Bernie or Hillary – a stark choice for the Democratic Party

sanders_hillary.jpgBernie Sanders is an idealist, arguably a political outsider, and someone who wants an economic and social revolution in the United States. Hillary Clinton is a pragmatist, arguably the quintessential political insider, and someone who wants to build on the good things that have happened during the Obama administration. The choice that the Democratic Party has this primary season is stark, and I find that both fascinating and terrifying.

Bernie’s idealism is powerful, and I recognize the draw of it. It’s difficult to create a movement these days, and yet that’s what Bernie’s done. And Bernie’s right about a great many things. Economic inequality is a massive problem, the big banks have too much economic power, money needs to get out of politics (the wealthy can essentially buy elections these days), the Affordable Care Act didn’t near go far enough, and so on. But I worry that Bernie’s “democratic socialism,” however reasonable and progressive it actually is, would make him unelectable. And let’s be frank here – a hypothetical President Bernie would have to fight Congressional Republicans just to get out of bed in the morning, never mind advance his policies.

I understand the draw of Hillary too, though, specifically because she’s a pragmatist. She knows that Obama made some progress on powerful progressive issues like the Affordable Care Act, climate, renewable energy, and the like, and she wants to build upon those successes to make them even better. After fighting with congressional Republicans the majority of her adult life, she knows how to play hardball, and I’m confident that she’d be more able to advance her policies than Bernie could. But the fact of the matter is that the country needs an economic and social revolution, and Hillary isn’t the revolutionary that Sanders is.

I find that the more I read and hear about both Sanders and Clinton, the more I wish for a candidate that’s about two-thirds Bernie, one third Hillary, and ten to twenty years younger than either of them. You know, a candidate that can inspire voters like Bernie has to date, but whose idealism won’t get in the way of a no-quarter knife fight with Congress.

But with both Bernie and Hillary, I worry about electability. In some ways my ideal November matchup would be Bernie vs. Trump, because that would give the voters a clear choice on the direction of the country. But it’s by no means a foregone conclusion that Trump would lose that matchup. And against Cruz, Bernie might have an even harder time. Cruz is worse than Trump because Cruz is better at whitewashing awful polices than Trump is. Essentially, Cruz is more of a lying weasel than Trump is, but that very weaselness might make Cruz seem like a better choice compared to Bernie.

And when it comes to Hillary vs. Bernie on voter turnout, I can’t begin to know which candidate would better. I suspect that Bernie has the potential to boost voter turnout significantly more than Clinton does, but I’m not sure that’s enough. Historically, voter turnout is so poor in the US that if Bernie boosts his supporters 12% but his detractors by 15%, the Democrats still lose and the US lurches even further to the right. And having Hillary as the nominee runs the very real risk of losing a significant percentage of Bernie’s supporters due to lack of enthusiasm while simultaneously boosting the number of voters who hate her and have bought into 20+ years of non-stop smears.

At the moment I’m leaning slightly toward caucusing for Bernie this year, but only slightly. I’m certainly convincible either way at this point. With luck, my fellow Democratic caucus-goers will be able to articulate enough good reasons (not just good feelings) why I should vote for either Bernie or Hillary that I’ll be OK with whichever choice I ultimately make.

But whether Bernie or Hillary has the better chance in a race that’s been turned upside down and inside out is beyond my ability to know.

12 replies »

  1. You worry about turn out and losing the enthusiasm of the wrong Democratic Party constituency. Sanders has lukewarm support of minority communities. It is too late for him to make the loud and repeated attempts to change that lukewarm support now. Clinton is our only real chance (and it is a fair-to-good one, with her) in the general.

    • Kenneth – Maybe, but I’m not sure. I’m pretty much assuming that minority voters are going to turn out for whomever the Democratic candidate is, because there are precious few minorities who will vote for Trump or Cruz. And at this point the “reasonable” Republican candidates that might draw significant minority support away from either Bernie or Hillary are so low in the polls that I can’t see them making it through the primary process without a wholesale implosion of the Republican Party (something that is not out of the realm of possibility, IMO). But younger voters (of all ethnic groups) are more fickle than their seniors and always have been. So I personally worry that the perception that Hillary is a political insider will depress turnout more.

      But again, I don’t know and I don’t think anyone really does.

      • It’s not about drawing them away to another candidates in either party. It is about drawing them to the polls or not. Energizing minority constituency is WAY more important for present and future context than the fickle young. It’s too late for Sanders to manage that trick.

        Maybe nobody knows. But I suspect a solid majority of professional political scientists who base their opinions on the best sets of data would back my emphasis rather than your uncertainty.

        Its not for nothing that the only state that has managed to elect a Senator as left as Bernie is tiny, quirky and very very white.

        • First, why do you think that Sanders can’t draw minorities in substantial numbers? I’ve seen pundits make that claim, but none of the ones I’ve seen have more than opinion to back up that assertion. The data I’ve seen indicates that minorities turn out for Democratic candidates in massive numbers, and frankly this year the Republican field is so bad on minority issues that I have a hard time imagining this changing.

