Bernie, Hillary, the Binding Constraints of Cramped Reality, and the Overton Window

Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton and Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. speak as
Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton and Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. speak as they walk off stage together during a break at the NBC, YouTube Democratic presidential debate at the Gaillard Center, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

I may be a bit out of my depth here but let me offer a few thoughts on a debate among progressives that leaves me scratching away at the old noggin. Here are the bones of the thing, as I kinda understand them:

Argument 1: "Bernie supporters, you're going to blow this for us!"

- Hillary's ideas are less radical than Bernie's, ergo they're more politically realistic.

- If you don't get this, you too are not realistic and, by getting behind an un-electable candidate, you're going to lose everything for the left.

Counterargument 1: "Hillary supporters, wake up and smell the revolution!"

- Your limited vision is why progressives can't get anywhere. Stop trying to slam shut the Overton window (the range of acceptable discourse) that Bernie is trying to open.

- You're a shill for Wall Street.

Counterargument 2: "Bernie supporters, I don't smell anything, and neither would you if had a nose for politics!"

- There will be no revolution. Not even close. Come out from under your rock and look around.

- Therefore, we must assiduously protect and maybe, if we're really lucky, build on what we have, and not get distracted by fantasies of single payer, free college, and so on.

I'm somewhat sympathetic to all the above. In fact, I've both advocated for putting aside political constraints and, particularly around health care, putting such constraints front and center. If that's muddled, so be it. Like Walt Whitman kinda said, I think, "So I contradict myself. I'm large. Like the ocean."

But what I don't understand is the urgency to shut down one side or the other. You'd need an electron microscope to find the differences between Hillary and Bernie compared to the differences between them and the Republicans. From where I sit that's what's most important. As this blog ceaselessly argues, what's needed is a Reconnection Agenda, and they both get that.

The rest is politics. It's democracy. It's messy. If you think you know how this is going to turn out, and who's electable and who isn't, you don't. If Bernie's overtures to the Overton window make you nervous, feel free to say so, but I'd stop way short of making the case that he's leading his followers and thus the nation down the road to perdition. That's way too presumptuous.

If Hillary's incrementalism is too cautious for you, so be it. I will not lecture you on realism in American politics today and I'd urge other aging pundits to follow my example. But, for the record, cautious politics is not equal to Wall Street shill.

Reality is way too cramped as it is. If there's value added in making it more so, especially at this stage of the game, I don't see it. If you think you do, look again.

This post originally appeared at Jared Bernstein's On The Economy blog.