On Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Our Future
ic: Good day, America!
America [many voices]: Hello!
ic: I want to let you know, I’ve noticed something about us.
Part 1 – Honest Conversation: Changing the Culture of Our Politics
ic: For decades, we’ve railed against how dishonest our politicians are, and how much that gets in the way of progress and effective governing. We’ve decried how distracted and corrupted they are, spending half their timei schmoozing rich donors for campaign contributions instead of working on solving our nation’s problems. It’s the source of our cynicism. It’s become ingrained in our culture and is the reason for our low engagement in politics.
So if an honest, uncorrupted politician were to come along and run for president, and appear to have a shot at winning, what should we do? Well, we certainly shouldn’t reject them because they’re honest, right? It’s easy to see why those in the pillars of power would reject such a candidate—one who speaks truth to power—but shouldn’t that be the type of candidate we embrace? If we want to solve our problems, we need to address them honestly. Isn’t the President, the nation’s leader, the best place to start?
It’s what we clamored for with Barack Obama, who—after nearly a decade of unnecessary war and finance sector malfeasance leading to economic collapse—promised to bring a more honest conversation, a more honest politics to Washington—and thankfully, a lot of the time, he did!—but he also told us he wouldn’t do business as usual, and then he went on to immediately appoint two very business-as-usual Wall Street guys to be his economic advisorsii iii and, well, a foreign policy hawk to be Secretary of State.iv v He did a lot of good things, but he definitely missed some opportunities.
Bernie Sanders is making a similar promise, and has a clear, decades-long reputation of being honest—among colleagues, constituents and the public at largevi vii—and he also has a decades-long record of clearly not being business as usual, of standing up to power even when it’s not convenient. Even as he campaigns for president, for the highest office in the land, the most expensive office in the land to attain, he eschews corporate donations and superPACsviii—boldly bucking the trend, and, by staying competitive, defying conventional wisdom. He appears to have the fewest conflicts of interest of perhaps any major candidate ever, and he appears to be the best shot at not being business as usual, of actually changing the culture of Washington and our politics.
Just before the 2012 election, Obama said that the most important lesson he had learned was that “you can’t change Washington from the inside.”ix He basically admitted, surprisingly, that he was not the agent of change he promised to be. That’s why Bernie talks about a political revolution. The people need to stand up and make their voice heard for major change to happen—one need look no further back than the movement for gay marriage that rapidly swept the nation in the past fifteen years.
America: But how would electing Bernie get people to stand up? How would it help their voices be heard?
ic: By him leading the public dialogue in an honest way, in the process informing the public and giving us a chance to weigh in on policy, and by fighting for the people as he always has, he would make sure our voices are heard, so that the Congress has more than just lobbyists and donors whispering in their ears.
America: Okay, but even if we have a more honest conversation, how does that actually help get legislation passed? What does Bernie know about getting legislation passed? Of getting things done? Don’t you need to “play the game” to get ahead?
Part 2 – Cooperation and Compromise: Effective Governance
BERNIE IN THE SENATE – FROM CONFLICT, COOPERATION
ic: Well, turns out he knows a lot about getting legislation passed, and working with others to get things done. He’s been one of the most productive and effective members of the Senate in his time there, and is well-liked by his colleagues, even Republicans, who widely praise him for his honesty, who “hold him in high regard” (Jim Inhofe (R)), say he is “result-oriented” (John McCain (R)) and “find him to be one who’s willing to sit down and compromise and negotiate to get to a final product” (Richard Burr (R)).x And those are just the Republicans!
To see just what he gets done, and how much, let’s look at the most recent Congress (2013-2014).xi Out of all 100 senators, Bernie had the:
- 6th highest number of bills introduced (69)
- 6th highest number of bills with a companion bill in the House (19)
- 8th highest number of laws enacted (3) (tied with 9)
- 10th highest number of bills out of committee, to the floor (12)
- 18th highest number of Cosponsors (365)
- 22nd highest number of bills cosponsored by committee leaders (6)
- 10th highest number of committee positions (6) (tied with 26)
This shows the extent he went to to address the issues he cares about. And the extent he worked with the House and his Senate colleagues to advance his bills.
Getting legislation passed is difficult. Getting meaningful, consequential legislation passed is very difficult, and the laws Bernie introduced and got passed included: one to update the Veterans of Foreign Wars charter to include veteran women and ensure their surviving families receive assistance, a huge win for them (41 cosponsors, 23 Dem and 18 Rep); and another to bring Veterans’ compensation up to better account for their cost of living, another huge win (17 cosponsors, 9 Dem and 8 Rep).
But on the way to getting a law enacted you must get the bill through Committee, a crucial step. Of the 12 bills he got through:
- Caregivers Expansion and Improvement Act (for veterans)
- Veteran’s Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act
- Veterans Health and Benefits Improvement Act
- Veterans Health Care Eligibility Expansion and Enhancement Act
- Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act
- Ensuring Veterans Access to Care Act
- Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act
- Upper Mississquoi and Trout Wild and Scenic Rivers Act
- Older Americans Act Reauthorization Act
- Survivors of Military Sexual Assault and Domestic Abuse Act
His chairmanship of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs explains his focus on veterans, whom he worked tirelessly for, helping to get 13 of the committee’s bills passed into law (the average in the previous 20 Congresses: 8.5), and, of note, they did this during the second least productive Congress in American history.
