I’ve been quiet on what’s been happening politically. Not on a personal level, as you know from talking to me and from the volunteer campaign work I’ve been doing. But I haven’t been engaging much with it online and in writing. I’m witnessing such an intense dissociation from facts and values that I believed were common and among people I thought shared my views. I see millions of people deciding that Donald Trump, a man who:
- Viciously insults anyone who publicly disagrees with him
- Mocks disabled reporters and wounded veterans
- Casually and unapologetically objectifies women, even his own family
- Endorses countless conspiracy theories and thinks global warming is a Chinese hoax
- Stokes racism, anti-Semitism, and endorses violence against his protestors, murdering terrorists’ families, torturing detainees
- Knows absolutely nothing about domestic policy and doesn’t care
- Is more concerned about the size of his hands and dick than the effects of any of his policy proposals
Equally disturbing, I see Sanders supporters, who ostensibly believe in ideas like justice, fairness, and equality, and issues like immigration, climate change, and poverty, saying how much they despise Clinton, that her nomination would be illegitimate because superdelegates would help, and that they’re considering not voting for Clinton because of how much they dislike her. They’re impervious to the facts that Clinton has 3 million more votes than Sanders and that the nomination system they’ve railed against (correctly, in my opinion), advantages Sanders. (About half the contests he’s won have been caucuses that make it difficult for anyone with a life to vote and result in dismal turnout.)
I’ve always liked Bernie Sanders. We’ve both been familiar with him years before most of his supporters even knew who he was. He’s been ahead of most Democrats in defending LGBT rights, calling out the vastly unequal distribution of wealth, and advocating for a government that does more to give working people a leg up. But he is and always has been a socialist. This country has never been particularly warm toward socialism in any form. The most successful American socialist candidate was Eugene Debs, and he got the highest total number of votes (913,664 votes) while sitting in a jail cell. Over 100 years later, a 2015 Gallup poll found that 50% of Americans would not vote for a socialist. Clearly, Sanders has attracted a ton of support, especially among the youngest generation of voters, who are friendlier toward socialism than capitalism.
But now, in late May, it seems like Sanders’ support is fueled more by an irrational hatred of Clinton than a desire to create change. I see people on Facebook conflating Clinton and Trump as if they have remotely the same personality traits, beliefs, and goals. I was never a big fan of Hillary, but I always respected her experience, her excellent understanding of policy, and her commitment to women’s equality. None of the scandals she’s involved been involved with (Whitewater, Vince Foster, Benghazi, the emails, etc.) have proved her to be the snake so many people believe she is. She’s way too secretive and cautious, and that makes her look dishonest, but I think that was borne out of decades of vicious attacks on her and her family. If I had garbage continually lobbed at me for 25 years, I’d probably develop similar traits.
But there’s an important philosophical distinction between Sanders and Clinton that I’ve been conflicted about, and is often the subject of arguments between me and a certain friend.
While Sanders has a bipartisan record, he is more of an activist than a policymaker. As Congresswoman Slaughter said to me during my internship, in the 16 years they were in the House together, he passed three pieces of legislation, and two were naming post offices. I read an article in Politico today that delved deeper into Sanders legislative record. It found that Sanders had relatively little influence on major liberal policy achievements. He did make small, meaningful contributions, like increasing transparency of the Federal Reserve in Dodd-Frank and successfully advocating for funding for community health centers in Obamacare. But he was never a major player in crafting significant laws, and his influence on policy has paled in comparison to other senators, like Elizabeth Warren, who’s made protecting Dodd-Frank a hill to die on.
Hillary Clinton has always taken a more policy centered approach, and while she hasn’t always been successful, it has produced results. Looking up what Clinton has actually done, I was surprised to find a laundry list of legislative and diplomatic achievements. As First Lady in 1997, she was instrumental in passing the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which had bipartisan support, and has improved health care access for millions of children in poverty. As a senator she helped write and pass the Pediatric Research Equity Act, which requires pharmaceutical companies to study the effects of their drugs on children, which has made crucial drug information available for hundreds of drugs. She fought to get billions in aid for 9/11 first responders to get needed medical treatment. She sponsored and fought for the original Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which became law shortly after she left the Senate. As Secretary of State, she rallied the world to put tough sanctions on Iran that forced them to the table, while pressuring countries like to China to cut their emissions, which have led to the US-China Climate Agreement and the Paris Agreement.
We can argue that her policies have come up short, that her instincts are too hawkish, and that she’s too cozy with Wall Street, but there is no question that the woman gets shit done, and that much of it has been really good.
That said, the political system needs to be shaken up. It is rigged in favor of the wealthy and the status quo. Sanders is right: we need a political revolution. Of course, that requires more people voting in presidential and midterm elections than have ever done so, and voting Democratic. Our present two-party system is deeply unsatisfying, but until we change our voting system, which won’t happen anytime soon, the Democratic Party is the only electoral vehicle capable of affecting liberal policy change.
I sometimes wonder whether I’m too pessimistic, lacking in imagination, and too willing to compromise. I certainly give up too quickly in my day to day life. That hasn’t stopped me from getting involved and fighting though, if for a candidate that is far to my right. Let my contribution to the revolution be to motivate others to stand up and fight.