I have enough friends who are into Bernie Sanders that I feel I should explain why my preference remains for Hillary (and, in fact, actually against Bernie) despite agreeing with virtually everything Sanders is for.
Bernie has spent his entire career fighting almost exclusively against economic injustice. This is a positive thing, of course, and has made him a great senator. It does not mean he would be a great president. The presidency is not a good job for single-minded people, because it’s a job that requires one to address somehow or other practically every facet of the country’s existence. To put it more starkly:
A senator doesn’t have to care about foreign policy. A president does.
A senator doesn’t have to care about the military. A president does.
A senator doesn’t have to care about espionage. A president does.
A senator doesn’t have to care about immigration. A president does.
A senator doesn’t have to care about gun control. A president does.
The last of these issues, gun control, is one of my reasons for not supporting Bernie. His record on this issue is spotty, to put it kindly. He voted to protect gun manufacturers from lawsuits, to protect gun sellers from lawsuits, to allow guns on Amtrak trains… I’m not a fan.
Yes, he is from Vermont, which has a hunting culture, but so what? That gives him an excuse? The NRA gave him an F rating despite his spotty record – I doubt he would have lost his seat over a refusal to let gun manufacturers off the hook for the inevitable consequences of the use of their products. I’m not saying he’s Yosemite Sam — he’s voted for some gun control bills too. His record here doesn’t show me that Bernie is against gun control. It shows me that he doesn’t care.
This is also what Bernie’s encounters with the BLM movement have been about.* Their problem with him isn’t that they think he’s wrong about Wall Street or labor laws or income inequality. It’s that those issues are all he seems to really care about. It’s that until they started confronting him, his answers to racism were universal Pre-K and debt-free college.
Look for a moment at Bernie’s “Issues” page on his website. Six out of eight are purely economic, and a seventh, “Racial Justice,” is brand new. “Real Family Values” talks about paid family and sick leave, and says nothing about, say, women’s health or LGBTQ discrimination. Does Bernie have an opinion about immigration? If he does, he hasn’t told his website.
The main criticism of Hillary Clinton seems to be that she’s a regular politician, with all the usual pollsters and rich donors and so on. But you know what regular politicians do? Build and represent coalitions. Hillary has done the real work of reaching out to every Democratic constituency. She’s met with BLM activists. She’s hired immigration reform activists. She’s addressed college tuition and early childhood education. She’s been to Obama’s left on health care since before the presidency was even in his sights. Many of the Bernie fans I know are way too cynical about Hillary’s intentions, about whether she’ll follow up on all this once she’s president. Guys, she is putting forward liberal policy proposals because she’s liberal. Always has been.
Is she also doing it because she wants to win? Um, yes. You think the Democratic candidate shouldn’t be trying to win? I had no idea you read such low-profile blogs, Jeb.
A lot of Bernie fans have objections to Hillary over her personality or her trustworthiness. But as this article skillfully argued, the president should be seen not as a person but as a thing. And before you can implement your agenda, you have to win. As another Jewish friend of mine sadly put it, anyone who thinks a socialist Jew with a thick New York accent has a realistic shot at the presidency in 2016 is living in a dream world.
Whatever he may say, Bernie is an issue candidate. He’s running to push the economic conversation leftward, and good for him! But he’s not prepared to be president. Not even close. Let’s not pretend he is.
*For what it’s worth, I think the BLM activists in Seattle went WAY too far in disrupting Bernie’s speech there. The point where you shut someone down and refuse to let them answer you or be heard by the thousands of people who took time out of their day to hear that person’s speech, is the point at which you are doing a disservice to democracy. There’s making your point, and then there’s shutting down a huge event put on by people who mostly agree with you. I support the Black Lives Matter movement, and was proud of them for being heard at Netroots Nation, but it sure seems like these particular activists were just being dicks.
N.S. Dolkart is the author of Silent Hall, available for pre-order at any bookstore in the US, UK, Canada, South Africa, Australia, or New Zealand. It’s coming out in June, and it’s really good. You should buy it.