Last week, I described what Bernie Sanders needs to do to put meat on the bones of his “political revolution.” This week, I want to explore what Hillary Clinton ought to do in response to Sanders’s “revolution” meme. The short answer: Tell everyone the fable of the Gadfly and the Grinder.
It’s not an actual Aesop’s Fable, of course. But if old Aesop were to fashion the equivalent from political archetypes, the Gadfly and the Grinder would certainly be included.
The Gadfly uses the platform of public office to criticize, to issue jeremiads, to challenge the rest of his colleagues and the country to think outside the narrow frame of status quo possibility. To the Gadfly, the choice is between half-measures and full measures, and half-measures represent failures of nerve and imagination.
The Grinder, on the other hand, uses the machinery of public office to make progress incrementally, to construct coalitions, to grind out ungainly compromises. To the Grinder, the choice is between half-measures and no measures, and no measures are what you get when you don’t show up and persist in the process every day.
Sanders is a classic Gadfly. Clinton is a classic Grinder.
There is nothing wrong with being a Gadfly. In fact, a healthy political ecosystem has plenty of them and empowers them. Go to any authoritarian society around the world and the unnatural silence you will hear is the absence of gadflies. It also is wholly possible to be a consequential political figure as a Gadfly, whether in office or not. Consider Thomas Paine, William Lloyd Garrison, and William Jennings Bryan. It is also true that sometimes the Grinder, in love with compromise for its own sake, loses perspective about the moral stakes—think of Daniel Webster, making deals with the devil of slavery in order to preserve the Union.