For Clinton and Sanders, a coalition government?

Published 8:01 AM EDT, Thu June 9, 2016

Story highlights

Jeffrey Sachs: Giving Bernie Sanders forces a role in Democratic platform isn't meaningful

He says Clinton should agree to give Sanders' supporters a real say in her administration

Editor’s Note: Jeffrey Sachs is director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He is a former foreign policy adviser to Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. The views expressed are his own.

(CNN) —  

Hillary Clinton has won the Democratic Party nomination. Now, two things are important. The first is that Clinton defeats Donald Trump in November. The second is that Clinton should aim to build a true coalition of centrist and progressive politics, uniting the two wings of the Democratic Party.

If she sticks with the Clinton tradition of “triangulating” with Republicans, she risks not governing at all; a Trump victory would be a real possibility.

Jeffrey Sachs
Wade Martzall
Jeffrey Sachs

If the United States were a parliamentary system, Clinton and Bernie Sanders would not even be in the same party. Clinton would be a center or even center-right party in the European scene, perhaps an Angela Merkel leading the Christian Democrats. There is little that is truly progressive about her politics. Sanders would be leading the Social Democrats, representing the party of trade unions, progressive taxation and regulation of Wall Street.

It is not unusual for centrists and social democrats to govern together, especially when a major goal is to keep out right-wing and anti-immigrant populist parties. But let’s have no doubt: This would be a coalition, not a unity of forces. The happy talk of “unifying” a single Democratic Party is an Americanism that I believe is reaching the end of its usefulness. By 2020, it is quite possible that we will actually have four major political parties: a social democratic left, a centrist party, a right-wing conservative party and a populist anti-immigrant party (represented by Trump followers).

What would a coalition mean? It would mean not just a party platform with some happy talk of progressivism. Party platforms are what economists call “cheap talk.” They mean almost nothing. They have almost no effect on actual governing since America does not have party-led governance. It has an executive branch led by a president, and shifting coalitions in Congress that do not heed any party’s platform.

A coalition would mean a sharing of Cabinet positions. This too is fraught with ambiguity. I don’t mean that a President Clinton would designate a set of candidates that would check the boxes with various ethnic, social and political constituencies. I mean that certain key Cabinet positions would be allocated to Bernie Sanders and his faction (and perhaps a separate party four years from now).

From the perspectives of the social democratic wing, Clinton comes with heavy baggage, of which three are most important. The first is her long-standing romance with Wall Street. It was Bill Clinton’s political maneuver in 1992 to form an alliance of the Democrats and Goldman Sachs (Bob Rubin) that has defined the modern Democratic Party. It is at the root of the financial excesses of the past 20 years. We know that Wall Street remains a major Clinton funder and a serial breaker of the laws.