Why I’m Voting Bernie; A Conversation

BernieSandersAlthough I’ve been a fan for nearly a decade, donated to the campaign, and have shared any number of articles, I haven’t yet offered here, in my own words, why I am supporting Bernie Sanders for President. Sure, I’ve teased my friends and colleagues (sorry guys!) about their Hillary support (and have gotten it back too!), but for the most part we haven’t really engaged in a substantive conversation. In the age of the 24/7 news cycle, 140 character limits, memes and gifs, it is too easy to let the media &/or those to whom we attribute status, to serve as surrogates for our own thoughts and values.
So here are some of the things going on in my brain. I welcome your concurrence or your critique. In any case, make sure you don’t let all of the political theater discourage you from voting, regardless of who you support!
1) I’m pro-Bernie; not Anti-Hillary. I struggled mightily during the 2008 primary over whether to support Obama or Clinton. I literally decided the day I walked into the polling booth, and pulled the lever for Obama– and I think it was the right decision. I share that to say my support for Bernie is just that– my support for Bernie. I am not reflexively anti-Hillary, and if she does win the party nomination, I will support her as she will be incalculably better for the country than Trump or Cruz. I reject the notion of “Bernie or Bust” and encourage Sanders supporters to vote Hillary if he is to lose the primary.
2) I don’t “feel the Bern”. Although it has been adopted by supporters and opponents alike, I’ve never been a fan of the phrase since it feels to me like the reduction of well-reasoned support for a candidate down to a slogan that implies blind excitement. My support for Bernie is not based on being emotionally swept up in his gruff appeal.
3) There is nothing wrong with being a “single-issue” voter. One of the regular critiques of Bernie and his supporters is that they represent a “single-issue” campaign. We can debate whether that is true or not (I don’t believe it is), but even supposing that it is– so what? The fundamental idea of voting is that it offers the opportunity for individuals to elect the candidate they feel best speaks to their ideas about what the problems, challenges and opportunities are before themselves, their family and their community. Each of our lived experiences will influence that assessment, and given the economic conditions of our country– high levels of poverty, wage stagnation, staggering household debt levels, and increasing concentration of wealth among the few– it should come as no surprise that many people see the issue of wealth disparity of paramount importance– and who is anyone to disagree?
My “single-issue” happens to be the health and transparency of our democracy because our ability to achieve any of the changes we want, domestic or foreign, is predicated on government responsiveness to those goals. I don’t believe our current system of governance reflects the true collective will of the people. Vote dilution and suppression, gerrymandering, voter frustration/apathy, and and the outsize role of money in elections collude to give us a constellation of elected officials and policies at all levels of government that is not reflective of the racial, gender, economic and political composition of the electorate. I believe Bernie has/will do more to challenge the role of money in elections than any other candidate in the race. For that reason alone, I would vote for him.
4) I refuse to cast my ballot out of fear. So many people have admonished the Sanders candidacy as a fools errand/dangerous because his “unelectability” means we doom ourselves to an eventual Trump or Cruz presidency. We are told that he cannot win in a general election because he is a socialist, because he is a Jew, because his head-to-head poll numbers with Trump & Cruz (higher than Hillary’s) are artificially high because he has not been attacked with the full force of the Republican establishment, etc., etc. I strenuously disagree on all counts. Who would have thought that the nation would have elected a black man to office before Barack? I am not naive about the the strong bias, and indeed hate, against Jews in many parts of the country, but it is inconceivable to me that I would choose to not support a candidate because of others’ intolerance/ignorance.
Based on the tremendous turnout for his rallies and record-breaking number and pace of individual contributions to his campaign, it seems a fair conclusion that Bernie has inspired Democrats and many independents in a way that Hillary has not. Even among those that support her, the support is frequently grounded in “pragmatism” versus inspiration. This is absolutely fine, but I note that it is inspiration that draws people to the polls in an election, not pragmatism, as evidenced in the the Obama-Clinton primary, and as I suspect we would see in a Sanders-Trump/Cruz general.
5) Bernie’s overall policy positions better align with my values. Whether it was his no vote on the Iraq War (Hillary voted yes), his opposition to the Patriot Act (Hillary supported), his support of single payer health care (Hillary dismisses), his opposition to the Wall Street bailout (Hillary supported) etc., across the board I find his credentials to be much more progressive than Hillary’s. And its perfectly okay for Hillary to be a moderate Democrat– its just that as a proud progressive, I’m going to support progressive candidates in my party’s primary. This is not to say that his positions on guns and immigration couldn’t be better (they can), but on balance, his decades of positions and actual votes clearly identify him as the more progressive of the two.
6) I don’t believe Hillary can singularly lay claim to being able to “get things done”. There is a difference between campaigning and governing, and almost universally candidates become more moderate post-primary, and certainly post-election. Bernie is an intelligent adult and will chart a course that allows him to get done as much as possible in the context of Republican opposition in Congress, as would Hillary. However, no one can say Obama did not bend over backwards to work with the Republicans, and they have spent every waking moment for the past 8 years trying to thwart and undermine him. By what rationale do we believe that the GOP, in a scenario where they just lost the presidential election to Clinton– whom they have spent the last 30 years professionally hating on– will somehow decide to work with her because she is “pragmatic?” To be clear, I do not believe that this is a reason to not vote for Clinton, but it certainly challenges the notion that Hillary is someone who will be able to “get things done” relative to Bernie because of her moderate positions.
In any case, there is more I could say, but I’ll stop here. It bears repeating that I think there is, and needs to be room for legitimate differences of opinion and debate on such weighty issues. And I’m not an absolutist on my Bernie support; I respect the views of those that think Hillary is the best choice for the Democratic nomination- I just happen to disagree.
In any case, thanks for reading and don’t forget to vote! (in New York that will be Tuesday, April 19th)