic Socialist label. It would be a serious distraction from the deadly serious business of preventing the Republicans from taking over the entire government – an utter disaster for the country and the world.
We saw in this debate a Hillary Clinton poised and firing on all cylinders, a result of a lifetime of the study and practice of government and public policy. She is ready to be President, and now, finally, ready to run effectively as “a progressive who likes to get things done.”
If elected, will Hillary try to govern as a progressive? There was one telling phrase borrowed from FDR in the 1930’s that Hillary volunteered in the debate, pledging to “save capitalism from itself.” That was an elegant way to invoke the New Deal and its progressive values, and to telegraph that she genuinely recognizes the depth of our current plight, and the need for immediate and far-reaching solutions to our racial and class divisions, our declining infrastructure, the hollowing out of our middle class and the increasing insecurity of our poor and working families.
What she was showing and telling us in this debate performance is that if anyone can bring a semblance of progressive order out of our chaos, Hillary Clinton is our best bet.