It was clear even from my intermittent viewing of last night’s debate that Hillary Clinton is trying to paint Bernie Sanders as an anti-Obama candidate. The thinking is pretty obvious. Obama is personally popular among core Democratic constituencies, particularly African-American voters in South Carolina and other states that come after New Hampshire and Iowa. That’s why she’s casting Sanders’s “Medicare for All” program as an attack on Barack Obama’s “legacy.” There are all sorts of ironies here. The notion that Clinton is more pro-Obama than Sanders would come as a shock to pretty much anyone who remembers the 2008 campaign, or has read her emails, or has good cognitive functions. The idea that her chief goal is to protect Obama’s legacy is also pretty hilarious, given that her first priority in 2008 was to bequeath unto him a legacy of failure.
And then there’s the fact that Clinton is ultimately trying to run for a third Obama term. This now means that the would-be first woman president sees her job as continuing the legacy of two men, first her husband and now Barack Obama. We’ve known for a while that Hillary Clinton’s campaign — top-heavy with Obama veterans who think it was their genius and not their candidate’s appeal that won the battle — wants to emulate Obama’s 2008 model by activating young people, minorities, and the politically unengaged. The hitch — as I’ve been arguing for years — is that Hillary Clinton is ill-suited for the role of Obama reenactor. She doesn’t excite people, save for the sizable entourage of lickspittles, jesters, Renfields and wormtongues who make up the Clinton imperial court in exile. Evidence for this can be found in the fact that Sanders is crushing Clinton among young people, while Clinton crushes Sanders among fans of Matlock reruns. The bind is really quite clear: Obama ran as an exciting change candidate in 2008. Hillary Clinton wants to emulate his electoral strategy, but in order to do that you need to be an exciting change candidate. Hugging Obama’s legacy and promising Four More Years doesn’t strike me as the best way to excite people, even those who like Obama personally but feel the country is on the wrong track.
I think there’s an easy way for Sanders to push back against Clinton on this health-care business. She wants to extend the status quo and protect the hard-won victories of Obamacare and Obama’s legacy. Well, Sanders should twist that around. Sanders could explain that Obama — the real Obama — always preferred a single-payer healthcare plan. There’s even video of him saying it (which would make for a great Sanders ad). But politics is the art of the possible. Obama made huge progress, but there’s always more work to be done. Liberals like Barney Frank even admitted that Obamacare was supposed to be a stepping stone to single-payer. Sanders should say that the real way to enshrine Obama’s legacy is to stay committed to “progress.” Hillary Clinton wants the moral arc of the universe to stop bending. I, Bernie Sanders, want to continue marching towards social justice with Barack Obama.