In the real world, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are running for president on the same platform.
That has nothing to do with breaking up the big banks or bringing about Medicare-for-all or even raising taxes on the rich. It's about stopping the Republicans from deregulating Wall Street, taking health insurance away from millions of people, and slashing taxes on top-earners by trillions more than George W. Bush ever did. In other words, defending the incomplete but still significant victories of the Obama years.
Now, No-they-won't isn't exactly as inspiring as Yes-we-can, but it's no less important, especially now. That's because whenever Clinton and Sanders talk about their plans, the elephant in the room is an actual one and the room is on Capitol Hill. Republicans, you see, have a a stranglehold on the House and probably a 50-50 shot at keeping the Senate. That means that even something as modest as paid family leave would almost certainly be DOA in either a Clinton or Sanders administration. It'd be at least four more years of gridlock where the only conceivable deals were the kind of lobbyist-friendly ones that would make Democrats hold their noses.
But, of course, it would be a much different story with a President Rubio or Cruz or Trump. They really could have the congressional majorities they'd need to kill Dodd-Frank, repeal and not replace Obamacare, and cut the top tax rate from the 39.6 percent where economic growth is suffocated to at least the 35 percent where great prosperity thrives. The only question for Democrats, then, is who is more likely to stop this from happening by winning the general election. Everything else is academic.
Well, except for one thing: how they think change actually happens. Sanders seems to believe that it's a matter of standing up to corporate interests, and, in so doing, getting people who normally don't vote or vote for you to come to your side. That's his "political revolution." The question is whether that is persuasive enough for enough people to vote for him.
Take one of Sanders's biggest issues, single-payer health care. It's true that we as a country pay far more and get far less for health care than anyone else in the world. But it's also true that most people have coverage they're pretty happy with. It isn't easy to convince them that they should give up the health-care plan they like and pay higher taxes just in the hope that they'll end up saving more money on their new plan. That's why, Clinton argues, it's better to build out from what we have to do the same things that single-payer would without the disruption of actually switching to it. So it's not a disagreement about what Democrats should stand for, but rather how they should stand for those things. Whether they should make the case for big change or for incremental changes that would eventually amount to the same thing.
But there's not going to be either as long as Republicans hold the House. It's like arguing what's more real: a magical unicorn or a regular unicorn.
In either case, you're still running on a unicorn platform.