This election cycle, the Democratic Party ought to nominate Hillary Clinton. And any citizen who is serious about creating “progressive” reform ought to support her.
Such beliefs are widely unpopular among my peers. Among my age group (voters under 30), Mr. Sanders outperforms Mrs. Clinton by a margin of 84% to 14%. Needless to say, those that I associate with almost never see the hashtag #ImWithHer on their Twitter feed, unless it is used to mock and denigrate Mrs. Clinton’s associations with Wall Street and the ominous political establishment.
When Bernie Sanders unexpectedly tied–and some would say, won–Iowa last week, America realized that what once seemed like an inevitable Clinton nomination is no longer so. And with almost every poll showing that Sanders will as well win New Hampshire this week, it becomes apparent that the “Bern” that millennials feel when hearing the disgruntled socialist speak is not a short-lived flame, but one that is both unextinguishable and spreading rapidly. And for those millennials who did not live through Reagan-era prosperity, but instead were most affected by the 2008 financial crisis, support for Bernie is understandable. But if the goal is change, not just hearing comforting rhetoric, Democrats should hold their noses in 2016 and support the less-than-adored Hillary Clinton.
I will contend that Bernie Sanders would not be an exemplary president; he is at best a symbol for what progressivism should value. Sanders proposes idealistic policies that exemplify the necessity of well-intentioned values: justice, equality, and peace. But the policies that are predicated on these intentions are only symbolic of progressive values, not conducive to actual results.
Let’s start off by realizing that nominating Sanders is a mistake because there’s no way that Sanders could win the election, even if he was the Democratic nominee.
To contest arguments regarding electability, Bern-feelers cite a poll which shows Bernie Sanders to be the Democrat’s best bet against Republicans in 2016:
It makes sense that Sanders will outperform his thoroughly attacked Republican adversaries. In the last 7 months that the Sanders campaign has been treated as a joke and left largely ignored, Republicans have spent millions not only attacking Clinton, but attacking their fellow Republicans as well. So, as Republicans spend money to attack Hillary Clinton, it seems as if (to the people polled) Bernie Sanders is either their best or their only option. And as Republicans spend other sums of money attacking their fellow presidential candidates on the right, it tarnishes their reputation–and thus, their electability–as well. Meanwhile, Sanders has gone almost wholly untouched. After all, when is the last time a GOP candidate has vowed in his closing statement to be the most suitable candidate to beat the eventual “Nominee Sanders”? Antipathy from Republicans is entirely directed at the already sufficiently vilified Hillary Clinton. It wasn’t until mid-January that the Clinton campaign realized Mr. Sanders could potentially be a threat in 2016 and finally went on the offensive. So, for the better portion of the last 7 months, Republicans and Democrats alike have entirely ignored the possibility of a Sanders presidency, and thus, refused to invest any resources into efforts to stop such an outcome. So yes, head to head, 10 months before the election, the untouched Bernie Sanders will beat most Republicans. Yet still, the GOP’s biggest blessing in 2016 would be a Sanders nominee. Attacks against a 74-year-old self-proclaimed socialist with little foreign policy knowledge are both successful and easy to formulate.
If Sanders does become the Democratic nominee, all resources initially dedicated to winnowing the Republican field and destroying Hillary Clinton will be diverted to tarnish Sanders’ name. And unlike their efforts against Hillary, denying Sanders the White House will not be difficult. This is because of the very thing that Sanders prides himself most in: his identity. Sanders openly and willingly embraces the title of “socialist,” sometimes even without the fluff-word “democratic.” Although his millennial followers rally behind such an identity with pride, the national electorate tends to have very different feelings towards it.
A recent Pew Research Center poll found that negative reactions to the word “socialism” occur twice as often as positive reactions do.
Shortly there afterward, Gallup conducted a poll to determine which characteristics would make a candidate unqualified for the presidency. Their findings? 50% of voters would not vote for a “socialist” candidate, even if that candidate was both qualified and a member of their party. Such negative reactions outpaced every other characteristic, including any race, religion, or sex.
In the past, Republicans have unfairly classified their opponents as “socialists” at every available opportunity–and it has often succeeded at taking votes. If Sanders becomes the Democrat’s nominee, the GOP is finally competing against a candidate who adopts the identity willingly. It will not be difficult to convince the American public to extinguish the Bern when comparing Sanders’ recommendations to Venezuela, Cuba, or North Korea. When pitting a moderate candidate such as Marco Rubio against an extreme Bernie Sanders (after attack ads and all), most political scientists argue that our risk-averse public will almost always side with the safer of two candidates. Remember George McGovern’s loss in 1972?
But Sanders’ willingness to adopt a widely unpopular identity is not his only fatal flaw; as well, his promises to raise taxes is not adored by the American public. In an attack-ad-waiting-to-happen at the last Democratic Town Hall, Bernie Sanders conceded that if his administration wins this election, the government “will raise taxes, yes we will.” Understandably, such promises did not meet tumultuous applause from his audience. Nor will it receive much praise from the American public. According to Gallup in 2015, 51% of Americans believe they already pay too much in taxes, contrasted with 42% who are content with their tax rate:
So, 7% of Americans currently believe their income tax rate is too low. For the other 93%, Bernie’s promise to raise taxes by $19.6 trillion is not revered. Sanders and his Berniebros contest this argument by saying they would end up saving more money than they originally spend, by eliminating excessive healthcare costs and–well, that’s it. To this, two arguments:
First, most serious authors agree that Sanders is greatly overestimating the actual savings his plans would create. Politifact argues that Sanders’ proposals sound a lot better than they really are, and CNN Money notes that his healthcare plan alone could lead to an increase in deficits by $14 trillion in the next 10 years.
