reflections on hilary and bernie - part three...

In the third of five reflections on the differences I wrestle with between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders, a clearer divergence of worldviews and analytic precision comes into focus when foreign policy matters, trade and economic reform, gun control and the legacy of sexism are examined.  (I had originally thought I would wrap things up with this one, but I clearly need two more installments.) In my estimation, when these subjects are investigated beyond the catch phrases of the campaign, they clarify objectively the wisdom of Clinton’s current agenda over the paucity of practical possibilities in the Sanders proposals.  I do not question the passion or integrity of those who “feel the Bern.” There is an exciting energy to his campaign that is palpable. Nor am I in disagreement with many of their goals – especially when it comes to changes in caring for the poor, strengthening the middle class and lessening US involvement in international conflicts. What is missing for me in Sanders is gravitas – politically, analytically and strategically – as I hope to convey in the following review.  Please note that in previous postings I am always grateful to those friends, colleagues and readers who reply to my reflections with serious critiques of my blind spots and/or new information. I detest and delete, however, rants and/or emotional mudslinging of any sort. So, if you have an alternative analysis with substantive facts and philosophical depth, please be in touch, ok?

I have argued before that Sanders’ unwillingness to seriously explore compromise is troubling to me.  By insisting that his positions alone define the moral high ground, I detect a cranky self-righteousness that alienates potential allies and limits the political discussion to all or nothing propositions.  Small wonder that he has been only modestly successful as a legislator in advancing his agenda:  to his credit Sanders added seven different amendments to various House bills between 1990 and 2006 as a US Representative and did likewise six times after he became as a US Senator in 2006. He has passed only three bills of his own creation – two of which named post offices.

A controversial article entitled, “On Becoming Anti-Bernie,” by Robin Alperstein, cuts deeper into the implications of Sanders’ intransigence and my lingering mistrust by dissecting the specious number Sanders uses to advance his single payer health plan.  His projections require both new taxes as well as a 5% growth in the US economy over the length of his term – necessities that are beyond reason. Further, even should the economy move to a 5% rate of growth, there is still at least a $1 trillion gap between cost and revenue.  Ms. Alperstein correctly concludes that Sanders tends towards political magical thinking rather than hard analysis when it comes to governance. There is also an inclination towards celebrating bold political goals without sufficient strategy or allies.

(By) rejecting compromise as a mark of lack of integrity, or worse, corruption, Sanders accomplishes two deeply disingenuous goals: (i) he sets himself apart from his colleagues in Congress as the only one who is allegedly “true” to his “values,” thereby creating the myth that he is morally superior and incorruptible; and (ii) he turns the necessity of compromisewithout which literally nothing can get done in Congressinto a negative, very similar to the Tea Party and hardliners on the far right in Congress, thereby allowing him to transform his failure to compromise and thus his failure to have achieved any workable progressive legislation in 25 years into a “virtue”a testament to his supposed integrity. (

Given our current political gridlock, I find this legacy less than useless. And when it turns into a shrill smear-by-insinuation campaign against Mrs. Clinton, it becomes repugnant especially given Mr. Sanders’ rhetoric as a reformer. The policy implications of this disingenuous approach to compromise were recently articulated by Tom Hayden, the grandfather of the New Left, in The Nation:

To simply reject Obamacare in the belief that “political revolution” will lead to a single-payer solution is simplistic. The path to a Canadian-type system or Medicare for All has fallen short in California and Vermont, and will require Republican defeats this year and in 2018, followed by a presidential showdown in 2020. Meanwhile, Obamacare and the Medicaid expansion are helping 20 million Americans now, mainly youth and people of color, which is a huge improvement that no thoughtful radical can dismiss as merely “reformist.” My friends at National Nurses United are to be congratulated for spending millions supporting Bernie and tirelessly rolling their buses through so many states thus far, but I don’t see a rollout of a Plan B, which requires at least two presidential terms and three more congressional elections. Bernie’s position reinforces the voter impression that his idealism will be blocked in practice. Hillary and Obama’s approach, following on her children’s-health-insurance law, is much easier for voters to understand and support. ( i-used-to-support-bernie-but-then-i-changed-my-mind/)
There is too much at stake to be seduced by speeches that evoke radical change without describing a realistic way towards implementation. Let me, therefore, share my understanding of the differences between BS and HRC when it comes to gun control. Later postings will highlilght my understanding of their differences re: financial/economic reform, foreign policy initiatives, and some of the effects of sexism.

For a time, I thought gun control should be taken off the table given the rural context of Vermont. But that would neglect Mr. Sanders’ capitulation to the NRA and give him a pass on misrepresenting Clinton’s role in the crime bill of 1994. Sanders learned the hard way that he needed to finesse gun control issues in his state if he was to be successful in advancing a political career. So, he came to oppose the passage of the Brady Bill and has consistently challenged holding gun manufacturers liable for the violence their products cause. To be fair, he currently holds a D minus rating from the NRA (only the 2012 ratings are available at this time) because he supports common sense background checks. Nevertheless, he has not advanced common sense gun control legislation that the majority of Americans long to see implemented. 

I was shocked watching the last NY state debate sponsored by CNN when Sanders attempted to laugh off Mrs. Clinton’s questions about his record on gun control. I understand that Bernie arguably holds a more complex position on this matter than Hilary’s political barbs describe. But his cavalier dismissal and mocking laughter evoked visceral disgust – especially after trying to denigrate her reputation in the African American community by suggesting that she knew all the unintended consequences that would emerge from the 1994 crime bill of President Clinton.  This was legislation that he, too voted for although he likes to conveniently leave this out of the debate.  And asking yet again for an apology for the one time Hilary used the expression “super-predator” in reference to this bill – a phrase she has repeatedly repudiated and apologized for – exposed Bernie’s willingness to get down and dirty with racial politics when he needs to win. Please remember that he used the word “sociopath” in his advocacy of this legislation. Both candidates know that this bill has caused far too much incarceration in the Black and Latino community.  It would be so much more productive to have a national dialogue about what we learned as a nation from these mistakes, the role of systemic racism in mass incarceration, and a proposed set of recommendations and legislation to correct it now, instead of disingenuously attacking, blaming, and lying by omission about Hillary, and further erasing the historical reality in which that bill was passed.” (Alperstein)

I would never claim that Bernie doesn't have sensitivity and compassion on gun control issues in his heart. But he is clearly politically vulnerable and should be hammered whenever he tries to rewrite history. For the record, Hilary has consistently supported background checks, challenging the political prowess of the NRA lobby, and restricting weapons ownership from suspected terrorists, those with a criminal record as well as domestic abusers. I am grateful that NY turned out in support of Mrs. Clinton tonight.


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