Hillary Clinton

Hillary: I Lost Because Bernie Promised Everyone a Pony

Politicians have cultivated economic illiteracy to make their pursuit of power easier.


Gage Skidmore

In her forthcoming book about the 2016 election, What Happened, Hillary Clinton complains that her chief opponent in the primaries, Bernie Sanders, consistently undercut her by one-upping her "bold" and "ambitious" proposals without explaining how his policies would work.

In other words, Sanders did to Clinton what Democrats have done to their critics for years: Frame any worry about the costs and unintended consequences of a program as a lack of concern for the problem the program is supposed to address. After years of cultivating economic illiteracy, the party reaped the results.

In an excerpt tweeted by a supporter ahead of the book's release, Clinton compared Sanders to the deranged hitchhiker in There's Something About Mary whose get-rich-quick scheme involves cribbing the famous "eight minute abs" program with his own "seven minute abs." Ben Stiller, who picks him up, points out that nothing's stopping him from cutting it down to six-minute abs.

"On issue after issue, it was like he kept proposing four-minute abs, or even no-minute abs," Clinton complained of Sanders. "Magic abs!"

Clinton continued by sharing a Facebook post she said someone sent her. The post compared Sanders' various positions to a belief that "America should get a pony." When Clinton expresses skepticism about the idea, Sanders says she thinks "America doesn't deserve a pony" and his supporters declare that Clinton hates ponies. Her clarification that actually she loves ponies is then treated as a flip-flop.

The reaction to the excerpt helped illustrate Clinton's point. Several Sanders supporters in the Twitter thread complained that Clinton dared to compare single-payer healthcare to ponies. "Funny that she likens no one dying or going into debt because they don't have enough money to a 'pony,'" a typical response read. Projecting the worst possible motives onto your opponents is a lot easier than explaining your own positions.

On the specific case of single payer, the same process has been playing out in California this year. Supporters of single payer didn't have a plan to overcome the procedural hurdles they faced. So instead they disingenuously blamed Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, who had to shelf the bill, and for that was the target of mass protests and death threats.

"Rather than committing to raising the millions of dollars that would be needed to overcome special interests and pass that initiative, they would, apparently, rather deceive their supporters, hiding the realities of California's woeful political structure in favor of a morality play designed to advance careers and aggrandize power," The Intercept's David Dayen explained. "That may sound harsh. It's gentle."

Clinton has identified a real problem in American politics, even as she elides its roots. Both parties have promoted economic ignorance, because that makes it easier to make wild promises and then find scapegoats when the promises fall through. The consequences are all around us.