One of his biggest accomplishments was working with John McCain as lead negotiators for the landmark, bipartisan, Veterans Choice Act to reform the Veterans Health Administration. Some reflections on Bernie from those involved in the process:xii
- “Negotiating with Bernie was not a usual experience, because he is very passionate and he and I are both very strong-willed people and we spend a lot of time banging our fists on the table, and having the occasional four-letter word…But at the end of the day, Bernie was result-oriented.” – John McCain (R)
- “I found him to be honorable and good as his word. And his word was good.” – also John McCain (R)
- “Senator Sanders understands what it takes to get legislation across the goal line.” – Richard Burr (R)
- “Last year when we had the scandal at the VA, he was incredibly effective, engaged in getting the legislation passed, in getting it funded. Frankly, without him, I don’t think we would have gotten it done because there was a lot of name-calling, but there wasn’t a lot of constructive, ‘OK, here’s the resources. …’ And he did it. And it was a great testament to his skill as a legislator.” – Jack Reed (D)
For all of Bernie’s efforts in 2014, the VFW awarded him the 2015 VFW Congressional Award, their highest honor.xiii
Not bad for a supposedly radical, stubborn, socialist senator. You can’t get all that done without serious dedication and skillful cooperation and compromise with others.
BERNIE IN THE HOUSE – THE AMENDMENT KING
But most members of Congress don’t get many, or even any, of their own bills to pass into law. Where they can be most effective, and where they spend much of their time and effort, is shaping the large bills that move through, adding or blocking provisions via amendment. In the twelve years of Republican control of the House, from 1995 through 2006, Bernie Sanders got more amendments passed on the House floor than any of the other 434 members, a feat that earned him the nickname the “amendment king”. And it is no small feat. Doing so required him to convince the House Rules Committee (with Republicans in the majority) to put an amendment to a floor vote, and once on the floor, building a bipartisan coalition large enough to approve it. In an eye-opening 2005 article, Matt Taibbi followed Sanders as he navigated the Byzantine process, shedding light on the institutional roadblocks and entrenched interests one must take on to get amendments through.xiv
And his amendments were no small potatoes. A sample:xv
- Ensuring restitution for white-collar crime victims
- Grants for colleges that reduce costs
- Expanding funds for community health centers, crucial for rural areas
- Prohibiting importation of goods made with child labor
- Increasing funds for low-income home energy assistance and weatherization
- Prohibiting the Export-Import Bank from providing loans to Westinghouse to build nuclear plants in China
Later, in the Senate:
- Funding the Army National Guard with an extra $10 million when it was overextended in Iraq
- Stricter H-1B hiring standards to ensure bailout funds weren’t used to displace American workers
- Requiring 30 percent of hot water demand in new federal buildings be provided by solar water heaters
- Requiring a report on financial assistance for child care for parents in the Armed Forces
- Requiring transparency in the revolving door of Dept. of Defense and defense contractor employment
- Ensuring the military’s Tricare health system covers autism treatment
Bernie had a huge impact on legislation, a fact attested to by his Republican colleague, Roger Wicker, “I learned early on not to be automatically dismissive of a Bernie Sanders initiative or amendment,” and his Democratic colleague, Sherrod Brown, “He would call them ‘tripartite amendments’ because we’d have him and he’d get a Republican, he’d get a Democrat and he’d pass things. He’s good at building coalitions.”xvi
By both objective measures (bill progress, laws and amendments passed) and subjective (colleague sentiments), he is a uniquely effective legislator, negotiator, and leader, gets big things done, and has the good graces of the Congress to do so. He’s one of the most experienced, accomplished legislators, knows the system inside and out, and exactly what it takes to get laws passed.
America: But being an executive is different from being a legislator. What does Bernie know about that?
BERNIE IN THE CITY – A COALITION FOR PROSPERITY
ic: Good point, and a fair question. In fact, in the 80’s Bernie was elected to four consecutive terms as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, and ranked one of America’s best mayors by US News & World Report.xvii
Upon his first election in the traditionally moderate-conservative town, he was, at first, fiercely opposed by Republicans and local businessmen and developers. Tony Pomerleau, a longtime Republican who owned much of Burlington’s commercial real estate and had ambitious development plans for the city’s waterfront, knocked on his door and told him, “You’re the mayor, but it’s still my town.”
But Bernie soon won them over with his willingness to listen, and work with them towards solutions. Pomerleau came to respect Bernie and the two became unlikely allies: “Bernie and I worked very well together for the betterment of the town. We were the odd couple.” He voted for Sanders in all of his next three elections (he did not run for another term after that), and they remained in close contact even after Sanders went to work in the Congress.xviii
Some of the accomplishments of his tenure include revitalizing the city’s waterfront into a thriving public space, balancing the budget,xix developing land into urban farms which today produce 10 percent of the food sold in Burlington, and attracting and kickstarting businesses that today are among it’s biggest employers.
Michael Monte, who worked for the city’s planning director (that, only initially, tried to stonewall Sanders) said, “Bernie was never anti-growth, anti-development, or anti-business. He just wanted businesses to be responsible toward their employees and the community. He wanted local entrepreneurs to thrive. He wanted people to have good jobs that pay a living wage. If you could deal with that, you could deal with Bernie and Bernie would deal with you.”
The coalitions and activist groups that Bernie fostered while serving there have expanded and preserved his policies, and his development agency director Peter Clavelle served as mayor for 16 years after Bernie’s departure. Today, Burlington is widely heralded as one of America’s most livable cities (ranked #2 for cities under a million people, by Kiplingerxx), has a vibrant economy with very low unemployment (3.5%), and its progressive model serves as an example for others around the nation.
America: Alright, so let’s say he does lead the way and get some of his legislative agenda passed, are they even good policies to begin with?
Part 3 – Good Practices and Good Philosophy: Good Policy
A PRODUCTIVE PRACTICE
ic: Before we get into his policy plans for the country, it’s important to note that even if you don’t agree with his positions 100%, you can take solace in the fact that he won’t get all of his agenda passed as is—no president does. There will be public dialogue and compromise, and as mentioned earlier, crucially, he’s going to facilitate this dialogue in an honest way. As we’ve seen from his record and the testaments of his peers: he’s not just willing to compromise, but excels at it, working well with others and gaining the respect of his opponents, and he leads the way in finding solutions that satisfy all involved parties.
He’s certainly not the type of person to watch the world burn till he gets his way. There will be showdowns with a stubborn Republican congress, no doubt, but he is the candidate best equipped to deal with that situation. When he’s taken on entrenched interests before, he forged compromise without compromising his principles. He protected the public interest, and yet made allies out of opponents. That is how politics should work.
A HUMANE PHILOSOPHY
Now, that being said, let’s take a look at his policies, and the philosophy that shapes them. In a town hall during this campaign, he said this, impromptu:
“Every great religion in the world, essentially comes down to ‘do unto others as you would like them to do unto you’…The truth is, at some level, when you hurt, when your children hurt, I hurt. I hurt. And when my kids hurt, you hurt. And its very easy to turn our backs on kids who are hungry or veterans who are sleeping out on the street, and we can develop a psyche, a psychology which is, ‘I don’t have to worry about them, all I’ve got to worry about is myself, I need to make another five billion dollars.’
But I believe, that what human nature is about, is that everybody in this room impacts everybody else, in all kinds of ways that we can’t even understand, it’s beyond intellect…So I believe that when we do the right thing, when we try to treat people with respect and dignity, when we say that ‘that child, who is hungry, is my child,’ I think we are more human, when we do that, than when we say, ‘hey this whole world is [for] me, I need more and more, I don’t care about anybody else.’ That’s my religion, that’s what I believe in.”xxi
His philosophy, his guiding principles are at their core humane. And that’s why he’s spent his years fighting for those who don’t have power, who don’t have a voice, and why he approaches issues with careful consideration for the impact on everyone involved, not just those with the power to lobby for themselves.
And his philosophy informs his decisions, his judgment. He warned the nation and led the charge against a corrupt, unaccountable financial sector for decades before the collapse of 2008.xxii xxiii He had warned the nation and led the charge against the war in Iraq, challenging the premise of the war, and predicting the chaos and dire situation that would come from regime change.xxiv
What if we had listened? We would have avoided two of the biggest disasters in modern history (and all the associated suffering), the costs of which are estimated at up to $6 trillion (war)xxv and over $12 trillion (financial collapse)xxvi. We would have avoided the chaos that spawned ISIS. The world and our nation would today be much safer, our economy much stronger, and with the lost wealth properly invested, our citizenry much happier, our lives better.
But…that’s in the past. What about the future?
GOOD POLICY – PUBLIC SUPPORT, PRIVATE SABOTAGE
Turns out the types of policies Bernie’s proposing are supported by the American public by wide margins, because they see the clear benefits. For example:xxvii
- Public Medicare option (71% support to 13% oppose)
- Reducing overhead, lower prices, fewer uninsured
- Medicare for all (51% to 36%)
- Freedom to choose doctors/providers, reducing overhead, lower prices, no uninsured
- Infrastructure jobs program (71% to 18%)
- Reducing unemployment, stimulating demand in the economy, repairing and improving infrastructure (currently rated a D+ by American Society of Civil Engineers, necessitating a $3.6 trillion investment by 2020)
- Debt-free public college (62% to 24%)
- Removing economic barriers to education, Incentivizing education, return on investment for society, improving economic agency for graduates
- Tuition-free public college (46% to 41%)xxviii
- Similar to debt-free but even fewer barriers, greater incentive, bigger societal return on investment, and greater economic agency for graduates and students
- Income above $1 million taxed at the “Reagan rate” of 50% (59% to 25%)
- Reducing the deficit, reducing income inequality, funding for necessary projects and investments
So why do policies like these, that the public supports, not gain traction in Washington, let alone get passed? There’s no better explanation than our current campaign finance system, where, to get elected, our representatives are dependent on big banks, insurance companies, defense contractors and other rich donors to bankroll their campaigns.xxix xxx They spend half their time just trying to convince these donors, schmoozing and socializing with them. The donors’ money buys access, influence and at times outright allegiance. This problem is compounded by pervasive lobbying, to the point that corporations and special interests often write the very legislation that will affect them, with little standing in the way of them exploiting the arrangement;xxxi and even further compounded by a revolving door of employment from government to industry that helps these cozy relationships get even cozier. (OpenSecrets.org profiles the revolving door, including congressional staffers who take advantage of it. Hillary Clinton far and away leads the pack, with 84 staffers who have been or have become private lobbyists. #2 is Edward Kennedy with 62, and #3 is Kay Hutchison with 49.)xxxii
As if the deck wasn’t stacked enough, the media—the Fourth Estate that is supposed to be the watchdog, supposed to expose corruption, inform the citizenry, and bring truth to light—is, unfortunately, mostly owned by the very corporations they should be the watchdogs of. Six conglomerates own 90% of television, print, and radio media in this country.xxxiii They have clear motive to oppose policies that would challenge corporate power, or that would reduce the legal bribery that fuels our elections and that they profit from. So instead of exposing corruption, they often hide it, or excuse it. Instead of informing the citizenry, they distract us. Instead of bringing truth to light, they distort it.
