For the second time this semester, I tuned into a national televised Democratic primary debate with throngs of Yale for Bernie and Yale for Hillary students. As each side cheered on their candidate of choice, I sat waiting with bated breath to hear the moderators acknowledge a simple but unspoken truth: No matter who wins the Presidential race in 2016, Republicans will control the House of Representatives for the entirety of the next president’s first term.
Every halfway competent political scientist knows this is true.
By packing minority voters into urban districts and drawing other districts that make my preschool artwork look like a masterpiece, state legislatures rigged our congressional districts after the 2010 census to render all but a handful of them solidly red or blue. As they’re currently drawn, these districts will never produce a Democratic majority.
Republicans, of course, know they have a lock on the House. But they can’t state such an obvious fact publicly without admitting that the game is rigged. And Democrats can’t talk about it without admitting that taking back the House is futile.
Absent some cataclysmic rumbles from the Supreme Court, Republicans will have a solid hold on the House of Representatives at least until after the 2020 census — in other words, for the entire first term of the next president of the United States.
And yet, during both debates, each Democratic candidate laid out idealistic policy proposals as if they would actually be able to implement them once elected. That might work in a functioning democracy, but it won’t happen in this era of American politics.
Interestingly, Jim Webb might have had an opening in the first debate. As a near-Republican, he could have acknowledged the obvious stranglehold on the House and brandished his centrism as a way to push moderate economic reforms through Congress.
To some extent, it makes sense that Bernie Sanders would never mention this. Virtually all of his proposals, from free college tuition to Medicare-for-all, will go nowhere in Congress. But even Hillary Clinton LAW ’73, who boasts a history of bipartisan accomplishments from her time as secretary of state, refuses to point out this basic fact about the political constraints of her first term.
Ignoring the antidemocratic reality of our current political system only allows dysfunction to persist.
Unfortunately, it does not matter whether or not Bernie Sanders personally supports single-payer health care. It matters whether he has a plan to implement it. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say I do not care about any Democrat’s personal opinions on the issues any more than I care about John Kasich’s assurances that he would not be grossed out by attending a gay wedding. We as voters only care about positions because they resemble actual policy outcomes.
Admittedly, there are reasons why one might propose a policy that could never be implemented. For example, Sanders’ support of a $15 federal minimum wage (compared to $12 for Clinton) could give progressive cities and states more political capital to pursue larger minimum wage increases in the absence of federal action. Starting at a higher wage might also put Democrats in a better bargaining position with congressional Republicans in the first few years of the next administration.
But it’s important for voters to realize that in this particular election — with this particular Congress — voting for a candidate who supports a $15 federal minimum wage will not make it happen.
This is not 2008, when Clinton and Obama were vying to become president at a time when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress. We are in markedly different territory now, and it has been frustrating to watch as the candidates pitch themselves much the same as they would have eight years ago.
The remaining Democratic candidates are not just running for president. They are running to be the leader of a divided government. And as long as they refuse to acknowledge the proverbial herd of elephants in the room, we are all missing out on what could be a far more informed and pragmatic debate.
The next Democratic debate is coming up in December. This time, let’s hold all the candidates accountable. If the moderator won’t say it out loud, counter each policy proposal yourself with a simple question: But how will you pass that through a Republican Congress?
Tyler Blackmon is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. His column runs on alternate Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .