Some people say Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are approximately the same on the issues. These people likely have a lifestyle and a level of income that is comfortable and that they’re not too worried about losing.
For middle class and working class people, many of whom struggle from paycheck to paycheck and carry debt, the policies proposed by the two candidates are nothing alike.
Given the power of an incumbent president, and the fact that most of our last presidents have been reelected, if we end up with Hillary Clinton in the White House, we’ll likely have her and her essentially status quo policies for eight years, not just four.
Bernie Sanders’s proposals, many of which are quite bold, are not all guaranteed to be immediately implemented of course, but Bernie has a long track record of tenacity and passing progressive legislation even in Republican-controlled legislatures. We know he will fight (more…)
Historical perspective on Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton
Who is the real Democrat — Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton? Why are fringe candidates getting all of the attention this year? Who are the moderates?
These questions can all be answered by understanding something that has been unfolding for forty years: The center of American politics has shifted steadily to the right. Today neither party is even remotely similar to what it was when Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, for example, first entered politics.
In the late 1970s, as large corporations turned into transnational giants, they pumped huge amounts of cash into the political system. This largesse lured, first, the Republican Party, in the 80s, followed by the Democratic Party in the 90s, and precipitated a rightward political shift as both parties rewrote their policies to compete for the same corporate contributions.
Before this, from 1932–1976, the Democratic Party as a whole was far more progressive. The issues and approaches advocated today by Bernie Sanders were considered mainstream Democratic ideas by Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson, and even many moderate Republicans. It was common to support strict financial regulation, liberal immigration, social services for the poor, and progressive tax policies.
Hillary Clinton’s stances, while fluid during this election cycle, are historically most in tune with classical Republican ideas, as advocated by Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and others. As a young woman, she volunteered for the conservative Barry Goldwater, and while today she’s become liberal on some social issues, she’s generally at home with moderate conservative ideas, such as a hawkish military, strict immigration laws, reduced welfare, laissez-faire rules for Wall Street, and international business treaties that favor large corporations. One group started a petition this year asking Clinton to run as a Republican, suggesting that while she is “liberal on some issues, on a wide range of important issues she lands squarely as a moderate conservative.”
As for the Republican candidates still running in the primary this year — Donald Trump, John Kasich, and Ted Cruz — they are all to the right of Goldwater, and they would have been considered unelectable extremists and distant outliers on the spectrum before 1996.
The Rise of Bernie Sanders
Without Bernie Sanders, we would have the political spectrum above. Hillary Clinton and the conservative wing of the Democratic Party have moved rightward into a corporate centrist (neoliberal) position. This position has a certain amount of flexibility on social issues but adheres strictly to unregulated capitalism and favors international trade deals that benefit large corporations rather than domestic jobs, the environment, or fair wage or labor standards. The Republican Party has shifted to the right too, towards policies that benefit no one but the ultra-wealthy and the largest transnational corporations; they cloak their goals in racist or evangelical language to appeal to voters, but their regressive policies generally aim to restrict or even cancel laws and rights won by the working classes in earlier eras.
This rightward drift has pushed the “center” to a spot between Hillary Clinton and John Kasich. This “center” is to the right of even Social Security, abortion rights, labor unions, and quality public high schools. With that “center,” Republicans who wish to be considered “strong conservatives” compete for ground far out to the right, where little civic sanity is left. With that “center,” true progressive issues are never even discussed.
The arrival of Bernie Sanders heralds a potential rebalancing of the spectrum:
Bernie’s policies appear to us to be radical and unusual only because the Democratic Party has moved so far to the right since he entered politics. In 1970, universal healthcare, peace, and a livable minimum wage were bread-and-butter down-the-middle planks of the Democratic Party platform.
What We Are Voting On
Therefore in 2016 we are voting not just for a candidate, but for the very political debate we want to have over the next two decades. I support Bernie Sanders not only because he’s right on the issues I care most about — climate change, campaign finance, income inequality, racial justice, and militarism — but because electing him will reestablish the left in our political discourse for a generation.
Resetting the spectrum will restart an American political discourse where the left and right are more balanced representations of classical liberal and conservative thinking, and where racist reactionaries are no longer considered American thought leaders. This will enable action on pressing issues like the environment, campaign finance, and livable wages.
If Hillary Clinton wins the nomination, her victory will push our political center further right and normalize a crazy cadre of right-wingers as the holders of modern American conservatism.
If Bernie Sanders wins the nomination, his victory will be a genuine win for the American political left, but more importantly it will reset our political discourse and pave the way for sensible debate on the most important issues of our time.
Not only is Bernie right on the issues, he’s better positioned to beat Trump.