          Second, my rooting through the data thus far doesn’t support your suspicion either. I just spent 30 minutes poking around in Census Bureau voting reports and data and it’s not clear. Another hour or two of number crunching on the data that the reports are based on might make it clear, but maybe not too. So you might be right, but I haven’t found any data that either supports or refutes you.

        • We are on a fine balance point. It wasn’t the lack of whiny white young liberals that made 2010 and 2014 disasters. That constituency was incidental. It was a minority voter turnout problem.

          A supposed “revolution” candidate that either ignores the primary reason the US is right of almost any other Western democracy on economic issues (race)…. or to the degree he mentions it, it is with pangloss words and images like white and black hands grasped together in unity… will be a turn-off at the important margin. His rare leftish statewide election required a move to lily-white Vermont. Combine that with his willingness to pick and chose pretty important issues to pander over (gun control.) This will signal to minority voters 1) his unelectability, 2) his willingness to pick and choose an important issue to discard to get any sort of move to left (read here some 2016-2017 version of original SS in the 30’s specifically excluding occupations with highest levels of African Americans.)

          The “Black” bars in the next couple links are the only polls always on my mind these days:



        • I’m going to crunch some numbers using Census Bureau data, because what impact a drop in minority voting vs. youth voting (or both, or neither) had is not at all obvious from the raw data. I’ll post my results when I’m done and post a link to them in this comment thread.

          As far as Bernie being anti-gun control, I recommend you review his actual votes on that subject before dismissing his views on the subject as “pandering”: http://www.ontheissues.org/2016/Bernie_Sanders_Gun_Control.htm His record of being for certain types of gun control, but not widespread gun control, goes back to at least 1997. And given the number of liberal gun owners I know, I wouldn’t assume that supporting gun ownership is necessarily a losing position to take.

          Finally, the links you provided don’t appear to apply to your point #2, although I could have missed it. And don’t trust the NBC/SurveyMonkey results (or any poll, frankly, without first reading the methodology closely) – it’s a self-selected poll that, by definition, doesn’t have predictive value outside the ~13k people who answered the questions. It does not and cannot apply to the nation at large due to its very nature (see the methodology discussion at the end of this document: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299368679/NBC-News-SurveyMonkey-Weekly-Election-Tracking-Poll?secret_password=GuV7OK1YVs7OzORICRdM)

    • If Bernie gets the “political revolution” he is asking for, we will have years and years of conflict, during which NOTHING will get done. No free college or single-payer health care. And yet, he is still making these promises. I see him fueling from the American people’s suffering and anger to advance his own political agenda. Making promises, he must know that he cannot keep. I find this repulsive.

      Also, I find Bernie incredibly inflexible and rigid in his thinking. And arrogant. He is so incredibly inferior to Hillary in terms of understanding of foreign policy –too much considering how long he has been an elected official, in my opinion. And what does he do? Does he hire a foreign policy advisor? Does he prepare to debate SOS Clinton? No, he instead takes the opportunity to criticize her for consulting with a previous SOS. Let me get this straight Bernie, it is okay to meet with international rivals without quid pro quo, but it is wrong to consult a fellow American SOS???!!!!! Pathetic.

      Bernie is a single-issue, inflexible, rigid, emotionally-reactive, and impractical candidate!
      Hillary and Bernie are not very different at all, despite what people may choose to believe. But Hillary is pragmatic and understands that since the US is not a dictatorship, to get to our end game we must make gradual but steady progress.

      • Carol, we’re going to have years of conflict in which nothing will get done regardless of whether Bernie or Hillary gets elected. The Republicans hate Hillary enough that it wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility that they’ll have impeachment hearings in process within a week of her being sworn in. The only way this doesn’t happen is if large swaths of Congress go Democratic, or if Republicans are elected instead.

        And incremental change isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I can imagine a perfectly reasonable and reasoned argument for how the New Deal in the 1930s was not incremental improvement, but rather political revolution. After all, FDR had to threaten to seat additional justices on the Supreme Court before the Court stopped shooting down social safety net legislation as unconstitutional.

        I agree with you that Bernie’s weak on foreign policy, and so he shouldn’t be taking Hillary to task on that issue. At all.

  2. I wasn’t listing polls as support for any specific numbered point. I listed polls to indicate the lackluster support Bernie has in black community. I think there are plenty of polls that indicate that and none that indicate otherwise – if either of these two examples don’t measure up.

  3. You know, this “pragmatism” argument for Clinton is fascinating. I keep being told that she’s “experienced” and knows how to “get things done.”

    Okay. What has she gotten done? Serious question. What is her great accomplishment, her crowning victory? I can’t really think of anything. I mean, she has helped get things like the Iraq war done, but I don’t think that’s what her backers mean.

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