I like Bernie Sanders. I also like Hillary Clinton. I even like Martin O'Malley -- though I wish he had run for the U.S. Senate seat in Maryland this year. I think he'd have been a very good senator, and also that would have strengthened his presidential goals long-term.
Mind you, I don't like everything about them. Secretary Clinton is more moderate on some issues than I care for, even more conservative on some things. Sen. Sanders is sometimes more theoretical than practical. And Governor O'Malley doesn't have great strengths internationally. But if any of them became the Democratic nominee, I can live with them just fine. (I suspect that's not something most Republican voters can say about their leading candidates.) I don't expect perfection from candidates, however, any more than I expect it from human beings. And my own views on issues cover a swath of positions.
What I've noticed, though, is that there is a subset of Democrats who are so strongly supportive of one candidate or another that they've fallen into the hole of overly-focused love, which leads to disdain of opponents. More often than not this seems to be the case with supporters of Bernie Sanders, perhaps because he's more of the idealist outsider which tends to attract the most passionate followers, but the interesting thing is that he's been the candidate most upfront about not wanting to be critical of the others, since he's said he likes them and thinks they're quality candidates.
This all led to an exchange I had on Twitter over the weekend with one of the Bernie Supporters. Since 140 characters is not the ideal venue for political debate, I thought I'd bring the discussion here.
It all began when I read a tweet posted after the Democratic debate on Saturday. (The message extended slightly beyond those 140 characters after you clicked on a link.) In full, it read --
"Hillary at tonight's debate: NO to protecting us from Wall Street, NO to $15 livable wage, NO to health care for all. She couldn't care less what voters actually want -- I'm just shocked she was so open about her disdain for us plebes."
While politely ignoring the eye-rolling accusation of "disdain for us plebes," I wrote a brief reply that noted Hillary Clinton has supported universal health care, a living wage and Wall Street reform, and that to suggest otherwise, to imply that she is no different than the Republican conservative candidates, was a bit disingenuous and not fair of her actual positions. It will not shock you to learn that my correspondent didn't take this well, and suggested that I was the one being disingenuous and unfair.
(Side note: I always love when others debating you preempt your exact argument and exact words, and try to twist it all back on you. As I've written in the past, this is favorite tactic of conservatives, who try to co-opt Democratic positions as their own, like saying that it's really Democrats who have a war on women, and so on. Not that my Twitter correspondent was doing this exactly, but it was a cousin of the tactic and by doing so showed an empty lack of response, basically relying on the old "I'm rubber, you're glue" gambit.)
We had a little back and forth, including her saying that she wasn't trying to imply that Hillary Clinton was a conservative Republican, but rather "saying it outright." It was at that point that, given Twitter's significant limitations, I thought it best to explain here why her efforts to totally dismiss Hillary Clinton were, in fact, as I had written disingenuous and unfair. At best. (Seriously, if Hillary Clinton, who is hated with a guttural vengeance for 25 years by Republicans, was a conservative Republican, then what on earth kind of description could one conceivably attribute to actual conservative Republicans??)
And to be clear, it's not so much responding to this one person, but these charges are the kind of arguments we repeatedly see that Bernie Lovers as a group tend to make in supporting their candidate. So, it's all the more worth not just a look, but a fair-minded look at reality.
So, "NO to health care for all" is the best place to start. After all, Hillary Clinton began pushing single-payer health care over 20 years ago when she was First Lady, with no personal electoral base to support her, against numerous odds, and took huge political hits for it from Republicans. She's been a leading supporter of national health care for over two decades and remains outspokenly so for the Affordable Care Act. As she stated at Saturday's debate, she felt the ACA was a great foundation to build on and something that could be improved upon even more. While my Twitter pal said she didn't care what Hillary Clinton supported 20 years ago, that's simply ignoring the reality of what has driven Secretary Clinton since that time and continues to. In fact, in the debate on Saturday, even Bernie Sanders himself acknowledged that it was not possible to change the trillion dollar health care industry to a single-payer system in the short run, but something to build on for the future. So, to imply that Hillary Clinton is against "health care for all" -- which is what she's pushed for 20 years and which is actually part of the Affordable Care Act she so strongly supports-- is about as disingenuous as it can get.
