Brent Budowsky: Why Clinton feels the burn

Brent Budowsky: Why Clinton feels the burn
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There is joy in the hearts of the army of small donors supporting Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Dems fear lasting damage from Clinton-Sanders fight MORE (I-Vt.) for president as a growing number of polls show increasing numbers of voters feeling the Bern in Iowa, New Hampshire and nationally.

There is also a growing whiff of worry in the air surrounding the Clinton campaign as Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden slams Trump over golf gif hitting Clinton Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax hit by earlier hack | What to know about Kaspersky controversy | Officials review EU-US privacy pact Overnight Tech: Equifax hit by earlier undisclosed hack | Facebook takes heat over Russian ads | Alt-right Twitter rival may lose domain MORE and her entourage of consultants and advisers feel the burn of a nomination victory they once believed was inevitable that may possibly be slipping away.

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Something powerful and profound is happening in American politics. With nearly unanimous public revulsion against Congress and business as usual in Washington, with economic anxiety and pain far greater than political or financial pundits or President Obama can understand, after repeated change elections that have brought no change, there is a tidal wave of anti-establishment populism in both parties that is defining the 2016 campaign.

The great fault line in the tectonic plate of American politics today is not Democrat versus Republican. It is a politically epic battle with realigning potential — similar in nature to the victories of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932 and Ronald Reagan in 1980 — between competing visions and policies of anti-establishment populism.

The challenge for Clinton is that the leading protagonists in the battle to ride the anti-establishment populist wave to the presidency are Sanders, Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, while Clinton by comparison appears as the candidate of the Washington insider Democratic establishment and the Wall Street insider financial establishment.

The Trump brand of populism is based on racial, religious and anti-foreigner bigotry and a bullying politics of insults and invective. The Cruz brand of populism is based on his nihilism in causing gridlock and government shutdowns while he wears like a badge of honor the fact that he is despised by most of his Republican Senate colleagues.

By contrast, the Sanders brand of populism is the only anti-establishment cause that is positive in spirit, good-natured in tone and forcefully challenging the political, financial and media establishments in support of sweeping and dramatic change to promote economic equality with true passion and indisputable authenticity.

While Clinton offers many significant and worthy reforms, they are cautiously hedged, as compared to the FDR-like proposals offered by Sanders such as bringing back a version of the Glass-Steagall Act, increasing Social Security benefits and creating a Medicare-for-all healthcare system, to cite just three of many.

There is always the suspicion with Clinton — which is not without some truth — that she is constantly maneuvering between the ideas of progressive reform and the interests of those who give her vast sums of money.

Sanders is the Rembrandt of progressivism, painting a portrait of a progressive reformation in vivid and dramatic colors, while Clinton paints by the numbers. The former secretary of State offers detailed proposals that appear designed to balance competing interests of reformers and donors, creating an authenticity gap and an enthusiasm gap that are dangerous to her in both primary and general election battles.

It is fine for Clinton to occasionally praise Obama, but the more she does, the more she runs as the candidate of the status quo compared to Sanders, who runs as the candidate of change. The shameful bias of Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who deforms the Democratic debates by scheduling them to reach the lowest possible audience, drives home the perception of Clinton as the insider establishment candidate as Sanders battles against a system that is fixed.

Clinton may well prevail, but the best way for her to succeed is not to attack Sanders but to shed her caution, take some risks, liberate herself from her consultants and calculations and name and champion with passion and courage her version of the New Deal and the New Frontier to bring powerful change and a progressive reformation to America. 

Budowsky was an aide to former Sens. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Contributors blog and reached at brentbbi@webtv.net.