"I will not promise you something I cannot deliver," Hillary Clinton has repeatedly told voters, including a group of mainly African American voters in South Carolina last week.
This is meant to contrast Hillary's "achievable" small bore reforms to Bernie Sander's more sweeping reform proposals which are allegedly less achievable.
Hillary's pledge to deliver on all her promises is at the heart of her pitch to Democratic voters. It is demonstrably false.
Given partisan gerrymandering, it is almost certain that Republicans will control the next House. And even if Democrats retake the Senate, there's virtually no chance Democrats will have a 60-40 veto proof majority.
Since retaking control of Congress after President Obama's first two years in office, Congressional Republicans have consistently blocked Obama from enacting the types of reforms Hillary is proposing. How can Hillary credibly promise that they won't do the same to her proposals if she became president?
She can't. And she knows it. Which is one of the reasons that voters find Hillary less than trustworthy.
Indeed Bernie's outsider strategy of building a political revolution of millions of Americans demanding an end to the rigged economic and political system may have a better chance of succeeding over the course of several election cycles and an 8-year Presidency than Hillary's Washington insider strategy of negotiating legislative compromises with intransigent Congressional Republicans.
Let's take a simple example. Bernie Sanders has proposed raising the Federal minimum wage to $15 an hour from its current level of $7.25, while Hillary Clinton has proposed a more "pragmatic" level of $12 an hour, even though this lower level would still leave full-time minimum wage workers in poverty. Two years ago, when President Obama proposed raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour and House Democrats put forward a bill that would raise it to $10.10, House Republicans unanimously voted it down.
Does Hillary Clinton really believe she can keep her promise of a $12 an hour minimum wage and get it through Congress? How? Would she negotiate a deal with Congressional Republicans to raise the minimum wage in exchange, say, for increasing the age for qualifying for Medicare to 67, or cutting the capital gains tax to 15%?
Indeed, Bernie's chances of success may be greater.
Sixty-three percent of Americans (including Democrats, Republicans and Independents) favor raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. But Congress, which as Bernie maintains is controlled by the donor class, does the will of hits corporate donors who want to keep wages low.
What if President Sanders led a March of a million or more citizens on Washington demanding a $15 minimum wage? It's not certain it would work, but it has a better chance of changing votes of some Republicans in Congress than backroom deal-making. And even if it didn't work the first time, given the popularity of a $15 minimum wage across party lines, it might shift enough Congressional seats in the 2018 Congressional election to pass.
Let's take a more complex issue: health care. Although a long-time supporter of Medicare-For-All, Bernie Sanders voted for the Affordable Care Act and helped write portions like additional funding for community health centers.
While Bernie has promised to defend the ACA from Republican attempts to repeal it, his long-term goal remains Medicare-For-All which he believes is a right, not a privilege, and which he believes will improve health care outcomes, while significantly lowering the cost of health care in America which is far more expensive than every other industrialized country.
Hillary claims her promises on health care are more achievable. But if you go to Hillary's website, her proposals are actually rather vague: According to her website,." "Hillary is committed to building on delivery system reforms in the Affordable Care Act that improve value and quality care for Americans." "Hillary believes we need to demand lower drug costs for hardworking families and seniors."
But it's unclear how she plans to accomplish any of this. With the ACA dependent on the private health insurance industry, what steps could President Clinton actually take to "improve value and quality"? On drug prices, in order to pass the ACA the Obama administration made a deal with big PHarMA to include a provision banning Medicare from negotiating the price of drugs with manufacturers. Would Hillary break President Obama's deal? Would Democratic Senators who signed onto the deal go along with that?
And with a Republican House that has voted to repeal the ACA multiple times, and with Senators and Congressman of both parties receiving huge campaign contributions from drug companies, how would she win a vote allowing the government to negotiate lower drug prices? It's extremely unlikely she would--Another campaign promise that Hillary can't deliver on and probably knows she can't deliver on.
It's unlikely that a President Sanders could pass Medicare-For-All early in a first term. But if starting in 1993, when Hillary first designed her health care proposals which abandoned the Democrats' decades long fight for single payer health care in favor of a proposal reliant on private insurance, she had instead led the fight for single payer health care, there's a good chance we would have it by now.
And if Bernie Sanders uses the Presidential bully pulpit to argue for Medicare-For-All and rally its millions of supporters, it might well become possible by the end of his second term, particularly as private medical costs continue to escalate, millions of Americans must still do without health insurance, and millions more can't afford care because of high deductibles and high co-pays.
And imagine this. What if President Sanders led a caravan of thousands of seniors across the US-Canadian border to buy prescription drugs at a fraction of the price as in the US? Might that not be more effective in pressuring Congress to pass legislation allowing Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices than all the back-room dealing that a President Clinton might attempt?
Moreover, although Sanders has spoken for the same principles for 35 years, he's also a talented politician and is not immune to pragmatic compromise. As long as the ACA is law, he would certainly fight as hard or harder as Hillary to give the Federal government the power to negotiate Medicare drug prices.
And he might decide to take an incremental approach to reaching Medicare-For- All. For example, he might propose allowing Americans over 55 and under 25 to buy into Medicare, and then alter the age-range by a decade every few years until all Americans are covered.
The minimum wage and health care are just two examples of promises Hillary Clinton is unlikely to keep because they would die in a Republican-controlled House and a non-fillibuster proof Senate. Her promises to pass them by negotiating back-room deals with Congressional Republicans ring hollow.
There's no guarantee that Bernie Sander's political revolution would fully succeed. But mobilizing millions of Americans to take power back from the oligarchs who've bought Congress has a better chance than Hillary's strategy of back-room dealing.
It actually may be not only the more idealistic strategy but also the more pragmatic one.
In any case, Hillary's pledge to not make promises she can't keep is simply not credible.