Because of the realities of our two-party political system, where generally only two candidates ever have a chance to win a major office, we’re always given exactly two ways to think about our choice in the voting booth:
Vote for the candidate you prefer
Vote against the candidate you fear
We also have a political advertising climate that emphasizes attack ads and negative campaigning. Thus many millions of people every year are convinced not to vote for the candidate they want, but to vote against the candidate they fear. In many elections, voters become so afraid of the candidate they’re voting against, they’ll even choose a candidate on their side who they like less simply because they think that candidate will beat the candidate they fear.
This is called the “lesser of two evils” strategy, where you don’t vote idealistically for whom you like, you vote pragmatically for who you hope can beat someone you like even less.
How does this strategy work out?
Starting with History
First, obviously, this “lesser of two evils” strategy has a basic problem: You always end up with evil. You never get to elect candidates you actually like.
But what’s worse is that many times you don’t even avoid the candidate you fear.
For instance, in 2004, the Democratic primary came down to a race between Howard Dean and John Kerry. Dean was viewed as the anti-war candidate, the more progressive candidate, the candidate who was standing up and calling out the Bush Administration on some of its worst policies. Kerry was considered the moderate, who wanted to reduce the war’s costs but who stopped short of calling for its end; he even apologized at one point in his campaign for sounding too vehemently anti-war.
As the primary season proceeded, the media repeatedly told Americans essentially this:
“This is not the year to vote with your heart. Vote with your head. Howard Dean isn’t electable. Beating Bush is more important than voting for whom you prefer.”
So voters were asked to support a candidate who was not opposed to the war and who, in general, agreed with them less. The point was that, in theory, he would be more electable. Kerry was the lesser of two evils.
Democrats were convinced. They voted with their heads (i.e. their fear), and gave Kerry the nomination instead of Dean.
How did that work out?
Once in the general election against Bush, Kerry ran a campaign that, predictably, wasn’t strongly differentiated from Bush’s campaign on the issues, and he was defeated. The lesser of the two evils lost.
Four years later, in 2008, Democratic voters were again presented with a choice between “voting with their heads” and “voting with their hearts.” Hillary Clinton was the clear choice for those voting with their heads — she had experience in the White House and strong connections with virtually everyone in the Democratic Party establishment.
But something different happened that year. A relatively little-know Senator, Barack Obama, was inspiring new voters by the thousands and motivating a groundswell of support among the party base. The media repeatedly told us Obama was “not electable.” But voters went with their hearts (i.e. their inspiration), and they chose to nominate this relative newcomer, an African American, a “long shot.”
How did that work out?
In the general election Barack Obama inspired the base of the Democratic Party — and also inspired millions of new voters and independents — and he swept to victory over a relatively popular Republican named John McCain.
Another Year, Another Choice
Today, in 2016, the Democratic Party faces the same issue: Shall we vote with our hearts (our inspiration), or shall vote with our heads (our fear)?
Just as in 2004 and 2008, we have an establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton, on one hand, who the media tells us is more “electable,” even if she isn’t as progressive on the issues as most Democrats would like; and we have an unexpected rising progressive candidate, Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, who connects strongly with the base of the party, advocates for the issues voters most deeply care about, and is inspiring new voters and independents.
Bernie Sanders advocates breaking up the giant Wall Street banks that caused the financial catastrophe of 2008, which decimated wealth and home ownership among the middle class. Bernie also advocates for uncompromising and immediate action on climate change, even-handed peace in the Middle East, strong racial justice measures, greater economic fairness, and — most importantly — ending the current campaign financing system many increasingly consider corrupt.
Hillary advocates for many of these same issues, but less forcefully and with less conviction and less of a track record. She has benefited considerably from the campaign financing system, so she doesn’t speak as credibly when she vows to reform it. She’s more hawkish on the Middle East and, as a multi-millionaire herself, she’s less committed to measures to increase economic fairness.
Today the mainstream corporate media are running piece after piece about how bad Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio are, strongly suggesting to us in the Democratic primary to vote our fears. The media also runs pieces suggesting that Bernie’s ideas are implausible or impossible, or that he won’t be able to “get anything done,” suggesting we ought to choose someone more moderate. We’re told that nominating a true progressive is a long shot, and will fail. So be afraid, be very afraid.
How’s it going to work out?
Repeated polls indicate, perhaps without surprising those of us aware of history, that it is actually Bernie Sanders who is both more “electable” and more likely to defeat the Republicans.
And as this video points out, it is actually Bernie who will be able to get more done in the White House:
Nevertheless, the media ignores the polls, or calls them “speculative” or “unreliable,” and they stick to their story that only connected political insiders can get things done.
