A Progressive, Millennial Idealist’s Proud Vote for Hillary

As a progressive, millennial idealist, voting for Bernie sounds like a no brainer. He shares my concerns about the most pressing challenges our country faces — from economic inequality to money in politics to combating climate change. And yet, having looked beyond the rhetoric, never have I watched a candidate whose values I share rely so heavily on misdirection, preach so inspirationally about political engagement while undermining it, turn our biggest priorities into distractions, or channel my generation’s hunger for progressive change into something so thoroughly counterproductive to our movement’s goals.

If you already like Bernie and are skeptical of Hillary, Bernie’s campaign has offered plenty of ammunition to reinforce your perceptions. Each time Clinton makes a mistake, and every time the Sanders camp brings up a quotation or vote that seems damning when taken out of context, or misleads us about his own long yet unimpressive career in the Senate, you have what you need. He is the true progressive, Hillary another corrupt member of the “establishment.”

The problem is that every time you hold the soundbites to the limelight, they dissolve. When you look beyond the rhetoric and at each candidate’s actual track record and policy proposals, Bernie’s narrative turns on its head. Clinton becomes the candidate who is not only more progressive, but more effective, nuanced, mature, and ironically, honest. Sanders’ long history of oversimplification, misdirection, and rigidness have, time and again, proven more a liability than a catalyst for the very causes his supporters believe in so fervently.

The Bernie camp has spread the narrative, as incorrect as it is patronizing, that if minorities and people living in poverty knew what was best for them, they’d be feeling the Bern. His evidence is based almost entirely on his incorrect claim that Hillary is in bed with the big corporations, and that he is not. (Quick tangent to be resumed in my next post: Actually, Hillary’s donations come from individuals who work for Wall Street, not Wall Street itself — which is just what you’d expect from a former New York Senator. Like many of the greatest progressives including Trust-Busting Teddy Roosevelt, New Deal FDR, Dodd-Frank-passing President Obama, and former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Advisor Elizabeth Warren — all of whom took money from individuals employed by Wall Street — this has not affected Clinton’s proposals, which would go much farther to reign in Wall Street than Bernie’s. While fewer of Bernie’s individual donors are employed by Wall Street, this is unsurprising, given that he is the Senator of the state with the 50th smallest economy. He has, however, accepted more funding from individuals employed by the defense industry than any of the GOP candidates — which by his own standards, should mean that he is in bed with the arms industry).

Yet, despite Bernie’s claims that minorities and people living in poverty don’t know what’s best for them, if you look beyond the rhetoric you’ll find that not only are there many good reasons black people aren’t feeling the Bern, his entire strategic approach is catered to the progressives who can most afford to wait for change. Unlike Hillary, he values oversimplified theories about the sources of the problem over the challenging process of drafting, prioritizing, and targeting his proposals to those who depend on our movement the most. Many Bernie supporters have told me to vote with my heart — and mine is with those left behind when rhetoric overtakes actual change.

If we are to siphon out each candidate’s intentions and values from their decisions (and mistakes), it is also important to understand the political and historical contexts in which they acted. The Sanders campaign has done a great job of divorcing decisions from context — or worse, rewriting that context — so that he can tell his own story about how pure his values are in comparison to those of his opponent. Indeed, Sanders’ focus on rhetoric over substance, record, and proposals is the only way he can win. While this oversimplified narrative lends itself much easier to a presidential campaign in the Age of Facebook than the contextualized one I offer here, it is no basis for making a decision as important as who our next president should be.

This Democratic primary is about more than just two candidates — it has surfaced numerous questions for progressives to consider about the future of our movement. Over the next several weeks, I will continue this post by examining Hillary and Bernie’s records, and taking a closer look at the primary process. I will then comment on why my generation is feeling the Bern and is skeptical of Hillary, considering whether these reasons are accurate or further our cause. I’ll look at how Bernie’s false narrative about the modern Democratic party only fuels the Tea Party insurgency, and conclude by examining how significantly it all matters to the Progressive Movement in 2016.

As the primary moves to my home state of California, it would be naïve of me to believe that this blog could change the minds of Bernie’s many impassioned supporters. However, Hillary’s lead in pledged delegates is far more significant than the Bernie campaign has let on, and she will be our nominee. Even if Sanders were to win every remaining state by a massive 30% margin, Clinton would still win a majority of the pledged delegates (those based on the people’s vote — not the “establishment”). Despite Sanders’ dangerous suggestion that Clinton did not win the people’s vote fair and square, she would still win no matter which way Bernie tries to slice it (including if the Democratic primary was more generous to independent voters — more on this in a future post). If we are to stop Trump — the most destructive major party nominee in modern American history — our party must unify. I hope that this blog will give you the reasons you need to do so not only as a resistant, anti-Trump vote, but as a positive, enthusiastic, pro-Hillary vote.

The Issues

I will open this section with two issues that have received particular attention — health care reform and money in politics. I will conclude with a quick look at a few other issues that have divided Clinton and Sanders.

Health Care Reform

As exciting as it may be, announcing one’s support for single-payer healthcare or free college does not qualify someone to be president. I could announce this. You could announce this. If she were a less honest politician, Hillary Clinton herself could promise both. A candidate’s platform becomes more than just rhetoric only if they have a track record and specific policy proposals. Clinton has both, Sanders neither.

As the Sanders campaign has conveniently ignored, Hillary Clinton actually got health care for millions of children before health care reform was even popular. While she attempted passing much more significant legislation that ultimately failed, this failure was due to opposition from the GOP and Sanders alike. Despite Sanders’ tweet with a photo of him standing behind Clinton during the health care debate of the ’90s, he voted against her bill.

