WASHINGTON — It took Hillary Clinton and her campaign a good long while to figure out how to go after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
They settled on a strategy just in time to help her eke out the narrowest of victories in Iowa.
At a rally in in Des Moines on Saturday before the voting, Clinton’s anti-Sanders strategy was on display as she launched into a long set piece on Obamacare, politics and taxes.
Sanders, true to his pro-government democratic socialist philosophy, was campaigning hard in favor of a so-called single-payer, government-run program that would replace what he regarded as the halfway house of Obamacare.
Health care was a “right,” Sanders said, and one that all Americans should enjoy, courtesy of the government, from cradle to grave. He said he would institute a version of Medicare for all.
Voters would save money by no longer having to pay insurance premiums to private companies. Instead, everyone — including the middle class — would pay additional taxes.
Americans would come out ahead, in their pocketbooks and peace of mind.
Clinton pounced a few weeks ago, and had gotten it honed to a fine point by this week.
She said, rightly, that Sanders wanted to scrap the current hard-won Obamacare system (though she didn’t say he wanted something even more sweeping and generous).
She said that doing so was not only substantively wrong, but politically wasteful, since she above all had known how hard it was to pass an Obamacare law, having worked on something similar from the moment of her husband’s election in 1993.
When asked by network interviewers about Obama’s legacy — of which his health care plan is a key part — 56 percent of Democrats said they wanted to “continue Obama’s policies.” Thirty-two percent said that they wanted more liberal policies than the president’s. It was precisely the kind of spread the Clinton camp was counting on.
“It’s been too hard to get where we are!” Clinton bellowed to a crowd at a local college. The crowd stood and cheered.
“Some people want to have a theoretical debate on some better idea that will never, ever come to pass!” she continued.
The crowd cheered some more.
“We don’t need to be thrown into that gridlock again! We can’t risk it. “
To prove her point, Clinton invited onto the stage a woman for whom the Affordable Care Act had been a lifesaver, allowing her to get a serious operation that she would not have been able to afford.
Never mind that the woman might well have been able to get the same operation under a single-payer plan; she got it under Obamacare.
And then there was the matter of taxes. “I’m the only candidate in this (Democratic race) who will not raise taxes on the middle class!” Clinton said, reminding voters that Sanders himself admitted that he would have to do so.
The three-way argument on health care clearly helped, which is ironic, given Clinton’s political history. She was soundly defeated — almost laughed out of town — when she took command of the health-care reform issue for her husband in 1993.
Clinton was outflanked by Barack Obama on the issue in Iowa in 2008. He attacked her from the right for her plan’s requirement that everyone apply for health insurance — the very “mandate” that Obama himself later included in his own plan once he had defeated her and won the White House.
But at least health care helped Clinton politically — and it seems likely to continue to do so as she battles Sanders through the spring.
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