Why I Stopped Feeling the Bern: The Myth of the "Lesser of Two Evils"
This lengthy piece was written for those in the Bernie-or-bust camp. While I recommend you read this piece in its entirety, the second part is where your attention should be prioritized. For those not inclined to read anything, I even included a TL;DR at the end.
The Myth of the “Lesser of Two Evils”
When Bernie Sanders announced his campaign for the Democratic nomination last year, I was pleasantly surprised. I had been planning on voting for Hillary Clinton, but I supported her campaign with a healthy dose of skepticism. Because of Clinton’s associations with Wall Street, I was in the #GirlIGuessImWithHer camp before anyone had come up a trendy hashtag to describe that sentiment. Over the summer following the launch of Sanders’ campaign, I was interning for the U.S. Department of State. My internship coincided with the beginning of Clinton’s email scandal. At that point in time, I had drunk the State Department’s Kool-Aid of “thou shalt not share classified information.” Clinton’s scandal strengthened the urge that I should support Sanders, given his relatively pristine reputation and commitment to economic equality. It was during that summer that I decided that, when the time came, I would vote for Sanders in my state’s primary.
Summer ended, fall began, and with it a plethora of international problems arose. Beginning with verbal shots exchanged between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the UN General Assembly in September, a nagging feeling grew that Sanders would be unable to deal with the current nadir in U.S.-Russia relations. I didn’t claim to be George Kennan, but as a student with a regional focus on Russia, I knew that Sanders was out of his league. Then Russia entered the fight in Syria, and the many hotspots in the Middle East degraded noticeably. Migrants began pouring into Europe, and on November 13th, I watched with all-too-familiar horror as Paris was torn apart by a series of coordinated terrorist attacks.
Several days later, The Hill published an article stating that Sanders was calling for a Russia-inclusive NATO to fight terrorism. Sanders also publically criticized Middle Eastern states’ inaction with ISIS, stating that they were more concerned with sectarian conflict and the 2022 FIFA World Cup than the terrorist organization. Sanders’ reported ignorance of Middle Eastern culture and naivety with NATO-Russia relations spoke loudly. The next president would have serious foreign policy issues to contend with and Sanders had just shown he wasn’t cut out for the task. My nagging feeling grew into certain knowledge that, if elected, Sanders would have a presidency not unlike that of Jimmy Carter: plagued with foreign policy shocks and lacking the know-how to handle them. Sanders was well aware of his inexperience with foreign policy, but repeatedly neglected to seek assistance from foreign policy experts in Washington.
Even more concerning was Sanders’ economic plans. In December, Sanders wrote an op-ed for The New York Times in which he outlined his plans for the Federal Reserve if he were elected president. I agreed that the Fed was in need of reform, but some of Sanders’ arguments were highly uninformed. In this piece, Sanders claimed that a recent hike in federal interest rates was a telltale sign that the economic system was rigged. Anybody who has taken an introductory course on macroeconomics, however, knows that low interest rates can lead to a liquidity trap, a macroeconomic phenomenon that takes away the state’s primary tool of fighting recessions. Because federal interest rates have been hovering just above zero since 2009, the Fed was actually acting responsibly by raising those rates.
Sanders’ other claim in his op-ed that the Fed needed more transparency alarmed me, as the Fed’s autonomy is essential to its ability to function. The Fed can actually suffer from too much transparency, which can cause economic problems as investors skittishly hang on the Fed’s every word and action. If there’s any perceived sign of economic pessimism from the Fed, panic can spread like wildfire through the markets. Additionally, opacity is sometimes necessary for sudden policy changes to have the desired effect. In his op-ed, Sanders also mentioned Glass-Steagall, a financial regulation that Sanders long touted as a solution to the broken banking industry. Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist favored by liberals, derided Sanders’ brandishing of Glass-Steagall as a myopic solution to the banking problem in an op-ed of his own a month later. A month after that, Sanders suffered a blow when a number of high-ranking economic experts in the Obama Administration deemed that Sanders’ economic and healthcare plans were financially untenable.
Because of the rulings of my most trusted economists and my own rudimentary knowledge of the subject matter, I could no longer support Sanders. Clinton, on the other hand, still had progressive economic plans without such criticism. Her plans were more pragmatic and therefore more reserved than Sanders’. Some economic improvement was better than none, however, and that was exactly what Sanders was offering. For the second time in eight months, I felt the need to abandon the candidate I had been supporting and support another instead.
What You Really Need to Know—Yes, You
So why have I just taken nearly a thousand words to tell you my personal take on Clinton versus Sanders? The goal was to show you that, as the title suggests, the notion that Clinton is the lesser of two evils is a myth. Clinton is the better candidate for reasons that are not only contingent upon how deplorable Donald Trump is. I would even go so far to say that Clinton is the greater of two goods in a match-up with Sanders. For those of you who feel the Bern so strongly that you would rather stay at home than vote for Clinton in November, I ask that you consider the information I have just presented you with. Your choosing to stay home—or alternatively to vote for a third candidate or write Sanders in—may have the unfortunate effect of putting Trump in the Oval Office. Third candidates have a history of causing unfavorable election results. In 2000, Ralph Nader’s decision to run as a third candidate cost Al Gore the presidential election as they competed for the liberal vote. A similar thing happened to a lesser extent in 2004 with Howard Dean and John Kerry. This is something Dean now publicly regrets and has warned Sanders against.
In this election, the worst case scenario isn’t eight years of President George W. Bush. It’s four to eight years of President Donald Trump. If you’re the liberal you most likely claim to be, I want you to take a moment to think about what that would look like for you and for your fellow Americans. Considering that Clinton and Sanders have a 93% identical voting record for the time they shared in the Senate, it seems natural to vote for Clinton even if your preferred candidate is Sanders. Clinton has not only progressive policies, but sound ones as well. From a policy standpoint, you aren’t compromising by voting for Clinton.
Trump poses a threat to women and especially to minorities. As one Politico article eloquently states, the Sanders movement in many ways is a prime example of white privilege. The article states, “It would be a slap in the face, the latest sign that a kind of white privilege—throwing a temper tantrum because they don’t get their way despite how much it hurts people of color—is deeply rooted within liberal, Democratic ranks as well.” Sanders’ revolution is a dream shared predominately by white people and his primary victories include many of the least diverse states in the nation. Because of an increasingly diverse United States, a campaign fueled by white votes isn’t sustainable. The article also explains that Clinton’s pragmatism is appealing to minority voters because they know that change in the American political system does not come from sweeping political movements; it comes from small victories won over time. This is the compromise inherent to democracy and American politics. This is the compromise that Hillary Clinton knows well.
Clinton carries a number of histories that I will not absolve her of any time soon. However, I trust that she will make a fine president. The best part of American democracy is that we have means of holding our leaders accountable. I’m certain that Clinton will run for president in 2020 if elected in November, and her reelection will be contingent upon a good first term. Additionally, the Sanders movement has done something incredible telling Clinton of the concerns of young voters. She will be campaigning hard in coming months to address those concerns. The strength of the Sanders movement has likely been a humbling experience that she won’t ever forget.
TL;DR Clinton has solid policies in comparison to Sanders’, is very progressive herself, and is the only chance of preventing a Trump presidency that threatens our most vulnerable populations.
This piece was originally published on The Internationals.
The views presented in this piece do not reflect the views of other Arbitror contributors or of Arbitror as a whole.