Roughly seven months after Democratic National Committee chairman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz failed to identify the difference between a Democrat and a socialist, Hillary Clinton found herself equally flummoxed by the same question. Remarkably, it was in an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, the same guy who stumped Debbie back in July.
“What’s the difference between a socialist and a Democrat?” Matthews asked Clinton Tuesday night.
“Well,” Clinton said, “you’d have to ask–”
“I’m asking you,” Matthews interjected. “You’re a Democrat. [Bernie Sanders] is a socialist. Do you like someone calling you a socialist? I wouldn’t like someone calling me a socialist.”
“Well, you see, I’m not one,” she said.
When pressed again on the difference, Clinton went on a long, irrelevant tangent about her qualifications, the way slick politicians always do when faced with a question they can’t answer. She ultimately defined herself as a “progressive Democrat” who “likes to get things done.”
Now, Hillary Clinton is a lot of things, but she’s not an idiot. Even if she was, she would have been able to answer this question, seeing as how she’s had seven months to prepare. It doesn’t take much effort to compare a dictionary definition of socialism with her platform and come up with a palatable (if misleading) answer. Given that she is up against a challenger who embraces the label, then, the question becomes: Why didn’t she do that?
Answer: She can’t. As supposedly different as Bernie Sanders claims to be, his platform is only a few degrees to the left of Hillary’s. There’s a contrast, but it’s not one of ideology; it’s one of extremity. Bernie Sanders wants a $15 federal minimum wage, Hillary Clinton wants it at $12. Sanders wants free college, Clinton wants loan-free college. There is clearly no fundamental schism between what Sanders and Clinton are selling. Whatever one of them is, the other is.
The problem for Clinton is that she has to walk this tightrope where she can appeal to moderate Democrats without marginalizing her rabid liberal base. And she knows that, especially among millennials, there is a healthy American appetite for the kind of democratic socialism found in Scandinavia. And make no mistake about it, that’s exactly where the Democratic Party wants to take us. Sanders, to his credit, is at least forthright about it. Clinton and the DNC establishment know they have to be careful about tipping their hand.