Bernie 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.