PUNDIT ECONOMICS – TALK IS CHEAP, BUT COSTS US ALL
And just as the establishment dismisses public opinion, just as they distort the truth, they dismiss the candidates who speak it, and distort the impact their policies would have.
For example, recently, four former Chairs of the Council of Economic Advisors published an open letterxxxiv noting economist Gerald Friedman’s predictions about Bernie’s economic plan: high GDP growth (5.3%), low unemployment (3.8%), and significant wage growth (2.5%).xxxv They harshly condemned the magnitude of these predictions as unsupported by economic evidence—going so far as to say it jeopardized the Democratic Party’s “reputation as the party of responsible arithmetic.” But they failed to explain why, or provide any economic analysis of their own. None. The criticism was highly-publicized after being echoed in numerous articles and an opinion piece by the very influential pundit and economist Paul Krugman, who used the opportunity to not just blast Friedman but also Sanders (as he has repeatedly done), and still, without providing any economic analysis of his own. There was, rightly, a backlashxxxvi against the lazy criticism and the widespread parroting of it, notably by economist James K. Galbraith:
“I respond here as a former Executive Director of the Joint Economic Committee – the congressional counterpart to the CEA.
You write that you have applied rigor to your analyses of economic proposals by Democrats and Republicans. On reading this sentence I looked to the bottom of the page, to find a reference or link to your rigorous review of Professor Friedman’s study. I found nothing there.
…let’s first ask whether an economic growth rate, as projected, of 5.3 percent per year is, as you claim, “grandiose.” There are not many ambitious experiments in economic policy with which to compare it, so let’s go back to the Reagan years. What was the actual average real growth rate in 1983, 1984, and 1985, following the enactment of the Reagan tax cuts in 1981? Just under 5.4 percent. That’s a point of history, like it or not.
….You write that “no credible economic research supports economic impacts of these magnitudes.” But how did Professor Friedman make his estimates? The answer is in his paper. What Professor Friedman did, was to use the standard impact assumptions and forecasting methods of the mainstream economists and institutions. For example, Professor Friedman starts with a fiscal multiplier of 1.25, and shades it down to the range of 0.8 by the mid 2020s. Is this “not credible”? If that’s your claim, it’s an indictment of the methods of (for instance) the CBO, the OMB, and the CEA.”
In response to the backlash, some walked back their criticism, such as Kevin Drum: “It turns out that…Friedman isn’t projecting anything wildly out of the ordinary after all.” Others finally provided a rationale for their criticism, like Christina Romer,xxxvii one of the signatories of the original letter.
The debate now seems to be centered around whether the impacts of economic stimulus are temporary, or if they can be longer-lasting. It would have been nice to have that debate from the beginning, rather than having to pry it out of the muck. It’s a legitimate debate to be had. The New York Times, however, continues to push one side of it and attack Bernie, running headlines on the issue like “Uncovering the Bad Math (or Logic) of an Economic Analysis Embraced by Bernie Sanders.”xxxviii But the fact is, we haven’t had a stimulus program like Bernie proposes since the New Deal (and WWII), and that undeniably had a huge, positive, lasting impact on the output of our economy. Galbraith’s takeaway:
“What the Friedman paper shows, is that under conventional assumptions, the projected impact of Senator Sanders’ proposals stems from their scale and ambition. When you dare to do big things, big results should be expected. The Sanders program is big, and when you run it through a standard model, you get a big result.
That, by the way, is the lesson of the Reagan era – like it or not. It is a lesson that, among today’s political leaders, only Senator Sanders has learned.”
HEALTH CARE AND THE FALSE FALSE DILEMMA – LIVES VS MONEY
Hillary herself has spread blatant misinformation about Bernie’s plans, namely the cost and impact of his health care plan. The meme being propagated, and echoed by Hillary during a debate, is that to cover Bernie’s health plan we would be taking on $15 trillion in new spending (over ten years),xxxix and that the average American would see their taxes go up as a result.
