Berninating the Countryside

I very rarely mention politics on this blog because I am, first and foremost, a writer, a father, and a geek. Tonight, however, I’m going to talk about politics – specifically the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

I typically pick blog topics based on what makes me excited rather than what disappoints or angers me (although exceptions exist). This is partially because I recognize that I am not the target audience for every piece of media that comes to my attention and partially because (in the case of something offensive or contemptible) I prefer to punish bad art with obscurity (as opposed to free press). I can be quite critical of things I love and remain unflagging in my appreciation of them. That said, sometimes in explaining the reasons I enjoy one thing I draw unfavorable comparisons to something else of the same categoryeven something I otherwise liked a great deal. I’m approaching this blog entry in the same spirit. I am not setting out to disparage the alternative candidate or their supporters, but in order to explain why I favor one over the other some comparison is necessary.

As a final caveat, the opinion here is my own. Matt and I haven’t talked politics for a few years. It’s just not a topic that comes up very often in our conversations with each other. I have absolutely no idea what his read on this election is.

Caveat lictor.

The Summary

Minnesota’s caucus is on Tuesday, and after careful consideration of the candidates’ platforms, their credentials, their responses to challenges, and the behavior of their supporters/proxies, it is my intention to cast my ballot for Bernie Sanders. Here are some of the reasons why:

Platform

It’s a misnomer to call Sanders a single-issue candidate, but let’s be honest – his platform boils down to three key main points: Get money out of politics, reduce the disparities between the rich and the poor, and strengthen the social safety net.

Citizen’s United

The first of these is a no-brainer for just about everyone. I don’t think anyone in America outside of corporate lawyers who are paid to do so will argue that the Citizen’s United decision was a blow against tyranny and oppression. Super PACs have been a disaster, roundly mocked by anyone who has taken the time to consider their implications. When I was in high school, the big symbol of wasteful government spending was pork – finding ways to send money back to home states and districts to keep the average voter happy. Over the last decade, this has pretty plainly evolved into a situation where politicians convince voters to elect them based on campaign pledges that they quickly break, while ensuring that their wealthy backers get government contracts and the passage of advantageous legislation. Because even the most pissed off gaggle of voters can’t easily organize to throw out an unfaithful politician, but a disappointed Fortune 500 company has the resources and reach to fund a political challenger. As much as I hate the “both sides do it” fallacy, unfortunately it is increasingly true in this case. Reversing that trend will not be easy, but it is important to me that it be brought to the attention of the public (more on that later).

Wealth and Income Disparities

The second goal addresses a problem that is on par with global climate change when we’re talking about existential threats to our country’s continued survival. Contrary to the prevailing rhetoric, people living in poverty do not deserve the suffering they are forced to endure. Most were born poor through an accident of birth – one that overwhelmingly (but not exclusively) harms minority populations – so they’re running this rat race with one leg tied to the other. They’re not begging for yachts and second homes in fancy neighborhoods. Mostly they would like to be able to support their families without constant fear of financial catastrophe and to have some opportunity to climb the ladder if they work hard.

Condemning people to lives of desperation and early death is a moral hazard, and if we were half as decent as we claim to be, we would not cling to our luxuries when others’ essential needs are not being met. But even putting aside the teachings of spiritual leaders and the basic decency of non-religious humanists, ignoring the plight of the poor has serious potential societal consequences. Starve a large enough fraction of the masses so that they feel that they have nothing left to lose, and you get guillotines and although a mere 62 executions and confiscations could double the wealth of every other person in the world, revolutions do not tend to be pretty affairs, and there will be collateral damage.

If I have to pay a bit more for coffee at the airport because of a higher minimum wage in order to stave off the collapse of civilization, sign me the fuck up. Sanders is fighting for $15/hour, which seems about right given that real income in this country hasn’t increased since the assassination of President Kennedy. Which leads us to…

Social Safety Net

I’m kind of tired of living in a third world country when it comes to social welfare programs. Sanders isn’t proposing Soviet programs, here. He, like the rest of us, know that the command economy system failed spectacularly. But we can learn a lot from Europe, Japan, Australia, and other successful democracies when it comes to taking care of our people. Universal healthcare doesn’t just prevent people from going bankrupt because of an accident or diagnosis, it is actually saves the country a ton of money for too many reasons to list here. Offering affordable post-secondary education is a huge macroeconomics win – a better-educated workforce earns more money, and graduates who are more likely to make economy-boosting decisions like buying houses and having kids than those who are drowning in student loan debts.

Credentials

Looking at Sanders’ history as a politician and a human being, he strikes me as a very genuine person. This was one of the things that appealed to me about Obama during the 2008 campaign and that I still appreciate about this long-suffering president eight years later. One of the signature moments in Obama’s primary campaign was when he went on the Colbert Report and put “Distractions” on notice – because ho boy were there a lot of them being thrown at him by his main opponent in the primary in a desperate effort to derail his campaign. Here he was being attacked with trivialities on a daily basis by someone who seemed willing to do anything to secure the nomination (who was that, anyway? it’s on the tip of my tongue…), and Obama ignored the jabs that were absurd – except when he used them to inspire some of the most amazing speeches I’ve ever heard.

