With the Democratic field whittled down to two, and Bernie proving to be surprisingly competitive with Hillary, the relations between the two have become a little testy, as have the relationships between her supporters. That’s what an actual race will do for you. For various reasons – which I will explain below – I think that a competitive race is a very good thing. And that Hillary and Bernie are not that far apart. Let’s examine both candidates:
About Hillary Clinton
A woman named Courtney Enlow recently penned what she herself called an “All-Caps Explosion of Feelings Regarding the Liberal Backlash against Hillary Clinton.” In the piece – which was indeed mostly in all caps – the Enlow raged against the double-standard that Hillary suffers as a woman – and the unfair backlash that she believes Hillary suffers because she actually has ties to the establishment and is interested in “getting things done.” But Enlow misperceives the problem. It’s not that there most likely is a double-standard and that some of the backlash against Hillary is unfair. But much of this Hillary brought on herself through her own fault. The problem is:
- Hillary really has gotten into bed with Wall Street and the financial industry
- Hillary really has been dishonest and disingenuous at times, which has made it very hard to trust her. Even among people who really like her (of which I count myself one).
It was her husband, of course, who led the deregulation of Wall Street which undid Glass-Steagall, and which led to so much of the 2007 financial melt-down. He wasn’t the only one, of course, with the Bushes and Congress doing equal damage, but he is certainly in the group of those who have to share the blame. As a Senator from New York, there was little if any indication that Hillary was willing to take on Wall Street, and doing so was not part of her legislative agenda. More ominously, she really did take $600,000 in a single year from making speeches to Goldman-Sachs, and then had the audacity to tell Chuck Todd that she didn’t think Lloyd Blankfein and the bank would want anything in return. As I’ve argued in the past, Hillary is the candidate of the liberal corporatocracy.
To use another better known example, in the 2008 campaign, she claimed that she had come “under fire” while exiting from a plane at the airport in Bosnia, an exaggeration that was totally unfounded, and more importantly, unnecessary. It’s the same thing that got Brian Williams fired from his job. This, and similar confabulations, is why people don’t really trust her. Me included.
Bernie presents a pretty stark contrast to that. He comes across, and feels completely authentic, which was on display again in the debate last night. And Bernie has been remarkably consistent in his positions, in what he says, and in what he believes, over many, many years.
On the other hand, the defenders of Hillary have a valid point. As I’ve also argued in the past, Hillary is the most qualified non-incumbent ever to run for President, bar none. She also has a long record of fighting the good fight on many issues, including health care and pay equity for women. In the Senate she was known as a work horse and not a show horse. And, as others have argued, she has been the victim of a 25 year smear campaign from the right, which has been quite successful in demonizing her, just as they have been successful in some quarter of demonizing Barack Obama. And, as Hillary validly pointed out in the debate last night, the root of the word “progressive” is progress.
About Bernie Sanders
Another commentator, in this case a woman named Robyn Morton, wrote passionately about what you ask “When You Ask Me to Vote for Hillary.” To vote for her in the primaries, Morton argues, she “would need to believe that the establishment on both the right and the left have so thoroughly strangled the political system that it is no longer ‘reasonable’ to even try for reform.”
I’m very sympathetic with Morton’s point of view here, but I do worry that the dramatic political reform that is necessary in this political environment, is extremely unlikely in 2016. Let’s consider the following:
- Bernie is 74 years old.
- Bernie is a socialist.
- Bernie is a Jew.
Any one of those things would be precedent setting for him to become President of the United States. All three of them combined would be an unheard of sea change in the American political system. Right now Bernie is polling well against Donald Trump and the other Republican candidates, but it’s still seven months to the Presidential election. As even the Iowa caucuses showed – with the victory of Ted Cruz over Donald Trump – eventually Cinderella’s ball winds down, and political reality reasserts itself. I don’t think there are that many people in “middle America” who are actually ready to vote for a septuagenarian socialist Jew for President, when push comes to shove.
What my progressive friends are concerned about is a rerun of the George McGovern Presidential campaign in 1972. That’s the one where people, especially young people, were very excited about McGovern, the anti-war candidate, who was then swept aside by Richard Nixon in a political bloodbath where only Massachusetts voted for McGovern.
The country is much more bifurcated now than it was in 1972, but the fact of the matter is that there really would have to be an unprecedented political revolution, a kind that we have never seen before in the United States, for Bernie to actually be elected as President. In addition, we would have to have a complete sea change in the Congress, which is also extremely unlikely because the way that congressional districts have been gerrymandered for years and years to produce a vast majority of completely safe seats. That’s the political reality until two things happen: we have a constitutional amendment to deal with gerrymandering, and we have a reversal of the Citizen’s United decision.
My Conclusion: vote Bernie, then vote Hillary
I think that there are very strong arguments to be on behalf of both candidates. I’ve said before that I plan to vote for Bernie in the Massachusetts Democratic primary because I want to send a message. And I want to send that message to Hillary, most of all, and to the rest of the Democratic establishment, how deeply disturbed I am about Wall Street, and about income bifurcation in America, and about the corruption of the American political system by big money interests. I can send that message because I don’t think that there’s any realistic chance that Bernie actually becomes the Democratic nominee for President. Once the battleground shifts to the Southern States, to the Western States, to the Midwestern States, where Hillary has great support, especially among Latinos and African Americans, and once Bernie becoming the nominee becomes an actual possibility, I think that political reality will reassert itself. But I thank Bernie for being in the race and for doing something which is absolutely essential right now: for changing the conversation.
One of the ironies of all of this, is that Bernie would likely be a pragmatic President if he were actually elected. He was a very pragmatic mayor in Burlington, and he’s actually been a reasonably practical legislator in the United States congress. But that would obviously undermine the very revolution for which he is advocating, and for which commentators like Robyn Morton are demanding. Between the two, it is likely to be Hillary – vilified as she is by the Republicans, and surely would continue to be if she were President – who would be able to get more done, as long as she can keep herself sailing in the right direction.
 And one hopes that Morton not only writes her blog, but also goes out to vote and gets all her friends to vote.