Bernie or Bust?

Bernie_Sanders_before_a_crowd_in_Conway,_NH,_on_August_24,_2015_(20876809366)I’m going to start off with a brief preface, specifically in the interest of full disclosure. I am a Bernie Sanders supporter. I voted for him in my state primary, I have attended local campaign meetings and rallies, I have volunteered for the local (Kansas City) campaign activities, and I have even donated a small amount of money to his campaign. I like Bernie. I’ve followed his career for years. I admire his independence. I love his commitment to real liberal reform. I have defended him against conservatives, libertarians, and liberals alike. I would like to see Bernie Sanders elected President.

That being said, I think the current political situation is more complicated than many of his supporters understand. I think that ideological purity won’t get far in our system. I think “tearing down the system” is a terrible idea, and makes no sense without an idea of what to replace it with, or without an idea of how to get a majority of Americans to agree with the principles of such a change.  I think that automatically equating politics and compromise with corruption misses the entire point of politics and compromise.

But this is not a hit piece. Like I said, I’m a Sanders supporter. I want him to succeed, and barring that, I’d like his ideas to be at least partially adopted by Hillary Clinton.

I’m also a pragmatist. I think some change is better than none, and I’m willing to tolerate some negatives to prevent true disaster. And that’s what this is about. If Bernie manages to miraculously secure the Democratic nomination, I’ll be ecstatic. But if he doesn’t… I believe that victory for liberal causes can still be had.

That aside, here we go…

Many supporters of Bernie Sanders have stated they would refuse to vote for Hillary Clinton, should she win the Democratic nomination. The reasons tend to vary, but the gist usually is that they see no discernible difference between her and Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee. Many others assert her perceived lack of honesty, or the scandals that have plagued her political career for decades. Her ties to Wall Street, her moderate ideological leanings, and her willingness to evolve some policy positions have all been cited as well. Certainly Hillary Clinton presents some significant political differences from Bernie Sanders. But does all that add up to the biggest claim – that she is too similar to Donald Trump to be palatable to Sanders supporters?

Indeed, as mentioned above, Hillary Clinton is far friendlier to corporate interests than Bernie Sanders. She has financed much of her political career from the donations of big business and the rich. The more ideologically pure Sanders has been quite the opposite throughout his time in public service. And to many, this difference alone is the most significant reason for not supporting her. The influence of corporate money on the American political system is not new. It’s also been a very mixed bag, though primarily a negative one. A great deal of legislation has been virtually (sometimes literally) written by lobbyists. Corporate America is legendary for helping to shape laws that make it easier for them to profit and prosper, often at the expense of poor Americans, the environment, and even democratic principles. So before I get into how Hillary Clinton differs from Donald Trump, I need to acknowledge that Hillary Clinton is not going to be a transformative figure on the corporate influence front. Or at least, her history has cast doubt on her willingness to be that person.

The thing is, there are other issues to discuss. Many of which will make an enormous difference to the lives of not just millions of Americans, but billions of people around the world. It is no exaggeration to say that the American President is the most powerful figure by far in the world, and policies enacted by the President can affect just about everyone on Earth.

The 2016 American presidential election will be hugely impactful for years to come. The question is, if the finalists are eventually confirmed to be Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, how will their massive amount of perceived negative traits play out to the general electorate? Do Sanders supporters have a point when they say voting for either makes little difference?

Well, let’s start with the basics.

First, the new president will very likely appoint between one and possibly as many as four Supreme Court justices over the next 4 to 8 years. One Justice is in her 80s and two more are very close (and one seat is presently vacant). President Obama’s nominee for that vacant seat is being blocked for consideration through an unconstitutional obstruction tactic by the Republican members of the Senate Judicial Committee.

The current ideological tilt of the Court can be described as pretty much even between liberal and conservative members, though Justice Kennedy has occasionally stepped outside that box. But the most hard-line conservative on the Court is now dead, and the first seat filled will ensure a definite lean one way or the other. This will put several major past decisions back into play, as they were largely decided in the past along ideological lines. Citizens United, Heller v Washington DC, Obergefell v Hodges, and yes, even Roe v Wade, could all be changed, based on who is picked for the Supreme Court. These are huge cases with enormous impact on the American political system. The rights and freedoms of millions are dependent on what the Supreme Court decides with these cases (and others). Voting rights, civil rights for gay and transgender Americans, the limit (and potential) of firearms laws, and the personal bodily autonomy of women – that’s what’s at stake with the Supreme Court over the next few years.

