Why I (Eventually) Voted for Bernie
I’ll be frank. I do not feel the Bern. I’m definitely not with her. For the first time I can remember, I’ve been undecided since the start of this Democratic primary and stayed there until voting finally made its way around to my home state of New York.
I’ve remained underwhelmed by both the available candidates and their campaigns. It feels increasingly like a choice between a politician who has already disappointed me, and one who will.
I don’t buy a lot of the criticisms of Hillary. I don’t think she should be held to account for her husband’s decisions in office. While I think she’s still a dreadful stump speaker, she never fails to impress with her knowledge, thoughtfulness, and genuine compassion when speaking with people in more intimate and unscripted settings. I remember the Hillary I first saw, as a twelve year-old, proudly declaring that she had more important things to do than bake cookies, and fighting fearlessly both Republicans, and people within her own husband’s administration, for serious health care reform.
I don’t buy the most popular attacks I read of Bernie. He may not have passed a lot of bills, but he stands near the top of Congressional ranks for amending bills both in the House and Senate. I don’t particularly care that he ran as an independent in Vermont, when “independent/unaffiliated” is the largest single registration block in the country. I don’t think his “unrealistic” ideas are that unrealistic, when they cost less than the wars and bailouts we’ve indulged in over the past few decades. I’m also not convinced that, when half the electorate grew up with the Soviet Union being a source of kitsch rather than fear, that being an avowed “Democratic Socialist” will dissuade that many voters than will be dissuaded by the years of hatred and loathing thrown in Hillary’s direction by the right wing media.
I don’t think that Hillary will be able to magically get things done with a GOP congress just because she has more detailed proposals, or more modest one. I’m not confident that her campaign, which has borrowed tactics from Obama, but not his strategic acumen, can carry the day in a closely divided electorate. I worry that in a cycle dominated by a demand for “authenticity”, Hillary’s learned caution will be an ongoing liability. I worry that her judgment and advisors can be stuck in an outdated, 1990’s mindset of “triangulation”, resulting in decisions like her Iraq War vote.
I’m bothered by the sloppiness, and frequent self-sabotage of the Sanders campaign, even if I admire the passion of its volunteers. I’m vexed by Sanders’s inability to articulate the how’s and why’s of some issues such as campaign finance, even when I agree with him. And no, I’m not entirely sure that the country is ready to elect an abrasive socialist Jew from Brooklyn.
But, in fact, that’s why I finally decided to cast my ballot for Bernie in the New York Primary.
I grew up with parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents who were ostracized, demonized, and even outright persecuted for their left-wing politics. Whether that was organizing for the labor movement in the early 20th century, supporting socialists and communists during the Red Scare(s) and Cold War, taking part in Civil Rights protests, or mobilizing against unjust wars.
Though they may have dearly hoped, I doubt any of them ever envisioned an avowed Socialist — Democratic or otherwise — would ever have a chance to be President. Growing up during Reagan, Bush, and Hillary Clinton’s husband, I never thought (though I dearly hoped) that I’d see a viable candidate advocating for universal healthcare and higher education, while leveling a full-frontal attack on the rich and powerful of the financial world.
Now, I doubt he’ll win the nomination. If he won, I have even more concerns about his grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory than I do of Clinton. If he were elected president, I don’t know how many of those ambitions will become reality, if any.
But dammit, I’m thrilled by the space he has opened up in our political dialogue. I’m excited that voters who grew up without the drumbeat of Cold War fear are embracing liberal ideas on their merits, rather than shunning them because of some manufactured “un-Americanness”. I want to cast a vote to repudiate the notion that this is a “center-right” country. I want to vote for the idea that systemic change is necessary — not mere patches on the status quo, assisting one demographic or another.
I’m not voting against Hillary. In fact, I’m expecting to vote for her in November. If I were casting my ballot in a more closely contested state, or if the delegate race were narrower, perhaps I’d calibrate my decision differently. But for now, at least, I’m casting a ballot for idealism and a future where the political debate is not circumscribed by either the angry and fearful voices of the right, or the smug conventional wisdom of Georgetown dinner parties.