Last year, I wrote about why the seemingly inevitable nomination and general election win of Hillary Clinton wasn’t such a bad thing for the party and the nation. And, in the grand scheme of things, not a whole lot has changed since then. Yes, Bernie is now leading in New Hampshire polling, and the email scandal has only gotten bigger, but Hillary seems oddly resistant to that sort of thing, and she’s still the national frontrunner by a fairly large margin. My opinion on the matter now, however, couldn’t be more different. What’s changed? I read about this Bernie guy, and started taking him seriously.
Senator Bernie Sanders is the longest-serving independent in Congress. A self-described democratic socialist from Vermont, he launched his campaign back in May to somewhere between total apathy and widespread ridicule from the press. And they had something of a point. Bernie doesn’t look like or sound like a heavyweight presidential contender, courtesy of a very interesting haircut and a thick Brooklyn accent, and a significant percentage of Americans, when polled, would not vote for an otherwise qualified socialist on the grounds that they are a socialist. Bernie’s unconventional campaign, however, gathered quite a bit of steam this summer. He’s consistently been drawing the largest crowds of the presidential campaign (sorry, Mr. Trump, rally attendance, much like net worth, does not increase solely because you say it’s higher), including a high of 28,000 people in Portland, Oregon. Now, as Fred Armisen would be quick to tell you, Portland is something of a leftist enclave, and full of the mostly white, self-identified liberals that make up the majority of Sanders’s support. Nevertheless, Bernie has still enjoyed a meteoric rise in the polls that puts him roughly 20 percentage points down from Hillary nationally (which is roughly 30 points less than he was down when he announced), ahead in New Hampshire, and closing in fast in Iowa. So what does he stand for?
His entire political career, Bernie has had no qualms about taking on the establishment in order to better defend the interests of his constituents. He was a civil rights activist in the 60s, started advocating for LGBT rights in the 80s, voted against the first Gulf War and the Iraq War, and vocally opposed the USA Patriot Act. A further examination of his voting record shows that he has consistently placed what is right over what is politically convenient. On votes when he was in the minority, sometimes an extreme one, he has consistently voted his conscience, despite pressure from other Congressmen, special interests, and presidential administrations. He is running a campaign according to pre-Citizens United FEC rules, meaning no individual can donate more than $2,700 and no PACs or Super PACs. While that might seem like political suicide, like a lot of other things Bernie does, it’s actually working out rather well for him, as he has by far the largest small donor base across both parties and is staying relatively competitive with the big money machine that is the Hillary 2016 campaign. His reasoning is, if he is truly going to work to overturn Citizens United and the influence of powerful special interests, then he should run a campaign not beholden to those interests. Doing so, when it would be easiest to accept multi-million-dollar donations and run against Hillary on equal footing, is indicative of the type of politician Sanders is, and the type of president one might expect him to be. He sees income inequality as the great issue of our time, and will try to undo the current system of tax cuts for the very wealthy. However, unlike President Obama, you can expect him to stay true to those ideals rather than abandon them in the name of compromise. He also favors drastic action to confront climate change, decreased involvement in the Middle East, mandatory body cameras for police officers, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, ending the War on Drugs, breaking up “too-big-to-fail” banks, and addressing institutional racism by way of income inequality. Unlike most other contenders in the presidential race, he is running on what he thinks is right, rather than what focus group polling, big donors, or a Machiavellian sense of pursuing power at all costs dictate. On a totally unrelated note, let’s talk Hillary Clinton.
Much like Frank Underwood with more expensive hair and a less authentic Southern accent, or an only slightly less creepy Littlefinger from Game of Thrones, Hillary Clinton has no delusions about the value of power and the role she believes ethics ought to play in acquiring it. Spoiler alert:noen. Hillary operates, consistently, in the grey zone between what is most politically advantageous and what she can get away with, illustrated by the recent email scandal. Now, I’m no expert in cybersecurity, so I talked to my dad, who is (and doesn’t support any presidential candidate, for the record). His consensus, after talking with his colleagues and others who are experts in securely storing information, is that there is positively no need to set up a private email server unless you have something to hide from potential oversight. Furthermore, the way she has dealt with the situation is hardly reassuring. Her extreme reluctance to comply with federal orders, and her doing so in the most opaque way possible, little by little, again throws into serious doubt the possibility that she isn’t hiding anything. While the Benghazi craze was, in large part, a scandal manufactured by Congressional Republicans, the email server seems a lot more legitimate, but the Clinton team is dealing with it in the exact same way, by blaming it on political adversaries and waiting for everything to blow over, even if there’s no real indication that it will. In this way, she is the anti-Bernie, constantly swapping between politically advantageous positions without any guiding sense of what’s right beyond a Democratic affiliation, like on marriage equality. And her reputation is catching up with her. While it would be nice if Hillary’s drop in the polls were due entirely to Bernie’s appeal, the reality of the situation is that more and more people are realizing that despite her experience, a lot of people simply don’t like Hillary and don’t want her as president, something which is even more true among the independents and moderate Republicans she would need to court in the general election.
To conclude, yes, Bernie has weaknesses. That said, Hillary has arguably bigger ones, and Bernie’s can more likely be overcome. Hillary, by virtue of being in the public eye for so long, among other factors, is seen unfavorably by large amounts of the population. Bernie, as a relative unknown, has a cleaner slate to begin with, and can make his name in the coming months. While the socialist thing is a worry, large majorities of Americans agree with him on the issues he’s talking about, and are likely to cast prejudices aside as they learn what Bernie stands for and is proposing. Until then, we’ll just have to wait and see.