Another idea is trotted out — history. Be afraid of history.
They don’t go back to 2008 or 2004. Nor do they choose 2000, another year the Democrats nominated the moderate (Al Gore) in the primary and lost the general election.
No, they go all the way back to 1972. “Look what happened in 1972,” they say. “The Democratic Party nominated a true anti-war candidate (George McGovern). He lost!”
Kathy Donohue points out in her excellent piece on Salon.com that this history is flat wrong. Yes, McGovern was the more liberal candidate that year, but he was hardly a progressive connecting with the base at all; he wasn’t inspiring new voters or even connecting with existing Democratic popular support, such as labor unions. Donohue rightly points out that if you want to go back to that era, the year that Democrats really must consider is four years earlier, 1968, when a real progressive connecting with the base (Eugene McCarthy) was passed over in favor of a weak moderate (Hubert Humphrey). Humphrey had support only among the Democratic Party establishment and no real support among the base of the party. Humphrey won the primary through extremely unpopular actions taken by the Democratic Party establishment, overruling the will of the Democratic base.
How did that work out?
Humphrey lost meekly to a young Republican named Richard Nixon.
The moral of these stories isn’t simply to nominate a moderate, or to nominate a progressive, it’s to nominatea candidate in step with the voters. This should be obvious in a democracy, but for some reason the Democratic Party repeatedly misses it.
We Must Choose Wisely This Time
So in 2016, the truth should be obvious to anyone observing history and democracy: If you want to win, choose the candidate who is inspiring and connecting with the voters.
This year, there can be no doubt who that is. Bernie Sanders is inspiring more and more of the base every day. He calls it a “political revolution,” and anyone who’s been to his 10,000-person rallies will tell you those words don’t feel like an exaggeration. Should he be awarded the nomination, he will differentiate himself very clearly from the Republican, inspire the base, bring in new voters and independents by the millions, and he will win.
So despite what the media tells us, let’s not have another 2000 or 2004. Let’s have a 2008, where we vote with our hearts, choose the candidate we’re inspired by, and know that the odds of victory in the general election are squarely in our favor.
There is pervasive sexism in our society and in our political systems, and we need to change this immediately. We need equal pay for women, more women in elective office, and it’s long past time we elect a woman president. I understand and accept that some progressives support Hillary Clinton for president, particularly if the most important issue to them is voting for a woman.
I am ready to vote for a woman president, and I have in the past. Today I would support Elizabeth Warren, Barbara Lee, or any other progressive woman candidate for president wholeheartedly.
In fact if Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton were essentially the same on the issues, I would be supporting Hillary even more enthusiastically than I am supporting Bernie.
Identity Isn’t Everything
The thing is, when I look beyond their race, gender, and religion, and carefully examine not just their words but their actions, Hillary and Bernie are two very different candidates. They differ sharply on the issues that are most important to me.
For economic justice, racial justice, militarism, reducing money in politics, and fighting climate change, a Hillary Clinton presidency offers, at best, no progress, and at worst, war with Iran, escalation in Syria, deepened influence of corporate money on all political decisions, and another financial catastrophe from an essentially unregulated Wall Street. What I see in Hillary Clinton is a politician who is part of the ruling class, conservative by nature, corrupted by extensive and copious corporate donations, and willing to say nearly anything to get elected.
Some years only corporate Democrats run for office, and if this were such a year, I might support Clinton in order to at least elect a woman. But the best candidate I’ve seen in the decades I’ve been closely watching politics is running for president this year. Bernie Sanders is not perfect, but he is an exceptional candidate on so many issues affecting our country and planet, and I believe he will make a great president.
An additional issue, though by no means the most important, is that Bernie Sanders is polling better against all the Republican candidates and is more likely to win in the general election. A recent poll shows 1 in 6 Republicans already would vote for Bernie over Donald Trump. I believe Bernie polls so well in putative head-to-head matchups because of his honesty and forthright nature, qualities that have helped him win so many elections as an independent in Vermont and that likely will carry him to the White House if he wins the nomination.
I voted and worked for Obama in 2008, and for Jill Stein in 2012. This year I’m enthusiastically supporting the democratic socialist Bernie Sanders for president.
A Pledge and an Invitation
That’s my opinion. I’m sure that you have yours, and I’d like to hear it. Let’s be respectful and discuss the issues we care most about. If we disagree about whom to support for the nomination, I humbly ask that we disagree based upon the issues we care about and leave personal identity out of it.
I pledge never to slur you or anyone else based on race or gender or any other personal attribute, regardless of opinion.
Will you agree never to slur me or anyone else based on race, gender, or any other personal attribute, regardless of their opinion?