Granted, Sanders and the GOP opposed Clinton’s efforts for different reasons. Sanders wanted single-payer, the GOP wanted no such thing. And yet, Sanders’ vote against what would have been a significant progressive accomplishment because he didn’t get everything he wanted reveals a kind of rigidness that may be admirable in a protester, but is not in a leader — particularly when there were not enough votes for a single-payer plan.

To Sanders’ credit, he learned his lesson the second time around and did vote for President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. I’m glad he came around on this issue. But on many others, he has continued to suggest that when he does not get his way, it’s because Democrats have been bought and sold. Again, a protester — and not a particularly astute one at that. As I’ll show later in this blog, the story you tell about the source of the resistance matters.

There is plenty to be said for the strategy of adopting a stronger backbone against the right. But doing so requires skill, tact, and substance. If you are trying to successfully argue for single-payer, you’d better be damn well sure your math adds up. Otherwise, your backbone is no backbone at all, and your opponents will have an actual reason to point out that your plan creates as many problems as it solves.

This is where Sanders really shines. First of all, Sanders’ plan is based on the truly insane assumption that the economy will grow at an average rate of 5% over his entire term. When Jeb Bush announced that he’d achieve a less ambitious 4% growth rate over his term, progressive economists were quick to call him out. This is virtually no precedent for this over the past 60 years, even in better economic environments. Reagan achieved 4% twice in four years, Bill Clinton five times, but a sustained growth of 5% is, to put it mildly, far from a stable backbone for the real people depending on your progressive goals. Even at a magical 5% growth rate, Sanders’ “plan” is still estimated to have a $1–2 trillion shortfall. As former Council of Economic Advisors Chairs put it in an open letter to Sanders:

When Republicans have proposed large tax cuts for the wealthy and asserted that those tax cuts would pay for themselves…we have shown that the economic facts do not support these fantastical claims…

We are concerned to see the Sanders campaign citing extreme claims by Gerald Friedman about the effect of Senator Sanders’s economic plan — claims that…exceed even the most grandiose predictions by Republicans about the impact of their tax cut proposals.

As much as we wish it were so, no credible economic research supports economic impacts of these magnitudes. Making such promises runs against our party’s best traditions of evidence-based policy making and undermines our reputation as the party of responsible arithmetic. These claims undermine the credibility of the progressive economic agenda and make it that much more difficult to challenge the unrealistic claims made by Republican candidates.

In short, Sanders’ plan is based on a lie. It makes you question whether Clinton and other progressives have avoided signing on because they’ve been bought out and are less progressive, or are simply more honest, less interested in empty promises, and more interested in real solutions.

I’ve heard many Sanders supporters argue, “Well, I’m sure he’d hire the right team to figure this stuff out once elected.” I’m not. Sanders has had a long history of taking the details for granted — even when they matter (more on this in a future post). And in the case of national health care and economic policies, they matter significantly.

Moreover, Bernie’s focus on single-payer coverage takes another resource for granted: political capital. When the Obama administration passed the Affordable Care Act, they were keenly (and accurately) aware that the political capital spent passing the bill would decrease the likelihood of addressing other progressive priorities. Now, if single-payer were our sole route to universal and affordable coverage, it would be well worth making it a priority once again. But single-payer is not our sole path to universal coverage. While there are gaps in the Affordable Care Act which need to be addressed, transitioning a country as populous as the United States to a single-payer system would take additional time and political capital away from other priorities that we can no longer afford to ignore. Getting to universal and affordable coverage should continue to be one of these priorities. Until we make more progress in the fight against Climate Change, money in politics, and other priorities, single-payer should not be.

I sometimes wonder if Bernie’s supporters actually want what they are fighting for. Do they really want Bernie to push Climate Change legislation down the road in favor of a fight for single-payer, which is extremely unlikely to be successful given our long-shot odds of taking back the House and securing a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, rather than just improving and expanding the Affordable Care Act? When Bernie says he’ll pay for his plan by taxing Wall Street speculation, do we really want our country’s health care system to depend on Wall Street’s recklessness? And when our movement becomes no more than a contest of whose ideas are the most exciting in theory, does that amount to prioritizing the unrepresented, or abandoning them?

I’ve heard some say that they know Bernie can’t accomplish what he says, they just want the most progressive person in the White House. While I would argue with your definition of “progressive” if it prioritizes rhetoric over real, tangible improvements to people’s lives, this also means that Bernie is either lying or delusional. I’m not sure which should trouble you more.

I’ve heard many suggest that not prioritizing single-payer is somehow a surrender to the GOP. They’ll compare it to the Civil Rights Act of the sixties, asking what would have happened if we’d given up then. This is an unfair comparison. The Civil Rights Act was an urgent priority that millions depended on. Single-payer, by contrast, is a means to the end of universal and affordable coverage — which we can achieve without it via the Affordable Care Act. Moreover, while I have no illusions that passing the Civil Rights Act was easy, single-payer health care is vastly more complicated. Bernie has not told us whether his “plan” is based on the UK, Canadian, German, or French systems, all of which function very differently. Given that the US is more populous than all four of these countries combined — not to mention that we have a much larger economy — transitioning to single-payer would be an incomparably monumental effort. If it were our only path to universal coverage, it would be worth it. Luckily, it is not.

Instead of rewriting our entire approach to health care and gambling on faulty math, Clinton offers specific proposals for improving and expanding the Affordable Care Act — targeting her proposals to the many Americans without coverage who depend on strategic and fiscally sound solutions. These proposals will cost far less political capital, allowing progressives to avoid continuing to push our many other priorities down the line.

I will continue next week with Money in Politics