But they’re being deliberately misleading. The health care spending is not new spending: we already spend that much, and more, we just funnel it through private insurers, who spend much of the money finding ways to deny you coverage, and skim off tens of billions in profits annually.xl A single player plan would eliminate those unnecessary costs and perverse profit incentives. A single payer plan would save us money as a nation,xli with delivery of care more efficient, with reduced administration costs, and lower drug and device prices. And for the majority of Americans, it would also save us money individually,xlii because despite the modest 2.2% payroll tax, we would no longer be paying exorbitant premiums, deductibles, and co-pays. Oh, and a single payer plan would save lives.xliii
But even if a single payer plan—or any universal coverage plan—didn’t save money, what does it say about us when we choose money over lives? The choice should be clear, it shouldn’t even be a “dilemma”. We’re the wealthiest nation in history. We can afford it. Besides, it’s not poor and middle class people’s fault that the healthcare system is as bureaucratic, corrupt, and anti-competitive as it is. It’s unconscionable to price them out and put them at risk.
THE DIGITAL PATH TO REDEMPTION? OR REPRESSION?
The ray of hope amidst all the biased, corporate-curated media, is the free and open internet, net neutrality, that allows everyone to connect to everyone else, providing the opportunity to communicate without a media filter or a middle-man, and providing a platform for independent journalism to thrive. But we must be vigilant to protect net neutrality—like Bernie has been—as the same conglomerates who own the media companies dominate the internet service provider market (Comcast alone has 56% market share),xliv and they are fighting to be able to control what you can access, how, and when.
We must also be aware that certain digital platforms that appear to be bastions of free speech, like social media, might not always be. Case in point: a couple days before the South Carolina primary, a Twitter hashtag critical of Clinton, #WhichHillary, skyrocketed in popularity and hit trending status, with over 250,000 tweets in a matter of hours. The account responsible for the tag, GuerrillaDems, was abruptly suspended—Twitter claims by mistake—and later reactivated.xlv Coincidentally or not, Twitter Executive Chairman Omid Kordestani had held a fundraiser for Clinton just four days earlier. Many users allege that the hashtag was abruptly removed from trending status, as well as its follow-up #WhichHillaryCensored, though it is difficult to confirm whether that was deliberate or if it just moved off the list based on Twitter’s algorithms.
This all comes on the heels of Twitter’s recent creation of the “Trust and Safety” council, whose stated intent is to prevent abuse and harassment. But soon after its adoption, a controversial conservative user and critic of one of the council’s members, was banned without explanation, and a hashtag protesting the ban was censored.xlvi Social media companies, as well as search engines like Google, have tremendous power to control the content and dialogue that we see on their platforms, and as private entities they are within their rights to do so, but we should be keenly aware of that fact as we move forward.
ALL POLITICS ARE GLOBAL
Of course, in addition to the media shielding and promoting Clinton (which has been documented to at times come at her and her aides’ behest, in exchange for information/access),xlvii and spreading misinformation about Bernie’s economic, tax, and health care plans, they have pushed the idea that he lacks foreign policy experience. But in fact Bernie has been an activist in foreign policy and made it a priority for decades now. Even in his time as mayor in the 80’s: “I saw no magic line separating local, state, national and international issues,” he says. “If a nuclear war takes place, the citizens of our city will perish with the rest of the nation. That’s a local issue.”xlviii He made foreign travel a priority, establishing three sister-city relationships in an effort to increase dialogue, diplomacy, and cultural exchange (with Yaroslavl, USSR; Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua; and Bethlehem, West Bank).xlix And he was a vociferous critic of policy he disagreed with, including Reagan and the CIA’s efforts to overthrow the government of Nicaragua—efforts that fueled civil war and killed 30,000 people, just for the purpose of dismantling a government that was successfully democratizing the country. He spoke out on such issues locally, and abroad, encouraging dialogue and the understanding that not all Americans support such destructive, deadly policies.
As a congressman, he has visited 41 countries, studying problems to inform his policy positions, and taking lessons away from the global marketplace of ideas. In 2003 he went to Mexico to study the impact of NAFTA, and to China, also to address trade concerns. In 2011 he went to Afghanistan to meet with U.S. military leaders to assess the status and goals of our mission there. He has visited a refugee camp in Jordan, met with Turkish diplomats to discuss the Syrian conflict, attended the swearing in of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, and made multiple trips to northern Europe, whose nations’ successful efforts to improve standard of living he holds up as an example for what is possible. Bernie is well-traveled, a student of our foreign policy past and present, and a student of the world, our impact on it, and its impact on us.l
And he still advocates the anti- regime-change positions he’s held in the past, focusing on diplomacy and working with local actors to forge solutions to problems around the world. This is a stark contrast to the foreign policy establishment and military-industrial complex, the hammer that sees every problem as a nail. His knowledge informs his judgment, and his judgment reflects his knowledge. He’s proven to be right in the past; maybe we should start listening?
America: Alright, but even if he fights for good policies, is one of the most experienced and effective legislators, and can lead the conversation in an honest and productive way, what if he’s not elected? Then it’s all for naught.
ic: The political and media establishment have also been pushing this narrative, that Bernie isn’t electable, when we have every indication otherwise.
