All things need moderation, including Democratic primary
Well, that’s a wrap. Bernie Sanders has won the 2016 Democratic primary.
No, he will not win the nomination. He likely did not even win Tuesday’s debate, giving some embarrassing answers on questions about gun control and foreign policy. The Internet polls showed him winning in a landslide, but Internet polls are a classic example of a biased sample, drawing the demographics most likely to use the Internet (college students) and those more likely to have very strong opinions and vote for more extreme candidates like Sanders. This is the reason Internet polls said the same thing about Ron Paul during his 2012 presidential run. The first poll with something like a random sample emerged Thursday showing Hillary Clinton had won the debate by a hefty margin.
What Sanders has done, however, is pull the party so far left that this Democratic primary lacks a candidate who can be reasonably described as moderate, or at least a moderate Democrat, for those still holding out for the Webb surge. Many people’s answer to the moderate gap would be Clinton, who some would have you believe is politically somewhere just to the right of Barry Goldwater. This is nonsense. Hillary Clinton may be a bit more moderate on foreign policy than Sanders and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley (who was either aligned with Sanders or to his left on every issue), but domestically she is aligned with or to the left of both of them on every issue except Glass-Steagall and (maybe) college tuition.
The problem begins with the discourse surrounding Clinton. Her voting record in the Senate and her achievements as the First Lady of the United States and the Secretary of State point to a very liberal candidate (FiveThirtyEight’s methodology places her slightly to Sanders’ right, on par with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren). But before the election, the public called for a more progressive option. In 2008, when President Obama answered a similar call, it became clear that he was firmly to Clinton’s right on nearly every issue the two disagreed on, making him very popular with the Democratic base. In this election, however, an Obama-type candidate — one who remains progressive on social issues while bringing common sense and evidence, rather than ideology, to issues that are less one-sided — is nowhere to be found.
This is a giant problem on two levels. The first is that it’s bad for democracy when the country’s largest voting bloc does not have a candidate. The second is an issue of policy. A very liberal candidate will have a two-year period with a similarly liberal Congress, but the president’s party basically always loses midterm elections. A Clinton or a Sanders might have too liberal a mandate to work with Republicans in any meaningful capacity. This could lead to continued and intensified gridlock in Washington.
There’s one hope for moderate Democrats, and that is a Joe Biden candidacy. However, the base of one of America’s two major political parties should not have to wait and hope that a candidate shows up that is to their liking. Even this circus of a Republican primary has candidates across the Republican ideological spectrum who are sticking to their guns despite the outspokenness of the one leading the polls.
Moderate Democrats having to watch the presumptive moderate option be forced to say things like “I love Denmark” in order to be viable is a painful vision of what the Democratic Party has become. While it's certainly Sanders's prerogative to drag the race to his preferences, it is disconcerting that the center of the party is so sparse there is no one to counterbalance him.