thoughts on hillary and bernie...

This post won't change any one's mind about Hillary or Bernie.  As NY Times columnist, David
Brooks, likes to say: most voters make a decision about the President based on how the candidate makes them feel - not the facts - and even less, their accomplishments and endorsements no matter how impressive or potentially distressing. That said, watching the Democratic debate last night between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders reminded me why I support Mrs. Clinton rather than Mr. Sanders: I share her political philosophy of making incremental progress on what is possible in a polarized context while simultaneously lifting up the larger concerns of the common good.  In my head and my heart, Mr. Sanders' appeal to "revolution" strikes me as gratuitous, unnecessary and inflammatory. I already mistrust the Republican blowhards, so why would a Left-learning one evoke any more trust?

Look, I mostly like how Bernie makes me feel: he is fiery, intelligent, radical, compassionate, respectful and a bit self-righteous. Mostly he refuses to take cheap shots at anyone and speaks about things that I support: income equality, justice, and peace. I, too, have long embraced the democratic socialist ideology that guides Mr. Sanders' thought and value its insights into both economics and public policy. Hillary sometimes looks wooden and controlled - she rarely strikes a sense of passion in me despite her mastery of the facts and process of government - and there are times when her public persona appears detached. All of this makes me feel uncomfortable with her. Both candidates can be spontaneous, witty, and downright funny and inspired, too. So while both strike me as bright and committed, Mrs. Clinton knows the intricacies and nuances of national and international politics better than anyone on the scene. Her reply last night about Russia was so head and shoulders above Mr. Sanders abstract and rambling comment about North Korea as to be almost farcical. To be fair, they both are truly dedicated and authentic public servants.

But with potentially four Supreme Court justices at stake after election day 2016, I am not interested in turning the perfect into the enemy of the good. I want someone who can deliver. Further, I am more energized by the lifelong policy wonk who knows the ins and outs of health care reform, international negotiations in the age of terrorism, and the politics of American race and gender issues than I am in a firebrand with a big heart. This isn't to say that Bernie hasn't accomplished things over his lifetime in politics; rather, it is to say that at this moment in time I don't trust him to be effective in the face of our current challenges. Just the story of the collapse of single-payer health insurance in Vermont alone is enough to make me join Hillary's camp.

There are two other factors at work in all of this that cut beyond feelings, too. First, perhaps this is always the case with those who are super-charged about idealistic political candidates, but the quasi-messianic paeans to Bernie make me uncomfortable. Not because anyone is suggesting that he is a savior. No, it is just the fact that young politicos with precious little experience in governance tend to be fickle and ruthless. They were on fire for a young Obama, but when the President was elected and had to make real life compromises about war, peace, health care and all the rest, these same young soldiers treated him like a traitor. It is one thing to celebrate the radical positions of your candidate during the election cycle and another thing entirely to appreciate the hard compromises necessary to move an idea into an authentic law that can change lives.  As a person of faith who honors the flow of time - to every thing there is a season - I know that sometimes "you are the windshield and sometimes you are the bug."  So, my plea is: dial the messianism down a bit, ok?

Second, while I value Mrs. Clinton's expertise and political acumen, I have no illusions that she is flawless. She is as ruthless a player as Richard Nixon and can be cruel in her comments. She is utilitarian in the worst sense of that word, too.  Yes, she is a political animal who carefully counts the cost of controversial commitments - that is a blessing and a curse - and that is not what causes me distress. Rather, my reservations are not about her savvy, but what looks like a constantly moving target of situational ethics. Like her masterful husband, she can parse the meaning of a word with Byzantine precision. And while I know this won't ever change, my prayer is that she is aware of her shadow side enough to create a cabinet with some advisers strong enough to challenge her from time to time. Without a trusted insider to call her bluff, I fear she can become her own worst enemy. (And while this is true for us all, not all of us wield the authority and power of the Oval Office.)

Like Bernie, Hillary is fundamentally a person of deep conviction. She is obviously more main stream than he - check out the various Face Book memes quoting Sanders and Clinton on the music of Frank Zappa if you have any questions - and my aesthetics run deep in the Bernie camp. But I'm not voting on my feelings or my aesthetics. Consequently, I'm with Hillary.


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