Part 4 – Don’t Just Show Strength, Have It: Electability
They really jumped the shark when, after a close finish in Nevada and the national delegate count was tied, a cascade of articles and talking heads declared that Bernie’s chances were over.li Only three states had voted so far, and the candidates were tied. Three states. Tied. They’re pulling out all the stops to try to discourage his supporters, and discourage people from even engaging in the race, by telling them that “it’s over”. It’s horrendous behavior, an affront to democracy, and they should be absolutely ashamed of themselves.
They’re doing it again after Super Tuesday, too. Hillary has gained the lead in delegates, due to her strong support in the south (7 states so far), but Bernie has won five of the eight non-southern states, and the three he lost have been decided by five points or less. He has strong support in every region but the south, so clearly still has a shot at the nomination, especially when you remember that this is a campaign, the point of which is to persuade voters to vote for a specific candidate, and there is still plenty of time to do that persuading.lii Bernie started out as the underdog, and his popularity has steadily grown since he first started campaigning, to the point where he has caught up and is competitive, and nearly tied in the national polls. If the trend continues, he will pass Clinton and could easily win the nomination. So, a message to the media and the establishment: There are still 35 states yet to vote. Let their voices be heard. This is a democracy after all, right?
Another one of the egregious efforts to discourage potential voters and stem the momentum of his campaign, is the irresponsible and widespread reporting of superdelegates as in the bag for a specific candidate, even though they do not vote until July and have never reversed the winner of the primaries. Doing so would be a slap in the face to voters, and would make a farce of the Democratic party; they’d have to change their name for the sake of accuracy. The head of the DNC has explicitly said that the superdelegates should not be reported at this time, as an endorsement is not the same as a delegate vote, and they can change their mind anytime between now and the convention.liii Unfortunately, even Google shows a graphic with the misinformation at the top of the page, front and center, when one looks up the primaries.liv lv And they don’t even give the number of pledged delegates for each candidate, the true indicator for the status of the race. The aggregate effect of this on people looking up the primaries cannot be overstated. Hillary Clinton has the endorsement of the vast majority of superdelegates because she has the backing of the establishment, and the superdelegates are mostly either part of that establishment, or too stuck in self-preservation mode to defy it. So when a potential voter goes online and sees Clinton’s 453 superdelegates to Sanders’ 20, they might think “it’s over” and be discouraged from engaging any further, when in reality superdelegates simply do not matter and should not have that effect. So now, a message to voters: do not be discouraged, do not be misled by the media. Our votes are our voice, our say in our future and the future of our world. Let’s use them, and be heard!
THE GENERAL ADVANTAGE
But the debate about electability is, ultimately, about the general election. Lucky for Bernie, he has all the positives one could hope for in a general election, especially when compared to Clinton:
- Polls high on favorability, honesty, trustworthiness (+15% favorable, +23% honest and trustworthy) lvi lvii
- Strong record of bipartisanship
- Virtually no conflicts of interest, a squeaky clean record
- Policy positions that, as we saw earlier, the public widely supports
- A grassroots, activist, coalitionlviii
- Energizes the base and youth votes, two critical voting blocs for Democratic victorieslix
- And, in what is the most crucial general election advantage, high crossover appeal
His crossover appeal is demonstrated not just by the respect he gets from his Republican peers, but by the many lifelong Republican supporters who have shared their stories,lx lxi by the 25% percent of Vermont Republicans who voted for him,lxii and by the Conservative and Libertarian publications who have made the case for him.lxiii lxiv lxv We see early head-to-head polls that have consistently shown him to beat Republicans (and often showing Hillary losing) and they continue to show thatlxvi lxvii—and while not historically all that predictive of general election results, the fact that he’s performed best in them for a long while now is some point in his favor. It reinforces that he draws support from Republican, conservative, libertarian, independent, and moderate voters. Even if they don’t agree with his all of his policies, they recognize there is more to him: honesty, an earnest approach to finding solutions, and the potential to tackle corruption and change the culture of our politics. This broad-based appeal is exactly what is needed to win a general election.
Let’s compare that to Clinton. Unfortunately for her, and—potentially—for us, she has almost all the negatives one would want to avoid in a general election:
- Polls very low on favorability, honesty, trustworthiness (-21% favorable, -29% honest and trustworthy)lxviii lxix
- Widely viewed as inconsistent, opportunistic (e.g. #WhichHillary)
- Polarizing, not just lacking crossover appeal, but actually drives away many on the left and middle
- Turns off the base and the youth vote, which are critical for Democratic victorieslxx
- A familiar figure, so the above things are unlikely to change
- History of pro-“free” trade agreement,lxxi pro-regime change, hawkish foreign policylxxii
- Along with Bill, led the way to make Democrats a tough-on-crime, war “on drugs” party, championing the cause so as to outflank Republicanslxxiii
- Conflicts of interest abound:
- Her campaign and allied superPACs have received $44.1 million dollars from Wall Street (among other corporate donations), but she promises to be tough on themlxxiv
- Personal enrichment ($153 million between her and Bill) through paid, private speeches to Wall Street and other special interests, the transcripts of which she refuses to releaselxxv
- Amassing global influence through donations to the Clinton Foundation—even though it’s a charity, lets not pretend receiving hundreds of millions of dollars annually to spend how you wish isn’t a massive amount of power. And the fact that significant donations come from global figures and heads of state (and often authoritarian), people you’re cutting diplomatic deals with, makes this a huge conflict of interest.lxxvi
- And last but by no means least, a history of scandal and current scandals:
- FBI investigation into use of private email server, possible mishandling of classified informationlxxvii
- State Department investigation into Clinton Foundation activities, possibly involving charity projects that should have gotten federal approval, and an aide who was simultaneously employed by the State Dept., the foundation, Clinton’s personal office, and a consulting firm with ties to the Clintonslxxviii
- Unconfirmed, though alleged by three anonymous sources, FBI investigation into public corruption regarding Clinton Foundation donations during her State Dept. tenurelxxix
The only way a leading candidate can avoid serious national scrutiny on all these issues is if the media has their back, and while Hillary largely has that luxury now, and the luxury of Bernie not attacking her on most of them (namely the scandals), Trump, or whoever the eventual Republican nominee is, will hold these issues front and center for the public to see.
