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Escape the Horserace!

John Peeler: Alone among all the candidates of either party, Sanders has laid out a systematic analysis of what ails this country and what to do about it.
Escape the Horserace!—John Peeler

Escape the Horserace!—John Peeler

Progressives Will Move Us Forward

The problem with a horserace is that you go around in a circle and end up where you started. We need to get out of that rut and move on.

Well over a year before the 2016 election and already we are inundated with horserace coverage: who’s ahead, can they hold their lead, who’s failing, who’s so low in the polls that we need pay them no attention. What passes for political news is all about the horserace.

As they try to appeal to the right-wing nuts who make up the Republican base these days, the last thing any of these candidates want is to appear moderate.

On the Republican side it’s truly a farce, a parody of a horserace, with 16 (at last count) men and one lonely woman competing to be the most extreme advocate of policies that favor older, native-born white males at the expense of the rest of the country. And Donald Trump has upset all calculations by making even Ted Cruz look moderate. As they try to appeal to the right-wing nuts who make up the Republican base these days, the last thing any of these candidates want is to appear moderate. Then whoever wins the nomination will have to do precisely that: appear moderate, and hope the November voters forget everything they said earlier.

The Republicans, for all the sound and fury, are fundamentally united on these propositions: that we should cut taxes on the rich, cut government programs (especially Obamacare), deny global warming and roll back environmental protections, cut back regulation of the economy and the workplace, promote even more economic inequality, keep blacks and latinos in their place, keep women at home and pregnant, and fight more wars. They seem to be saying that if you don’t like the way things are now, the solution is to do even more of the same things we’ve been doing for the last 40 years. They will, in short, keep us running around the same track—backward.

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The Democratic horserace is both simpler and more meaningful. It’s been assumed for years that the nomination belongs to Hillary Clinton if she wants it. But she’s been dragged down by Republican charges of malfeasance and scandal, most notably the issue of using her private email account for official communications while she was Secretary of State. She has handled these charges awkwardly and defensively, and has come out looking bad. She probably can still win the nomination, and is certainly the best qualified of all the candidates in either party. But the scandals have created a shadow of doubt.

As a key adviser to Bill Clinton, and as Senator from New York, she has been closely associated with that segment of Wall Street that has made its peace with the Democrats. That amounts to a move to the center and away from the heritage of the New Deal and the Great Society. This was politically beneficial in the late 1990s, leading to years of prosperity and even balanced federal budgets. But it is now clear that the base was being laid down for our contemporary economic and social problems.

To appeal to the Democratic base, Hillary needed to move back to the left, and she has, at least rhetorically. She’s systematically touched the bases on issues like inequality, global warming, immigration and race relations. Yet her long and well-documented public career make it difficult to plausibly reinvent herself. In particular, her early support of the invasion of Iraq comes back to haunt her with the Democratic base.

Into the penumbra of doubt come three candidates: Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, and Bernie Sanders (Elizabeth Warren would have been a potent candidate as well, had she chosen to run). O’Malley, former governor of Maryland, is indistinguishable from Clinton on policy, doesn’t carry much baggage, and hasn’t had much impact. Webb is a quirky former Senator and Vietnam veteran, who’s anti-war and socially conservative. He’s also had little impact. Vice President Joe Biden might also run, especially if it appears that Hillary is bound for defeat in the primaries.

Bernie Sanders (senator from Vermont) is the only avowed socialist in the race. He has attracted a lot of attention and has moved up in the polls enough to pose a surprising challenge to Hillary. Alone among all the candidates of either party, Sanders has laid out a systematic analysis of what ails this country and what to do about it. Inequality is not just unfortunate, it is the key to our prolonged economic malaise, because the vast majority of the country have ever less disposable income and economic security. Promoting more renewable energy is not only a good thing in the abstract, it is the key to confronting the dangers of global warming. Staying out of wars in the Middle East is not just the right thing to do, but is essential to breaking our addiction to the military-industrial complex.

Sanders has been criticized by some of his former radical associates in Vermont for having compromised too much. But he is the only candidate with a chance to win who has a plan for getting us out of the horserace and onto the right track.

john peeler

John Peeler