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Herb Rothschild Jr.: The parties' future

Last week I urged Sanders supporters, after we vote for him in the Oregon primary, to support Clinton in the general election. I went on to give a less than upbeat prediction of her performance as president. It looks to be similar to Obama’s, who has done many particular things we’ve liked but who’s been a bitter disappointment to those who bought into his campaign slogan “Change you can believe in.”

But now I want to say more about what could happen on her watch — assuming she beats the toxic megalomaniac the Republicans will run. I’m going to focus on what the primary contests have revealed about the two major parties, and why Clinton’s interplay with other elected Democrats just may prod her to promote more significant change than she would if led by her own lights.

An email a friend sent me Sunday started me thinking along these lines. An avid Sanders supporter, he’s deeply distressed by the prospect of Clinton’s victory. In the email he asserted that it will leave the Democratic Party in shambles just as Trump’s success will leave the rival party in shambles. I told him I couldn’t agree with that assessment, although I agree that our current economic arrangements, supported by national policies like our trade agreements, are unsustainable and threaten planetary chaos.

The Republican Party is in deep trouble. Since Barry Goldwater, it’s gotten increasingly rigid ideologically. So much so that in Washington it’s incapable of governing. Speaker of the House John Boehner — a right winger by any sane standards — resigned out of frustration with the constant obstruction by members of his own party. Many Senate Republicans despise Ted Cruz because of his similar behavior. Yet, during the primaries it was Cruz who emerged as the keeper of the Republicans’ ideological flame. Intelligent and articulate, he played the role dutifully. So it’s hugely significant that Republican primary voters rejected him in favor of Trump, who has few roots in the party and whose announced positions, with the exception of immigrant bashing and anti-choice, have little continuity with anything Republicans have stood for. Never again can Republicans believe they can win the presidency if only their candidates would run on true Republican principles. They can’t even win their party’s nomination. The party cannot remain a national party unless it remakes itself. In that endeavor, Trump will be no help at all.

None of these observations fit the Democratic Party. While heavily influenced by concentrated wealth after Lyndon Johnson, it hasn't become ideologically rigid. Both Clinton and Sanders are recognizable as Democrats because there’s a range of opinion in their party and flexibility about policy-making, marks of its vitality and the reason it can govern effectively when given the chance. Unlike Trump vis-a-vis his party, Sanders espouses policies that many — if not most — Democrats have stood for since the New Deal. I don’t think his supporters are repudiating party values. We’re repudiating the party’s performance beginning with the Carter years.

My main conclusion from this comparison is that the forces gathering to the left of Clinton within her own party could influence her presidency just as Sanders has already influenced her candidacy. So let’s hope those forces manifest themselves strongly in the remaining primaries, and that newly elected Democrats in the next Congress are more progressive than she.

Herb Rothschild's column appears in the Tidings every Saturday.