Sanders doesn’t seem to care much for distractions, either, which he has made clear time and time again since announcing he was running for President. You can look at his legislative record, too, and while we can always find something objectionable if we look hard enough, he has consistently supported most of the positions he is taking during the current election cycle. I don’t get the feeling that he will say whatever he can to get into the White House and then forget all about it for four years. The things he is talking about on the campaign trail are the things he has been talking about for his whole career, which explains why he sounds so passionate. While I have no doubt that Clinton could answer the proverbial 3 a.m. call, Sanders seems like the kind of guy who would make 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 a.m. calls to Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell every night until they finally┬ácave and pass campaign finance reform. Bernie doesn’t want the White House. He wants to fix a system that he knows is broken.

Facing Challenges

When you run for President, someone out there whose support you would really like to have is going to challenge you to earn that support. Black Lives Matter has made itself a force to be reckoned with this election cycle. Their activists have faced down all the relevant candidates, and the responses they have received say something powerful about their values. Trump’s supporters roughed up an activist with the candidate’s blessing, but that hardly seems surprising anymore coming from that camp. More recently, BLM confronted Clinton, and her response probably could have been better (I’m also really disappointed that her supporters respond by tone policing).

Sanders dealt with one of these interruptions all the way back in August. At the time, he was roundly criticized for his lackluster response and especially for the vitriolic reactions of some of his more rabid supporters (more on them later). I believe he was taken by surprise and probably a little frustrated by the situation, and yes, he probably could have handled it better (although I feel he handled it with more grace than his opponents did). Sanders (like me) is a white guy. I don’t think he understands the experiences of POC, but I also think he has been willing to acknowledge that and is making a sincere effort to do better – yes, because he needs the votes, but I don’t think it’s just because he needs the votes. He embraced the awkward afternoon that his opponent was too busy to participate in.

Ultimately, while he’s still an old white guy with his share of the baggage that entails, I like that he doesn’t try to isolate himself from the “little people” around him. Black Lives Matter challenged him, and he let them talk. He made an effort (however awkward) to engage with them. He expanded his platform to address their concerns explicitly. I don’t think he did it because his campaign advisers told him it would make him surge in the polls. He did it because he saw that they had a valid point and that no one else was engaging with this movement of young, determined activists.

Supporters

Sanders’ support from Millennials is overwhelming, and I think the energy he brought to younger voters is one of the strongest arguments swaying me toward him. I remember how Obama captured the youth vote and rode it to victory. He was immediately thrown into a fight to hold the country together after his predecessor pillaged it, and I think a lot of those young Obama voters ended up more disappointed that the President really deserved. He wanted so desperately to be a transformational President, but he didn’t achieve nearly as much as he set out to do, so his progress was more incremental than radical. Obama had some key wins that laid the foundation for larger changes, however, and I think that if younger voters turn out for Sanders, he has the drive to build well on that foundation.

Clinton is competent and calm under fire, but I’m afraid that she wasn’t cool when she was running against Obama, and she hasn’t become more inspiring in the last eight years. It is at times maddening that she can be so tone deaf when it comes to talking to anyone under the age of 40. Why does it matter? Because I’m worried that she is this year’s John Kerry or Al Gore – the “safe, electable” candidate that no one actually likes enough to vote for. If you’ve done your job as a presidential candidate, your dominance shouldn’t be so weak that you can lose by electoral college technicalities or Supreme Court fiat. If either had been strong candidates, they wouldn’t have cut it so close in the first place. Al Gore is especially close to my heart because as a first-time voter in a presidential election I found myself unable to hold my nose long enough to vote for him. No matter how much we 30-somethings and 40-somethings and 50-somethings nag them about “vote blue no matter who,” the 20-something crowd isn’t going to turn out to vote for someone they don’t believe in, and Clinton has made an unfortunate pattern of alienating these voters or letting her proxies do so.

I’m not going to delve overmuch into the Bernie Bro phenomenon – not because I don’t believe that (especially young) people can’t be horrible to each other on the Internet but because I don’t feel that the candidate has incited that kind of behavior (as Trump has pretty much non-stop since this thing started). Sanders has, in fact, denounced this behavior from his supporters. I’ll also admit that if we’re going to talk about the worst behavior of a candidate’s supporters, assholes who get delusional, misogynistic, and defensive whenever they encounter an opposing viewpoint should pose less of an obstacle to a candidate than ones who crash the world economy, take government handouts, and then use the leftover money to give their friends bigger bonuses (Fact Checking).

Electability

While Sanders’ successful nomination as the Democratic candidate is by no means assured (he’s still quite the underdog), I find the electability argument in the general election laughable. Again, we heard this exact same argument against Obama in 2008 from the exact same people who are trotting it out now. It was also used to convince Democrats to nominate John Kerry in 2004, and we all know how that turned out. Electibility is important, but the head-to-head polls against the remaining Republican candidates actually show that Clinton is less likely than Sanders to win in the general election, so I don’t think that word means what some people think it means.

Those head-to-head polls, coupled with the odds of Sanders wins in the coming weeks and with Trump numbers have me worried. Unless a revolution takes place in truth, the smart money is on a Clinton vs. Trump match-up whose results cannot be predicted. Heads, we get a competent President that feels a little slimy but will probably do a decent job. Tails, we get a fascist whose rhetoric makes actual Holocaust survivors worry that it could happen in America next. Me? This time I’m hoping the cranky old white guy from Vermont wins it.

 

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