But second, let’s say that Sanders is correct that more money would be saved than lost through his tax increases. My original argument was not regarding the efficiency of public spending, but how the public feels about such spending–and how that influences Sanders’ electability. Gallup found in 2015 that Americans overwhelmingly reject increased taxes for developed public services, and would rather have less government involvement in conjunction with less taxes:
Only a mere 13% of Americans support a more involved government that taxes its citizens more to improve society. For a candidate that openly admits he will raise taxes in attempts to improve public service, it seems implausible to imagine widespread support among moderates, independents, and undecided voters in 2016.
But, let’s say that Sanders overcomes his self-proclaimed, yet highly unpopular, identity as a “socialist,” and let’s say that in the next 10 months, the American public becomes overwhelmingly sympathetic to tax increases that they have despised since the beginning of American politics. And then, Bernie Sanders is elected. Do we believe his presidency will bring about the change it promises?
Think about the current political climate, contextualized by looking to the past. In 2010, we watched the grueling process of attempting to pass the most significant overhaul of healthcare system since Medicare and Medicaid in 1965. After months of negotiating, watering down the very text of the bill, and attempting to find common ground between parties, the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was officially made law. Now remember, the Affordable Care Act narrowly passed into law without a single Republican vote, while both the Senate and the House were overwhelmingly dominated by Democrats.
Today, Republicans hold the House by a margin of 246-188, and have 54 of the 100 Senate seats. How does any reasonable individual expect for an expansion of Medicare, a doubling-down of Obamacare, to pass with flying colors in this Congress? As the Huffington Post explains, if Sanders wanted to pass his healthcare plan, he would “have to overcome even greater resistance than Obamacare’s architects faced. And Sanders has offered no reason to think he could do that, which is something Democratic voters might want to keep in mind.”
Even the infamous group that Sanders somehow connects every talking point to–Wall Street–meets oversimplified and ambiguous responses from the irascible socialist. In contrast, Hillary Clinton’s 4800-word plan to rein in Wall Street is policy-oriented, comprehensive, and would pursue the same effects as Sanders’ awfully simplistic solutions. The difference is simple: whereas Sanders quixotically believe that “breaking up the big banks” is the extent to which we must regulate Wall Street, Mrs. Clinton understands that it–as with every other issue to be addressed–is more complex than the rhetoric one applies to denounce it.
This is not to say that Bernie Sanders misunderstands progressive priorities. It is to say, however, that his methods of achieving progressive priorities are not as presidential as they are symbolic of a greater change that needs to be achieved, regardless of whether or not they can be achieved. In contrast, Hillary Clinton works to propose reasonable solutions, such as strengthening the Affordable Care Act rather than replacing it–something that most rational people can support, regardless of political affiliation. This election need not be a contest between a candidate who can formulate the prettiest healthcare policy known to man. It should be a contest of pragmatism. This contest, as illustrated through the examples of healthcare and Wall Street, is between a candidate talking about what his ideal America would be, and one focused on what she can actually achieve now, despite political opposition and policy restraints. Thus, the contest is between doing what is pretty and what is possible.
So, we know that Bernie Sanders’ proposals often border impossibility. When he is asked how he will create such impossible change, Sanders says he will create a political revolution that engages young people and leads to real change. His words:
We tell millions and millions of people, young people and their parents, there is going to be a vote… half the people don’t know what’s going on… but we tell them when the vote is, maybe we welcome a million young people to Washington D. C. to say hello to their members of Congress.
But such logic is circular; it is not smart to argue that we ought to elect a man who will bring about real change by engaging voters which will eventually lead to change. If the voices of citizens–in this case, millennials–are able to penetrate our seemingly unmalleable Congress and influence our lawmakers, it does not require a man like Sanders in the White House to bring forth such change. Political revolutions can occur independent of a president’s encouragement.
Bernie’s advocacy for a “political revolution” is misleading in its roots. Empirically speaking, political revolutions themselves have achieved nothing–except lost elections. When they have led to positive change, it is only because the purpose of these political revolutions were to elect reformers. But what the history of American politics has shown us is that reformers are always better bets than revolutions. Since Barack Obama took office, he has passed the most revolutionary healthcare program in 45 years, expanded the Pell grant program, normalized relations with Cuba, and shown unprecedented diplomacy with Iran. But it was not a “political revolution” that led to these changes. It was a president that knows how to reform, how to compromise, and how to work with a Republican majority. Perhaps politics intrinsically takes time to get things done. But to say the only way to fix our slow path to reform is a “political revolution” is both bullheaded and misleading.
Sanders is promoting an agenda that says the panacea to our nation’s ills is a revolution. Such misguided faith in an insolvent purported cure-all is unacceptable. To trick our young people into believing their support for symbolic policies is more effective than electing a real reformer is shameful. If we want 4 years of a president that achieves little, blames political gridlock on the absence of revolution, and promotes unrealistic policies for the sake of feel-good rhetoric and utopian ideals, nominate Bernie Sanders. But if the Democrats want progressive change, not empty promises, they ought to support Hillary Clinton, and Democratic voters ought to do the same.