BOGEYMEN AND BIG LIES
The most common argument against Bernie’s electability is that he’s a socialist. But when we have socialism for the rich and powerful in this country—for those who already live in luxury, and have collectively hoarded the expendable income that can pay for our public investments—when we give them loopholes, and bailouts, and subsidies, and self-written policy to exploit—the argument becomes vacuous, especially so when you look at Bernie’s proven crossover appeal and head-to-head poll numbers. Clearly the bogeyman of socialism has lost its potency over the American public.
The most common argument for Clinton is that she has the right “experience”. But when you look at the fact that:
- Her advocacy as First Lady was mixed at best (children’s health insurance is good, but tough-on-crime and war “on drugs” is tragic)lxxx
- She hasn’t been an executive
- As a senator her touted accomplishments are few, and while good things, do not appear to have been difficult to negotiate or get passed:lxxxi
- As part of the NY delegation, helped secure funds for the relief after 9/11
- One of several to work on the Pediatric Research Equity Act (passed by unanimous consent)lxxxii
- Also as senator:
- Supported the PATRIOT Act both times it came up for vote
- Not just voted for war in Iraq, but was among its fiercest advocates on the Democratic side, repeated the specious (and false) claim of Iraqi ties to al-Qaeda which was not supported by the intelligence estimates (that she did not read), and voted against the Levin amendment that would have required U.N. approval to invade, or further congressional approval if the U.N. efforts failed. She continued to support the war for over two years, long after conditions had deteriorated, and even then not expressing regret, but instead blaming Bush and Co for misleading us about the intelligence (that she didn’t read) and not pursuing diplomacy (which she voted against requiring).lxxxiii
- As Secretary of State, her touted accomplishments are, again, few in number:lxxxiv
- 2010 sanctions against Iran—Clinton was a strong advocate for them and it appears she did play a significant role in convincing other nations to join, and the sanctions did play a role in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, so she does deserve credit for this. To what extent her role was, and how difficult the diplomacy was, is not clear.lxxxv
- November 2012 ceasefire between Hamas and Israel—Mohammed Morsi, then Egyptian President, spearheaded the talks. Obama’s multiple phone calls with him and Netanyahu, and the agreements they came to in the days before the resolution, appear to be have been the keys. Obama dispatched Clinton to the region on Nov 20 for final talks, and she presented the agreement with Morsi the next day. There is little evidence she contributed significantly to the agreement or resolving conflict, but she was there, at the end.lxxxvi lxxxvii
- Also as Secretary of State:
- She was the leading advocate for, and ultimately convinced Obama to pursue, regime change in Libya,lxxxviii which has descended into violence and extremism. It is now a splintered state, and ISIS has moved in and controls territory on the central part of the coast, just hundreds of miles from European shores.lxxxix xc
- She was the leading advocate for regime change in Syria, for aiding and arming the rebels (which we did), and she essentially blocked a peace deal in 2012 because Russia and China didn’t agree to turn on their ally and support regime change.xci xcii xciii The ensuing civil war has become a catastrophic humanitarian crisis (hundreds of thousands dead and over ten million displaced), and breeding ground for extremism and terror. The chaos, and flood of weaponry, and the power vacuum that resulted in much of the country, along with similar circumstances in Iraq, all led to the rise of ISIS.
- After leaving the State Department she has publicly criticized the Obama administration for not being aggressive enough in our aid to the Syrian rebels,xciv aid which empowers al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra, arming them and financing their territorial expansion in the state.xcv xcvi To this day, she still advocates for expanded intervention, calling for a no-fly zone that could put us in direct military conflict with Russia.xcvii xcviii She advocates this despite consistent opposition from the Pentagon, and General Lloyd Austin, head of U.S. Central Command, voicing his opposition and warning such action would require U.S. troops on the ground.xcix She seems to be dismissive of the fact that Russia is not willing to give up a key ally, one that is home to their only Mediterranean military base, and she is willing to risk war with them just to pursue more regime change in the name of “security,” “national interest,” and “spreading democracy”. Apparently she has learned nothing from the war in Iraq.
