Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Bernie vs. Hillary

The Democratic primary in 2016 has become a lot more competitive than I initially thought it would be.  Bernie Sanders has struck some type of nerve with younger voters who are excited to vote in the primaries and caucus for someone that they see out of the normal political establishment.  Coupled with Hillary Clinton’s ties to politics, money, and Wall Street has a number of people talking about trying to beat the establishment.  The Nebraska caucus is on Saturday for Democrats so I guess it’s about time I write about who I would support. I assumed originally that Bernie would have dropped out by now so I didn’t really plan on having anything formulated by this time.  

Foreign policy (30%)

One of the few major ways a President can influence decisions is with their foreign policy decisions.  Hillary Clinton is damaged in this respect, in my opinion.  She, most famously, voted for the Iraq War.  She was sufficiently punished for this vote in the 2008 primaries.  She was attacked throughout the primary campaign about this vote.  She defended this vote throughout that campaign.  However, in her 2014 book, she acknowledged that it was a mistake and offered no qualifications for it.  In 2007,she opposed the Iraq troop surge that was gaining traction in Congress and with various presidential candidates.  She also announced that she would end the war in 2009.  She also introduced a bill that would require removing troops within 90 days of passage or lose authorization for the war.  She later said that the Iraq war surge had not met its stated goals and wanted President Bush to come back to the table.  While she did support a number of troops to stay in Iraq to protect interests for years, she made it clear that she would not support permanent bases there. 

Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, did vote against the use of military force in Iraq and was an outspoken critic of the war throughout its tenure.  He did support the authorization of military force 
against terrorists. 

It would seemingly be fit to end it there, as Bernie seems to be the undisputed king.  He managed to not vote for the Iraqi War and was a critic of the war.  His proposal to fight ISIS just isn’t that good, though.  His releases have called for a coalition of Middle East countries including Iran and Saudi Arabia to fight ISIS.  This seems good enough.  However, Middle East countries see Iran’s regional power as a threat and may refuse to work with them.  King Abdullah of Jordan agrees that fighting ISIS requires a coalition of Muslim countries to be able to defeat ISIS.  He argues that Sunni Muslims would need to come together to condemn and ultimately destroy ISIS. 

I may be biased in my assumption that Hillary has the grander Syria plan.  She proposed arming Syrian rebels and ultimately concluded that we should have done more to help the Syrian people fight Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.  She was disappointed that President Barack Obama rejected her plan.  This was my plan, as well, and I also concluded that it was a mess in Syria with deciding which factions to support. 

I’ve also come to the conclusion that King Abdullah is right and a Sunni coalition would need to come together to be able to defeat ISIS .  Ceding power to Iran as a regional power is not something I support nor do I think it’s tenable to be able to defeat ISIS so I disagree with Sanders’s assessment of the Middle East. 

I think Clinton’s plan to work with Russia to have a no-fly zone in Syria would work.  The idea is that both Russia and the United States would come together and enforce a no-fly zone.  This is pie in the sky dreaming but it’s a much better option than boots on the ground or relying on Iran to fight ISIS.

The other argument against Clinton is that she is much more interventionist than Sanders.  My hope is that she has learned from her mistakes with her Iraqi War vote.  But this is just hope.  Her husband, Bill Clinton, still has the specter of not intervening in Rwanda when it was time to and this clouds his judgment.  I hope it doesn’t cloud Hillary’s.  Sanders argues that we should not go to war unless we have a coalition.  I believe his rhetoric may be right but I don’t know if I trust him to head up a coalition.

Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton favor a two-state solution to help protect Israel.  Sanders has been more evocative in the past, defending Palestinians and condemning Israel.  Clinton has promised in the past that there would be massive retaliation if Iran attacked Israel.  Both candidates support the Iran deal and think we should have diplomacy with Iran.  Both candidates opposed free trade acts such as the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  Clinton has been accused of pandering with her opposition to the TPP as she was once an advocate of it.  She has supported other free trade agreements such as NAFTA.  Sanders has unequivocally stated that he opposes all free-trade agreements.  I’m not sure where I really fall on this.  I believe that the TPP may be a mistake.  It does not grant sufficient protections for workers and we’re still waiting on the proper protections for Mexican workers for NAFTA.