So, why all the SCOTUS talk right off the bat? Well, Donald Trump has already pledged strict conservative litmus tests for any potential nominees. He isn’t known for his ideological consistency, but at this point, he’s pledging to nominate potential justices that would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Obergefell decision, and would reaffirm Citizens United and Heller. Hillary Clinton would almost certainly do the opposite. So right then and there, I say to supporters of Bernie Sanders; consider this as the first reason not to dismiss the candidacy of Hillary Clinton, should she secure the Democratic nomination. It is also the first major difference between Mrs. Clinton and Donald Trump.

After Supreme Court nominations, what else separates Trump and Clinton? Both have been known to change positions on certain issues, though Hillary appears to have more or less evolved with her party over time, while Trump seems to jump between positions and ideas almost at random.

  • Hillary Clinton is in favor of raising taxes on the wealthy, beyond the current top marginal rate. Donald Trump has changed his position, but as of now, his current tax plan would involve a major decrease in taxes on the wealthiest Americans. His plan would also result in an enormous expansion of the budget deficit, while Clinton’s wouldn’t be all that much different from President Obama’s policies.
  • Trump has railed against the arms deal currently in place with Iran. He has claimed he would walk away from it should he be elected. Hillary Clinton is a supporter of the deal.
  • Trump has changed his abortion opinion, but is currently claiming to be staunchly anti-abortion. As mentioned above, he has stated he would appoint Supreme Court Justices who would vote to overturn Roe v Wade.
  • Trump has repeatedly stated he would repeal the Affordable Care Act – which he may not be able to do, especially if the Senate moves back to the Democratic Party, but he seems to be interested in trying. Hillary Clinton will work to strengthen it.
  • Donald Trump has changed positions over the years on firearms laws, but as a candidate, has been pretty much in line with the positions of the NRA, who have endorsed him. Hillary Clinton is in favor of stricter gun control laws than are currently on the books – which have seen a huge rollback over the last few years.
  • Donald Trump is a global-warming denier, and has previously proposed to actually eliminate the EPA from the federal government. Hillary Clinton hasn’t been nearly as aggressive in her proposed environmental policies as Bernie Sanders, but she does represent a continuation of the Obama environmental doctrine, and acknowledges the need to seriously address global climate change.
  • Trump has jumped around quite a bit on foreign policy – from expressing a clear admiration for Vladimir Putin to an obsession with the economic and trade policies of China. But where he has been possibly the most insane has been his approach to terrorism, specifically of the Islamic variety. Trump stated he would endorse killing the family members of suspected terrorists – which would be a war crime – and has endorsed banning all Muslims from entering the United States as immigrants. He also has stated he would not rule out using nuclear weapons on another country. Yep, Donald Trump would be willing to use nukes. Seriously. Hillary Clinton, while more hawkish than President Obama, and much more hawkish than Bernie Sanders, nonetheless has a much more measured approach to diplomacy, trade, and combating terrorism.
  • Immigration – hoo boy. Here’s a big difference. Donald Trump wants to build a giant wall, at the cost of… well, a lot of money. Far more than he has estimated. Tens of billions of dollars on something that will certainly disrupt local economies, play havoc with the ecosystem, and very likely not prevent immigration, illegal or otherwise. Tens of billions when the current physical infrastructure of the United States needs a trillion dollar investment just to bring it to safe and functional state. Bridges, roads, dams, and so on. And that’s just the wall. Trump also claims to want to physically deport around 11 or 12 million people from the country, a task that is as inhumane as it is wildly impractical. The cost of such a mass deportation may very well exceed the cost of building thousands of miles of walls. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton – just like Bernie Sanders – would do no such thing. She supports the DREAM act, as well as an easier path to citizenship for a majority of the undocumented immigrants in this country.
  • Conspiracy theories and hoaxes – Donald refers to them more than any candidate in recent memory. Obama was born in Kenya? Yep, he was all over that one for years. Vaccines cause autism? Donald still throws that one around all the time. He claimed there were Muslims cheering in the streets in New Jersey on September 11th. He claimed Antonin Scalia was murdered. He accused Ted Cruz’s father of hanging around with Lee Harvey Oswald. He’s thrown around old chestnuts about Vince Foster and Bill Clinton’s alleged sexual assaults. Serious adults don’t spout this nonsense, much less people who are running for President. It’s irresponsible and foolish.
  • Oh yes, and The Donald just tried to cheat American combat veterans of a million dollars.