…when you look at all that, a record that is sparse, yet rife with mistakes, and failure to learn from those mistakes, how can you honestly call that the “right” experience? The argument falls flat on its face. It’s a trope that has gained prominence only through its repeated assertion and the Clintons’ prominence within the party.
An unbiased observer would say that by throwing its weight behind Clinton, the Democratic establishment is shooting itself (and the country) in the foot, or the face, even. One hopes they wake up in time to realize it and change their minds, or, mercifully, that the voters save them from having to.
Part 5 – Want a Good Day? Choose a Good Day
GREAT POWER, GREAT RESPONSIBILITY
ic: Choosing our president is one of our most important duties. Our fate, and the fate of the world, can hang in the balance. We need to choose someone who is unquestionably qualified; someone who will lead with honesty and integrity (like Bernie), who has proven they can effectively forge policy across the aisle (like Bernie), who has proven they can be an effective executive (like Bernie), who has proven they have sound judgment (like Bernie), who has proven they can foster compromise and solutions that work for everyone (like Bernie), and frankly, who can beat the Republican nominee in the fall (like Bernie!)
Bernie Sanders would be able to get done the same things that Hillary would, and more. First, because he would fight for more: he would aim for a cake and might settle with Republicans on a piece of pie; Hillary would aim for a corporate-made pop-tart and might settle with Republicans on…a corporate-made pop-tart, possibly tainted because the jelly from China was cheaper, or burnt because we relied on the temperature to regulate itself. In other words, Bernie would aim for single payer and get a public option, aim for a huge infrastructure program and get a big one, and he would call out the shameless corporate giveaways just as he’s always done, and wield the veto threat to keep them out. Second, he would lead an honest conversation, resulting in a negotiated solution that works for all involved parties. That’s exactly what he’s done his entire political career. In his time as mayor he won over opponents and fostered an alliance with them, together building Burlington into a thriving, livable city. As a congressman and senator, he’s earned the respect of his colleagues through his ability to lead and build compromise, tirelessly focused on improving legislation to be the best it can be, and getting it passed. Finally, he has a solid record of sound judgment and of principled leadership, of standing up for what is right in the face of powerful opposition, so he wouldn’t back down from the fight just for political convenience or appearances.
A POLITICS OF PROGRESS
Politicians, as it relates to their jobs, have two main activities. There’s politics, and then there’s policymaking, problem-solving, progress. Politics is the public show, the competition, the fundraising and pandering, the persuasion and propaganda, the wrestling for power. Progress is the behind the scenes, grueling work, the research and getting informed about an issue, crafting the best solution you and other parties possibly can. Unfortunately, most of our politicians jump head-first into the politics to such an extent that policymaking is neglected and corrupted. They justify their actions by saying they’re just playing the “game”, that everyone else does it, so why should they hold themselves to a different standard and risk losing an election, risk losing power?
The best politicians, the best public servants, however, are not only motivated by problem-solving and have it as their highest priority, but they combine it with their politics, so that one complements the other, not stifles it. Bernie does this by addressing problems honestly and earnestly, for the public to see and to earn the respect and cooperation of his peers, and by not wasting time schmoozing rich donors, and not being tempted by personal enrichment.
Bernie is not perfect, of course. No one is. Bernie does not have all the answers and can not solve all of our problems. But his approach, and his faith in us, the American people, to help solve our problems, gives us the best chance. He fights to inform the public, to foster dialogue, cooperation and diplomacy, to give power back to the people after power has become so concentrated in the hands of so few. He fights to gives us the tools we need—information, cooperation, empowerment—to secure our future.
THE CHOICE IS OURS
The world—our world—is changing faster than ever, and the pace of change is increasing. Emerging technologies and others just around the corner will completely reshape our societal and economic landscape, whether we like it or not. Now more than ever, we need a government that is responsive, and responsive to the needs of all of us. If we don’t change the way we deal with our problems—if we continue letting power beget more power, money beget more money, and let the powerful craft policy in secret, and operate without accountability—then we can only hope that the rich and powerful will be both wise and beneficent, fostering prosperity without our input, and forgoing profit to selflessly share the newfound spoils. If the past—and the present—are any indication, we shouldn’t count on it. Alternatively, we can be the masters of our destiny, and demand a politics that includes us, respects us, and informs us, and demand policy that represents us, that addresses our needs. If we don’t stand up, and demand these changes now, then when? When wealth and power is further concentrated? When an expanded surveillance and police state has further power to sniff out and quell dissent? If we don’t change Washington now, then when?
What our future looks like is up to us. On our horizon there are two valleys. One is dark—mired in war, scarcity, and servitude. The other is bright—peaceful, prosperous, and free. Between us and the darkness, the path is low and barren, easy to fall into. Between us and the light, the path is filled with obstacles, though obstacles that—if we listen to one another, cooperate, and help one another—we can overcome. But only if we try. Only if we choose that path.
I once had a fortune cookie that has stuck with me after all these years. “You’ll accomplish more if you start now.” So simple, and so obviously true. So let’s do it. Let’s start now, and let’s have a good day, America.
If you think that Bernie should be our President, please, vote!!! Because delegates are awarded proportionally in the Democratic primaries, and not winner-take-all, every single vote counts!!! Your vote could be the one that wins another delegate for Bernie, and wins the nomination!!!