Ultimately, I think the positives for Bernie are that he’s not an interventionist  and that he opposes free trade agreements if they don’t prioritize American workers.  I think Clinton’s experience in the Middle East with her role as Secretary of State provides a valuable resource, as well as her admitting her mistake in Iraq is helpful.  I trust Clinton more to deal with ISIS and to pursue the best path forward with ISIS. 

Domestic issues (20%)

Sanders and Clinton both share a number of the same concerns with regards to issues that are important to me.  Sanders and Clinton both believe that we should decriminalize marijuana.  Clinton thinks that we should allow states to decide on recreational marijuana which is a quasi-federalist position.  Sanders said that he would vote for recreational marijuana.  This doesn’t concern me that much either way, as the bill will surely die in Congress.  As much as Clinton gets accused to pandering to pick up votes, Sanders position is clearly pandering to young voters there.
Sanders called for an ambitious criminal justice reform which would end mandatory minimum sentencing.  Hillary’s plan is fairly similar, cutting into the mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent drug offenders cutting their time in half, fixing the crack-cocaine sentencing disparity and applying it retroactively, and lessening the need for mandatory minimum sentencing.  Both support banning the box and restoring non-violent felon’s voting rights.

While Clinton supports amending the ACA to help fix the Medicaid gap and to help fully cover everyone, Sanders has suppoted a Medicare for all plan, which would be indistinguishable from single payer.  His math that he supported showing that middle class families would spend less and that the policy would cost less than right now was off.  When confronted about it, Sanders and his team revised the numbers to fit the criticism of one and then accused the other one of working for health insurers.   Beyond that, his proposal is simply not going to pass any form of Congressional hurdle.  This is not an indictment of Sanders’s plan but rather of the American form of government which is a hurdle for progressive legislation.  Beyond that, I agree with Clinton that with the ACA already struggling, the fight we should be having is how to strengthen the ACA.   I think that we can revisit the ACA and modify it as we get further out from it but we haven’t escaped the legal battles challenging it, quite yet.

Sanders calls for a plan to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour, arguing that while it may cost some jobs it will help enough people to make it worth it.  I’m not sure of the utilitarian calculus on that.  I may be described as somewhat conservative with my own minimum wage thoughts.  I think that we can raise it to probably about $12/hour without having significant job-loss in the south and Midwest (lower cost of living areas).  From there, we can index it to inflation.  If we raise it beyond that, I think we run into a significant risk of massive job loss throughout much of the country.  In Mississippi or other rural states, for instance, this may be too much and have more job losses making it harder to be able to raise the minimum wage later, if needed.  If the $15/hour makes it through Congress (which it won’t) and costs millions of jobs, it will be seen as a failure.  This will make it increasingly more difficult to raise the minimum wage if needed, later.  Clinton’s plan is for $12/hour with it indexed to inflation.  I think it’s on the high end of the spectrum of job losses but it is much more likely to get passed and much less likely to cost jobs.

Clinton is a supporter of charter schools, which I am not a fan of.  So is Barack Obama.  I’m not a fan of that either.  Sanders does not appear to be a supporter of charter schools.  His education proposal to make college tuition free is the much sexier option with regards to education policy.  Clinton’s plan has a much better chance of passing, though.  She would provide grants to states covering $175 billion to state that guarantee that they would not require students to take a loan out to afford to go to public four-year universities.  It would also allow students to refinance student loans at lower interest rates and to expand the Americorps national service program from 75,000 to 250,000 people.  This would be paid for by limiting the itemized deductions for wealthy people.  It’s not a very exciting plan but it is a plan that could work.

What it comes down to between the two candidates is style over substance.  Sanders’s style is winning him a lot of votes and a lot of support with young voters who think that these things can be fixed pretty easily.  Clinton’s substance gets overlooked in these debates about policy.  I should add that both candidates want to reform campaign finance but Sanders seems to think that only evil comes from Wall St and the corporate sphere which is illogical.

Leadership (25%)

While often mocked, correctly in my opinion, leadership does play a role in who I would want to be my party’s nominee for President.  Sanders has often run his campaign as if he is the only honest man in politics and that he can green lantern his way through changes in the political process.  It doesn’t seem as though he realizes the limitations of the American government system.  His campaign tweeted out that they would nominate a judge whose first priority would be to overturn Citizen’s United.  This is not how the court system works in the United States, thank god.  Beyond that, he’s only peripherally interested in helping the Democratic party.  He hasn’t been raising money for them as he promised. He doesn’t seem all that interested in trying to get down ballot votes to help implement the policies that he is advocating for.  Spoiler alert: he’ll need the Senate to go back to the Democrats and pick up a substantial amount of seats in the House of Representatives to be able to pass through any of his agenda.

