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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Sanders Issue

At Maddowblog Steve Benen’s “Sanders makes the case for a single-issue candidacy” sheds light, not only on the unique strategy of a major presidential candidate, but also on what many believe to be the greatest threat to American democracy. As Benen explains, following the last democratic debate:

…Last night, I believe for the first time, Sanders acknowledged that one of Clinton’s criticisms of his candidacy is probably correct.
“Let us be clear, one of the major issues Secretary Clinton says I’m a one-issue person, well, I guess so. My one issue is trying to rebuild a disappearing middle class. That’s my one issue.”

“Sanders is still ‘talking about dozens of issues,'” says Benen, “but as of last night, he’s effectively making the case that the issues that are most important to him – economic inequality, an unfair tax system, trade, Wall Street accountability, etc. – fall under the umbrella of a broader issue: rebuilding the middle class.
Benen notes that “Clinton’s principal criticism of Sanders is that his areas of interest are far too narrow…Clinton wants voters to see Sanders as a well-intentioned protest candidate. The White House is about breadth and complexity, the argument goes, and even if you agree with Sanders, it’s hard to deny his principal focus on the one issue that drives and motivates him…A president, Clinton wants Democratic voters to believe, doesn’t have the luxury of being “a one-issue person.” A president’s responsibilities are simply too broad to see every issue through narrowly focused lens.”
But Sanders no longer bothers to deny it; he puts it in broader perspective to refine his image as the candidate who stands most clearly as a genuine champion of economic justice for everyone who is struggling to have a decent middle class life. “Sanders,” says Benen, “is willing to gamble that progressive voters will back him anyway. It’s a risk that will likely make or break his candidacy in the coming weeks.”
Benen adds “Democrats have been focused on the interests of the middle class for generations, and when Sanders made his “one-issue” declaration, the audience applauded.” it’s a pretty clever way to turn one of Clinton’s attack memes into a net positive. Certainly it helps that he backs it up with his policy regarding contributions to his campaign.
Clinton has evolved into a sharp debater, and Benen notes that “during last night’s debate, Clinton let Sanders’ acknowledgement go without comment – she did not repeat the “single-issue candidate” criticism.”
Sanders undoubtedly believes many voters will agree with him. But he also holds the conviction that, win or lose, America will not be able to create a better society until the central issue of economic justice is addressed with meaningful reforms.
Calling Sanders a “one-issue candidate” was always a gross oversimplification. As a congressman and U.S. Senator for 25 years, his career has included stands on every major issue, from the invasion of Iraq, to reproductive rights, gun control and environmental reforms, to name just a few, and he has provided thoughtful and often controversial policy positions on all such issues during his tenure.
Sanders can hold his own on any important issue. He could easily choose to become another political leader who spends his time opining about everything. But he believes that greater good — and a stronger image — can come from mining public concern about corporate abuses of working people and our political system.
It’s an interesting strategy, more pro-active than just responding to issues du jour defined by the media. Elevating this concern to a central focus may be a gamble. But most informed voters now have a pretty clear understanding of what he stands for, and it has served him well so far.

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