Public statements

  • In March, Politifact ranked all remaining primary candidates (Clinton and Sanders for the Democrats, and Trump, Cruz, and Kasich for the GOP) by the truthfulness of their major public statements, through speeches, debates, and position papers. Hillary Clinton in general had the best record of accuracy for every candidate. Fact Check, Snopes, the New York Times, and Washington Post have also all reached similar conclusions. Donald Trump fought for the bottom spot alongside Ted Cruz. I have since combed through the updated pages for Clinton and Trump for statements up to the month of May. As of this writing, Politifact has rated 195 statements made by Clinton, and 141 by Trump. 97 of her statements were rated as “True” or “Mostly True,” which is about 50%. If one threw in “Half True” statements, her overall truthfulness would be over 70%. Around 29% of her statements were rated as “Mostly False,” “False,” or the dreaded “Pants on Fire.” Admittedly, that’s not an amazing percentage. We should expect better from our elected officials. However, that ranks her at number 1 among the six total Democratic candidates this election season, and well over all 18 Republicans. She has made noticeable effort to maintain accuracy in her public statements. This is something most of the GOP candidates clearly have no interest in doing. To be fair, Bernie Sanders is close behind, and by some measures has been just as (or nearly as) accurate in his public pronouncements.
  • On the other hand, we have that paragon of honesty Donald Trump. Of his 141 rated statements by Politifact, only 12 – just 9%! – have been “True” or “Mostly True.” Another 15% has been “Half True.” This leaves a whopping 77% of his public statements throughout this campaign rated “Mostly False,” “False,” or “Pants on Fire.” Among major party presidential candidates, only the famously histrionic Ted Cruz has come close to the epic dishonesty spewed from Donald Trump.
  • The various fact-checking websites are by no means infalliable, nor are they 100% comprehensive. But one can glean patterns and trends from their work, and there is no doubt that Hillary Clinton is vastly more concerned with getting public policy right, as opposed to Donald Trump, who seems to operate more on a stream-of-consciousness than any sort of semblance of governmental interest.


  • Hillary Clinton served as an important policy advisor and diplomat while First Lady, and was practically a member of Bill Clinton’s cabinet. She served a term and some change as a United States Senator, and was generally considered an effective one, as well as having the 11th-most liberal voting record during her time in office. She served as Secretary of State under President Obama, and has received high marks from most foreign policy experts for her work running the State Department. Almost everyone who has worked with her from both parties has noted her energy, intelligence, attention to detail, and ability to learn.
  • At the same time, Donald Trump never held elected office, and never seriously ran for one, despite a half-hearted bid for the Reform Party Presidential nomination in 2000. He owned several businesses related to his real-estate empire, largely started thanks to his father, and has had extremely mixed success with his endeavors. Most of his wealth in recent years comes from his media exposure, particularly starring in a long-running reality show. Donald Trump has not been a hugely successful businessman, especially considering the huge helping hand he received to get started. He has failed as much as he has succeeded, and America’s obsession with celebrity may have been his sole saving grace as far as financial success goes. As it is, his claimed 10 billion dollar net worth is almost certainly less than that – probably between 25-45% of what he claims, and possibly as low as 10%. Yes, he’s still fabulously wealthy by any measure, but much of that wealth is built on timing, luck, and outside intervention as much as his supposed business acumen.

Whew! There’s a lot of difference here. So, did Hillary Clinton attend Trump’s wedding? Sure. He was an occasional donor to her and Bill, as well as a celebrity. Things like that happen. Famous people attending each other’s events more than a decade before becoming political rivals doesn’t have much bearing on their individual policy prescriptions.

After having contrasted Hillary with Trump, let’s get into something equally important to this talk – what Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have in common. What do they both believe? What would they both push for as Presidents of the United States? Is there enough common ground to justify being willing to vote for either?

  • They both agree on most aspects of immigration policy.
  • They both support a higher minimum wage – though Hillary has suggested $12 to Bernie’s $15 per hour.
  • They both have announced they are against the TPP. Yes, Hillary seems to have changed her position on the topic, but the fact remains that she has criticized it, and has pledged not to support it.
  • They both are in favor of progressive taxation. Bernie has advocated steeper rates on the highest income brackets, but they are both still on basically the same page.
  • Both are pretty much on the same page regarding the culture war issues that are hurting Republicans – gay marriage and gay rights in general, abortion, and so on.
  • Hillary and Bernie are actually closer on multiple financial issues than people realize, including regulation of big banks. Even her donors, which do include major financial institutions, don’t completely tell the whole tale of her voting record. There has been little evidence to date that campaign contributions influenced her votes while she served in the Senate.
  • Both support an equal pay amendment, paid medical leave, and sexual assault prevention programs.
  • Both want to abolish private prisons.