Beyond that, his campaign seems to have a problem which indicates that he has no control over them or that he is planning on this.  He has had a few celebrity endorsers come out and say sexist things about Hillary Clinton (one said that he could not vote for a woman as President).  His campaign infamously got access to Clinton’s voter database which they claimed was a way to show vulnerabilities within the system (which is almost certainly untrue).  His campaign has also focused primarily on wooing white voters despite how the coalition of the Democratic party is made up.  His campaign seems fine with trying to win the nomination with only white voters which is not tenable and also is a problem of huge proprotions. 

Clinton’s campaign is certainly not perfect.  She seems to be learning from her previous mistakes.  She doesn’t seem content on being the female candidate in the way that Sanders seems content to be the socialist candidate.  She is reaching out to different blocs of the Demcoratic Party.  Her own celebrity endorsers have said erroneous things about “Berniebros” and are critical of the Sanders campaign, which is problematic, as well.

Political Judgment (25%)

In 2008, Clinton’s campaign was a mess.  She had Mark Penn help run her campaign.  They counted states instead of delegates.  They argued immensely that Michigan and Florida should count because she won (even though the primaries violated DNC rules).  Her campaign and surrogates argued that Barack Obama was not born in the United States.  They also said racial stereotypes of Obama.  Beyond that, Clinton has made mistakes in the past.  She supported Goldwater as a teen.  She supported NAFTA.  She supported the crime bill that her husband signed.  She voted for the Iraq War.  She was not a staunch supporter of LGBT rights and same-sex marriage.  She supported the death penalty.  All of these are mistakes.  All of these are fine to criticize her for.  Her and her husband rely on political opinion to shift their own opinion (just like everyone) and is fairly obvious.  What does she believe in her heart?  I can’t tell you.  I don’t think It really matters. 

Sanders was a civil rights activist in the 1960s.  Bernie Sanders ran as a spoiler against Patrick Leahy in 1974 and nearly cost Leahy the election.  Leahy is a staunch liberal with nearly impeccable credentials.  It is hard to see how someone could accuse Leahy of not being progressive enough.  Sanders ran multiple third party campaigns.  He won, his congressional seat, in part by getting support from the NRA.  In 2011, as an independent who caucused with the Democratic Party, he called for a primary challenge to President Barack Obama.  Obama is one of the most progressive presidents we’ve ever had.  The ACA despite most  of its provisions being endorsed by the Heritage Foundation also called for the largest ever increase in Medicaid, making it one of the most progressive bills that we’ve had.  What does Bernie Sanders believe in his heart?  I don’t know.  I don’t think it really matters.

Sanders and his supporter have said that he is on the right side of history, consistently.  Most of the time, it is in reference to his civil rights actions.  Fred Phelps was a civil rights attorney.  Joe Lieberman was a civil rights activist.  A few good actions do not make you immune to criticism or make it impossible for you to make the wrong decisions. 

Sanders has consistently portrayed himself to be the most progressive candidate in any race, regardless of the truth of the statement.  It seems that the person who gets to make that call is Sanders.  Clinton  and her husband have always run as pragmatists.  They bend with the political wind.  Both are negatives.  Given the options, I would trust someone who is willing to admit that she was wrong and try to correct it in the future, as opposed to doubling down.

Conclusion


I’m a big fan of pragmatic arguments and pragmatists in general.  I believe that we need idealists to be able to dream and to reach for things beyond reach.  We need these, especially in politics.  We need people to drive the party closer to our true beliefs and to help guide our leaders going forward.  Primaries are essential to find the candidate that most line up with your views.    I support what Bernie Sanders has accomplished in this primary.  He has motivated thousands of young voters and convinced them of his message.  He has pushed Hillary Clinton significantly to the left.  We wouldn’t be talking about the minimum wage or college tuition without him.  Clinton would not be practiced for the general election without him.  I am supporting Hillary Clinton for the Democratic primary, though.  Her experience on foreign policy, her pragmatism with domestic issues, her leadership with regards to this campaign, and the shift in her political judgment makes this decision for me.  

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