Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Sanders, Clinton And The Supremes

In 2007, the Supreme Court said that the EPA had to regulate carbon if it determined that carbon was unhealthy. The Obama Administration responded a few years ago with an ambitious plan to get states to set regulatory rules for cleaner energy production.  As Jon Chait frequently noted, this was a major under-the-radar reform from Obama that would have a tremendous and far-reaching impact on the future.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court - along predictably partisan 5-4 lines - postponed this ambitious attempt to kinda sorta save the planet.  The assumption now is that this plan will not be able to go into effect until after Obama leaves office.

What does this have to do with the race for the Democratic nomination?  Two things.

First, most political scientists give Sanders a very thin chance of winning a general election.  While Clinton has been hitting Sanders on some issues, her attacks have to be tempered in ways the GOP don't.  And Sanders appeal was perfectly matched for Iowa and New Hampshire.  Yesterday's decision points to the fact that perhaps the most significant effect of the 2016 election will be the composition of the Supreme Court.  If Sanders can't pull off his "revolution" (and, for the record: he can't) and loses the election, the President Trump will be able to nominate Judge Judy or John Yoo to the Supreme Court and the result will be absolutely disastrous.

Second, the EPA carbon emissions policy is precisely the sort of small, bureaucratic reforms that Obama has been limited to since 2011.  And whether Sanders or Clinton become President, that will be the extent of their ability to reform, too.  Should a Democrats win in November, they will be constrained by the same institutional padlocks that Obama is constrained by.  Clinton understands this - and maybe Sanders does, too, though he won't admit it.  Clinton is already ready to implement this sort of executive branch-based reform.  Sanders is depending on a magical unicorn of his "revolution" to sweep the country leftwards.

Sanders crushed it last night.  He exceeded his benchmarks.  But the bigger story may have come from the Supreme Court, by demonstrating what's at stake in this election.

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