“Bernie or Bust” is a Position of Privilege: A Rant

Now that we are closing in on the caucuses and I have something I need to get off my chest.

I’ve seen a lot of people talking in terms of “Bernie or Bust.” The idea is essentially that Clinton is “not liberal enough” or is “no different” from the Republican candidates in any meaningful way, and so if we can’t have Bernie Sanders we should pack up our toys and go home. Don’t vote, vote for a third party, or otherwise stay out of the election (I haven’t seen as strong a “Clinton or Bust” sort of movement, but the same arguments apply that direction as well).

Note, I’m not talking about those who always do a protest vote for a third party but find Sanders acceptable (I have a friend who is very much in this camp). That’s a separate issue.

This is tied intimately into why those who are more liberal can’t seem to get a more liberal candidate in the White House. Those who are liberal seem to believe:

  1. That the Presidential Election is the only one that matters (hence why we had record low turnout in 2014 and lost a lot of seats between that and gerrymandering, but handily won in 2012 and 2008).
  2. That the president has more power than they actually do, ignoring what they can and do actually accomplish.

It is also a position of significant privilege.

The ones who will be the most damaged by a Republican Presidency — especially given the current crop of candidates — are the ones who can least afford the damage. When someone says that they “do not want to settle” what they are also saying is that “I don’t see the harm that will be caused to people who are less/differently advantaged than I am.”

Voting isn’t just about bringing in a New Liberal State™ (which, I will note, Sanders will not be able to do given the current situation with gerrymandering, it is also about harm reduction.

Because of the extremism of the modern Republican party which has been increasingly evident in Congress, even a small shift around the center in ideology in the highest office will affect decisions made under them, sometimes in dramatic ways, such as what we’ve seen with transgender rights in the Obama administration. There will be some shift between Sanders and Clinton, but nowhere near what we would get shifting between Clinton and any of Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Carson… or even Kasich, who is saner than the rest but neither competent nor particularly good.

While there may be areas of disagreement that I have with Sanders and Clinton, nothing even comes close to the problems I’m seeing in the Republican mainline candidates.

If you really can’t see the difference between any of the mainline Republican candidates and Hillary Clinton, take a step back and look at what a President Clinton would mean vs. a President <Republican>.

Supreme Court

The first and —to me—most obvious, long-lasting, and among the most important differences to discuss is the matter of Supreme Court Appointments.

Look at what a single seat shift in the Supreme Court could mean. Replacing a Ginsburg (82), Kennedy (79), or Breyer (77) would mean you get more decisions like Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc and could very well see the recent Marriage Equality decision (Obergefell v. Hodges) narrowed rather than expanded or, at the worst, overturned (remember that the originalists in the Supreme Court are not firm believers in stare decisis, and we’ve been seeing a pattern of activism). It would also shift the numerical balance in the court against abortion (Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Roe v. Wade) and any concept of a right to privacy (Griswold v. Connecticut).

Let’s also talk about what anyone likely selected by Clinton would be likely to accomplish if they replaced Scalia (79), Kennedy (79), or Thomas (67). Rather than deciding cases narrowly and needing to try to recruit one of the five more conservative members to the cause, they would have an actual majority on issues that matter to those of a liberal persuasion. Or even if they replaced one of Ginsburg (appointed 1993) or Breyer (appointed 1994), looking at the results over the next two decades based on what they both have managed to accomplish since their appointments.

For more analysis on what replacing Ginsburg or Scalia with an opposite would look like, see The Supreme Court and the election: Making a difference, which examines eighteen decisions and states:

…the nine liberal victories tended to be narrowly crafted decisions that were more important for their rejection of the extreme positions put forth by the very conservative Justices than for their embrace of a truly liberal conception of the law.

It also analyzes how things would have changed:

Let me say it again for emphasis: Had Kagan2 been on the Court in these years instead of Scalia, the moderate liberals would have won seventeen of the eighteen cases, and if Alito2 had been on the Court instead of Ginsburg, the conservatives would have won sixteen of the eighteen cases.