As for the matter of the minimum wage and providing a livable income. Bernie Sanders wants to raise the minimum to $15. Clearly, that's more than Hillary Clinton's proposal, which is an increase to $12. But...and this is pretty darn clear, too...that's still not only an increase, but a massive 70% increase over the current $7.25. Yes, Mr. Sanders wants a larger increase of the minimum wage, but Ms. Clinton has explained that she believes such an extreme increase would be unfair to small businesses in rural communities and hurt the economy, although she favors a $15 minimum in large cities where it could be handled. And further, and this is an even much-more important point -- Sen. Sanders' $15 minimum phases in over five years (!), so by the time half a decade passes and that kicks in, his increase may not actually end up being more than hers! Which is why to imply that Hillary Clinton is against a livable income -- "NO $15 increase" -- and that she is nothing more than a conservative Republican (who as we know are so heavily pushing 70% increases to the minimum wage...) is again a totally disingenuous, indeed egregious implication and unfair.
That leaves Wall Street reform. There is no question that Bernie Sanders is by far the most aggressive and progressive candidate on the subject. However, being "the most" doesn't mean being the only supporter on the subject. Ms. Clinton has proposed an extensive plan of full-banking reform that goes beyond even Wall Street. Bernie Sanders' criticism has not been that she has "NO" reform plan, but he questions if it's good enough and whether Hillary Clinton will fully back it, given her Wall Street financial support. It's a fair question to raise. And it's a fair answer when she says her record has shown support for reform, even if not as aggressive as Sen. Sanders. Again, there's no question that Bernie Sanders is more progressive than Hillary Clinton on Wall Street reform, and I prefer his aggressiveness on the issue. But less progressive in no way even remotely means unsupportive. After all, she's on record for retaining Dodd-Frank financial reforms, something most GOP candidates want to eliminate, and has supported breaking up banks if necessary. So, to imply that Hillary Clinton is somehow against Wall Street reform and and wants "NO" banking reform is simply unfair to reality.
Half a dozen years ago, I got into an argument with a deeply-conservative Republican friend. He was insistent that the two then-senators from Maine, Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, were "Democrats." Now, no Democrat would ever think of them that way, they were serious, though fair-minded Republicans, moderate in the GOP, but definitely conservative by Democratic standards. But to my friend on the Far-Right ledge, anyone not out there with him wasn't a Republican, and therefore a Democrat. It's an attitude of purity that eventually mucked up the GOP and which brought up their mess in John Boehner quitting as Speaker and trying to find a replacement, as well as the circus of presidential candidates with Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson in the lead. In many ways, that's what I see with my Twitter Buddy, who sees Bernie Sanders as The Progressive and True Democrat, and Hillary Clinton as a conservative Republican. (I would love seeing the faces of conservative Republicans when they were told that.) That a politician, like most human beings, could have layers to his or her personality -- from aggressively liberal on some issues, moderate to liberal on most, and even conservative on some -- and still profoundly be a strong Democrat is something the most impassioned don't seem to accept, much to their detriment. Because it ends up creating a myopic, false view of reality, which blocks out opposing views. And that is what ends up perceiving a non-existent "disdain for us plebes."
As I said, I like Bernie Sanders. A lot. He's not the only candidate I like though. And liking much about him, I know there are many good arguments than can be made to support him. But accepting those as The Whole Truth and Nothing But, and making unfair, total dismissals of his opponents is not one of those good arguments on his behalf, and it does his strengths a disservice. And it does the Democratic Party a disservice. Because there is a wide range of valid ways to support national health care, banking reform, increased minimum wage and a vast panoply of subjects that are worthy of debate to bring out the best in all of them.
Having great ideas is important. It pushes the national discourse. But critically important too is having ideas that are able to move a reticent country, most especially when a president is likely facing a Republican Senate and House. And these practical and substantive ideas may, in the long run, actually be the best, for all we know. All the while pushed by the idealistic ones. And who knows, those might be the best and turn out the most substantive. But the thing is, they're all good, all valid, all worthy of discussion -- openly, honestly, factually and fairly. And then you decide.
Hey, how about that? I was able to make the point in less than 140 characters!
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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