4 reasons why Bernie haters are wrong
Bernie Sanders has been denounced by leading progressives for his unrealistic policies and near singular focus on economic issues. These arguments are largely what led me to support Hillary Clinton. Her experience, pragmatism, and knowledge of vast issues made her my initial choice for president.
However, in order to tackle my own biases, I decided to play devil’s advocate, address common misgivings about Sanders, and maybe even #FeelTheBern. It turned out to be an enlightening exercise and hope that it opens others’ minds as well.
1. His policies are unrealistic.
Bernie has called for a cornucopia of progressive pipe-dreams including free college, single-payer healthcare, a trillion dollar infrastructure plan, paid family leave, and much more. Further, one economist even claimed Sanders’ policies would lead to 5.3% economic growth per year instead of our current 2.1%.
Needless to say, this positioning has led to criticism from more grounded liberals. Paul Krugman recently described Sanders’ platform as a “magical unicorn” because his policies have no chance of passage in Congress. A group of economists who advised previous Democratic presidents sent an open letter to Bernie excoriating him for promising impossible economic benefits.
But should we care that his policies are unrealistic? If Hillary Clinton is elected, there is little chance that most of her intended legislation would pass under a Republican House and Senate. Even Barack Obama was not able to enact the full extent of his 2008 presidential platform because of pushback from Republicans (Obama had to retreat on the public option in Obamacare and never managed to close Guantanamo Bay).
As Matthew Yglesias points out, Sanders’ platform is aspirational. His tirades against Wall Street and demand for universal healthcare expand the Overton Window on acceptable public discourse. Consider how Donald Trump pushed Republican policy on immigration reform to essentially “How high should the wall with Mexico be?” For Republicans, even if there is never a wall, at least someone recognizes that there is a problem.Similarly, Sanders understands the dangers of income inequality and stagnating wages. No, he won’t be able to enact his entire platform, but at least voters know he will do his darn best.
2. All he does is talk about Wall Street.
Sanders candidacy started out as hearkening back to 1970s-era liberalism, a focus on grand class-based liberal policies and support for unions. He spoke little about immigration reform, Black Lives Matter, or gender discrimination. Until outbursts from activists over the summer, Sanders regularly repeated the same diatribe about inequality, the Walton Family’s wealth, and the greed of Wall Street. Quickly after, his campaign realized it needed to adjust and added racial justice, immigration reform, and women’s rights to his platform. Nonetheless, his speeches and comments in the debates continue to focus on inequality with a sprinkling of other issues. This broken record led to Hillary’s most damning indictment of Sanders yet: He is a single-issue candidate.
At the end of the day, this argument holds water. Hillary Clinton is certainly the candidate who has a better grasp of modern identity politics and the interests of a diverse voter base. The main counterpoint is that truthfully, jobs and the economy are the two most important issues for most Democratic voters, especially those in the working class. And these two issues are where Bernie hits a home run on every night.
Americans need jobs. Americans deserve livable wages. And Americans need a healthcare system that works. It’s a simple message, yes, but these are most serious afflictions. Isn’t it prudent for a doctor to operate on the most perilous wounds first?
3. He has no foreign policy experience.
Unlike Hillary, Bernie has limited to no experience with foreign policy issues. And in every debate that touches upon these topics, Hillary regularly runs a clinic because of her expertise.
But let’s be frank: Hillary’s ‘expertise’ has led to war in Iraq leading to destabilization, intervention in Libya leading to destabilization, a failed policy to reset relations with Russia, and the status quo in Israel and Palestine. Obviously, Hillary is not solely responsible for these misadventures, but she will continue to rely on the judgment of Democratic foreign policy experts like former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, for example, who urge a more muscular foreign policy in the Middle East.
Bernie, on other hand, voted against the Iraq War, the single greatest foreign policy mistake in the past quarter-century. He urged quicker withdrawal of American troops when it became apparent that the war was a mistake. And he has been a consistent supporter of diplomacy and multilateral foreign policy. If ‘expertise’ leads to countless lost lives, then I’d rather try the other option.
4. Okay, but he has no chance in the general elections.
Bernie is too far left to win the general election. He’s a self-proclaimed socialist. There is no chance Americans would elect someone like that. And we would be left with a veritably menacing Republican as president.
Although this may seem like common sense, polls increasingly show Sanders beating top Republican contenders in the general election compared to Hillary. Further, 72% of Democrats now believe he could win the general election; this is up 21 points from December.
Moreover, Hillary has higher unfavorable numbers in the greater public: 53.3% compared to Bernie’s 37.8%. And considering that most Americans are familiar with Hillary, her favorability may be harder to change compared to the lesser-known Bernie.
To be fair, though, polls this far out from the general election aren’t worth the paper they are printed on. As Harrey Enten from FiveThirtyEight points out, similar general election polls in 1980 and 1992 would show Carter and Bush being re-elected.
Examining the plain facts, Bernie could lose the general election if the Democratic groups do not remain loyal to him or if he cannot incite voter turnout (You may be wondering why I’m not talking about ‘moderate’ swing voters. They are a small commodity and are not very influential). On the first point of loyalty, both Sanders and Hillary enjoy high favorability numbers amongst partisan Democrats (i.e. Sanders would not go down like 1972 Democratic presidential candidate, George McGovern, who failed to gain the support of organized labor or souther Democrats).
The second point is harder to ascertain. Black voter turnout would likely be lower for Bernie compared to Obama’s elections, though its unclear if Hillary would drive a higher voter turnout among Blacks as well. Would Bernie bring in more Millennial voters? Perhaps, but these are up in the air. Overall, it’s unclear which candidate would drive larger turnout among Democrats.
Bernie is running on an aspirational platform. He is not a policy wonk like Hillary, but he is leading the charge on some of the most pressing issues of our time. And given Hillary’s long time in the public limelight, she may not even able to win the general election. And if Hillary doesn’t start to heat up, maybe it’s time for this Clinton supporter to start feeling the Bern.
Follow me on twitter: @realsaadasad. Special thanks to Cheryl for invaluable edits.