Their similarities certainly outweigh their differences. But it’s the differences that many people claim makes all the difference.

I find myself swamped on message boards and in comments sections. When I mention that I am a Bernie supporter who would not be opposed to voting for Hillary in the general election, the responses tend to be:

“So you want endless war?”

“You support the oligarchy.”

“You have to be a DNC plant.”

“Feel the Bern!”

“You love that evil #$%@#% Shillery/Killery/Hitlery/etc…”

“Why do you support voter suppression?”

“You just want more of the same.”

“We need revolution!”

“Bernie or Bust!”

“Hillary is as bad as Trump!”

…and so on.

I’m not the only one who has noticed this. Even lukewarm acknowledgement that there are reasons to vote for Hillary Clinton often leads to what has been somewhat surprising vitriol. I’ve seen this sort of anger and knee-jerk emotion from supporters of Trump, Cruz, and especially Rand Paul, but it’s taken me aback to see such anger from the left. Obviously, it’s not fair to lump all Bernie supporters in with the extremists on the message boards (and at rallies and meetings), but they certainly are loud. Everything is a conspiracy, every loss is due to cheating, and every endorsement of Clinton is a sign of corruption.

No matter that numerous fact-checking sites have already debunked the notions of widespread electoral fraud. No matter that Bernie himself has benefited from some of the more bizarre rules and quirks of the admittedly flawed primary process. The fact that he is not likely to win the nomination has sent some of his most excitable supporters into a tremendous lather. This doesn’t help their cause, and certainly won’t help change the system.

Fortunately, Bernie’s strong showing may be helping to force change at the Democratic Convention. For the first time in years, the official party platform will actually mean something to general election voters. Bernie may be able to force significant concessions by the Hillary side, and may cause her to pick someone noticeably to her left to act as VP (Bernie is definitely an option there). There has been some talk from Hillary and her camp of exactly that. This is undoubtedly a positive development.

One can go on about “the oligarchy” and how Hillary Clinton doesn’t help change that part. And in some ways, this is true. But if one steps back and looks at the current electoral situation without succumbing to the emotions of the moment (and happens to be on the left side of the American political spectrum), then one might be willing to admit there are other issues that matter, too.

Hillary Clinton is flawed as a candidate, and apparently as a person. She has insisted on personal secrecy in excess of most major political figures. She has had a tumultuous relationship with the press. She is definitely more hawkish in terms of foreign affairs than most liberal Democrats. She has worked as a corporate attorney, and has definitely been friendlier to corporate interests than Bernie (or even President Obama). These are definitely problems, especially for those on the political left. I’m going to repeat a point from earlier in this diatribe: Hillary Clinton will not be a transformative figure when it comes to regulating the financial sector or in terms of scaling back the military industrial complex. But, if she wins the Democratic nomination, the more important question is – does she do more overall good on those issues than Donald Trump? And even more importantly, do those issues override the differences between her and Trump? I believe I have answered these questions in the preceding paragraphs. For those whose eyes may have glazed over 1000 words ago – yes, she is noticeably more intelligent and reasonable (and yes, progressive) on financial regulation and military intervention than Mr. Trump.

It’s not satisfying to compromise. It feels like defeat. However, in a nation with 320 million unique points of view, it’s often the only way to get anything done. Can a single person with some good ideas change enough minds to garner a majority of popular votes? Sure. But that usually takes years – often long after that single person has already moved on from public service. It’s something to strive for. But it’s not something to bet the entire nation on.

If Hillary Clinton becomes the Democratic nominee for president, I’m going to hold my nose and vote for what will essentially amount to President Obama’s third term. I’m not going to vote for Jill Stein, nor will I write in Bernie Sanders. Neither is going to win a plurality of votes in our current system. Is that system in need of change? Of course it is! Should someone like Sanders or Stein be able to be competitive in a presidential race? Of course again! In the meantime, though, that system isn’t going to change this year. And Americans have a lot to lose from electing Donald Trump as president – far more than they have to lose electing Hillary Clinton.

And as always, here are a smattering of better-written works explaining my ravings…

About hbreck

Writer, debater, contrarian, storyteller, occasional troublemaker. I'm mostly just making things up as I go.
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2 Responses to Bernie or Bust?

  1. Pingback: Liberals for Gary Johnson? | A Skewed Perspective

  2. Pingback: Lukewarm Takes | A Skewed Perspective

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