The Clinton Campaign Didn't Learn from History: Underestimating Barack, Underestimating Bernie

sen. hillary clinton  speaks at ...
sen. hillary clinton speaks at ...

It feels like yesterday: My liberal friends and I, awed and caught by surprise, as a contender we'd previously discounted -- Barack Obama -- upset Hillary Clinton in Iowa.

Clinton's mistake up to that point had been to ignore Obama, to hope he'd go away. The Clinton campaign was frightened, naturally, of criticizing him and giving his nascent campaign more attention than it already had. But Obama didn't go away. He came in from behind and seized an election that nearly everyone had assumed would be Clinton's coronation. Given that historical lesson, why is the Clinton campaign of today ignoring Bernie instead of tackling him, head on? Didn't it learn?

Of course, there are differences between Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders. Bernie is an old white man -- not exactly a demographic box that inspires excitement. Bernie has been in politics for years and years, while Barack was a fresh face. And so on.

But there are similarities. Bernie, like Barack, is perceived as being to the left of the frontrunner juggernaut that is Hillary Clinton. Bernie, like Barack, energizes the progressive base of the Democratic Party -- a base starving for an alternative. Bernie, like Barack, appeals to people like me who feel a reflective sense of excitement at the prospect of supporting an underdog. And finally, Bernie, like Barack, is much more willing than Clinton to criticize the "billionaire class," probably because, unlike Clinton, he does not rely on that very class to fuel his political campaign.

Unlike Barack, Bernie seems to be a true alternative to the establishment politics of Clinton. That makes him a threat -- to the "billionaire" class he is wont to criticize, to Super PACs fueled by Citizens United, and -- most crucially -- to establishment politicians like Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton ignores Bernie Sanders at her own peril.