If we had a Kagan2 instead of a Scalia, we would have won Citizens United v. FEC. We would also have won United States v. Morrison (which ruled that the part of the Violence Against Women Act that allowed women who were victims of gender-based violent crime to sue their attackers in federal court overreached the Commerce Clause).

One of those cases that we would have lost with switching Ginsburg for “Alito2" is Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, which ruled that the military tribunals set up by the Bush Administration to try detainees in Guantanamo Bay were in violation of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. We also would have lost Grutter v. Bollinger, which upheld the affirmative action admissions policy of the University of Michigan Law School. If we had a Kagan2 instead of a Scalia, we would have had a stronger rulings in both of these cases as well.

Other Issues and Obama’s Legacy

Then there are things such as exchanges and medicaid expansion, along with a host of other things that are largely at the mercy of the executive branch to implement. If you thought that the rollout of healthcare.gov was challenging, wait until you see it managed by a group of people who don’t actually want it to succeed.

We’re not even getting into matters of deficit and the repeal — or at least undermining — of the significant progress that President Obama’s administration has made so far.

Is it perfect? No. Is it everything one might have wanted? Not even close, and there are reasons for this, many of which were not in President Obama’s hands. On the other hand, there is a lot there that is worth improving upon or, at the least, preserving. There are other things that President Obama has thus far been unable to accomplish (e.g., closing Gitmo) that another Democrat might be able to make the stars align on in a few years, especially if there is a change in one of the branches of Congress.

Note that I am not talking about my personal politics and whether I would prefer to see Sanders or Clinton in the White House because

  1. I strongly think they are both qualified and would be good Presidents.
  2. I will take either one (and, let’s be clear, Sanders will take either one) head and shoulders over any of the current mainline Republican field. Heck, at this point I’d almost be inclined to take Vermin Supreme over Trump.

We also have a group that is dead set on undermining virtually all components of what President Obama has accomplished in any way possible despite that the situation on the ground has become less and less favorable to do so. They are also a group of people who want to limit access to abortion, whose foreign policy isn’t even remotely grounded in reality (I may not agree with Secretary Clinton on all of her foreign policy ideals, but she’s nuanced and considered about her positions, which is more than I can say for any of our Republican front runners).

Political Positions

Looking at just a handful of the individual positions from the candidates, we see how far apart the Republican mainline candidates are from either Clinton or Sanders:

The list goes on covering federal assistance programs, guns, and a long list of other things.

I don’t necessarily agree 100% with either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders on some of their positions around these issues—e.g., guns—but I’ll take either one of them every day of the week over any of the Republican mainline candidates and I don’t have to think too hard to see how the positions put forth by the Republican mainline candidates would be far more destructive to the more disadvantaged in our society.

Basically, it’s hard for me to see any grounds for a claim that Clinton would be “no different” from a Carson, Rubio, Cruz, or Trump as holding any merit if you are at all in a disadvantaged group.


I get why someone might not like either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. Clinton has a lot of supporters and positions I’m less than thrilled with, is more hawkish, and doesn’t have the decades of consistency that Sanders does on a lot of key issues (that said, I’m inclined to let people change their minds over time, see also the history Obama’s “evolving” position on marriage equality). Sanders has a history with guns that I’m not happy with and while he’s very effective at generating a sort of grassroots support and energizes a group of people I think we really need energized, I don’t know how well that will translate to the ability to convince peers (read as: efficacy) or raise money (which will be critical in this election cycle).

In sharp contrast to the Republican primary process, I would also argue that this primary process has been good for both of them. They have both come consistently come across as competent, knowledgeable, and civil. They also have been forcing the other to shore up their policies and expand their appeal, which will be excellent when one of them becomes the candidate.

It is also still a rational choice to vote.

Basically what this boils down to: you should not just vote to take “all or nothing,” but think also in terms of harm between your available options. Clinton or Sanders may not be everything one could want, but both are sharp, competent, and liberal. “All or nothing” is why the Republicans lost the fight against the PPACA. It’s also part of why a lot of the Governors are Republicans while we elect Democratic presidents, which in turn is part of what is causing our current problems with gerrymandering.

To conclude I’ll go back to one important point for both the Democrat and the Republican mainline candidates: They are running against Trump.