Many people, Sanders supporters included, are lamenting Hillary Clinton’s near guaranteed position as the Democratic presidential nominee. Concerns span the alphabet: A for apathy, B for Benghazi, C for corporate interests, D for Democrat (in name only, depending on who you ask), E for e-mail scandal and establishment ties, F for flip-flopping and so on.
These are all valid concerns. Equally concerning, however, is that there are many Bernie Sanders supporters refusing to vote for Hillary Clinton in a general election — a movement that can be called “Bern or bust.” Sanders, after all, is the lone candidate fighting against Wall Street and the political establishment.
Sanders is a birthday cake promising great things, while Clinton is a stale cookie offering slight flavor and Republicans (according to those on the left) are the muffin sprinkled with shards of glass. Not voting for a Democrat is basically a vote for the Republicans, taking a bite out of that muffin and spitting the blood in everyone’s face. Sure, Clinton is a stale cookie, but not exactly glass ripping up the insides of your mouth.
One key argument is that Bernie Sanders stands a much stronger chance of being elected. On average, according to RealClearPolitics’ aggregation of polls, Bernie Sanders outperforms Donald Trump by about 15 points. The average for Clinton is about seven points.
But also, polls tell us absolutely nothing. They disregard many factors, like who will actually show up to vote or how vulnerable a candidate is. I think the attitude of not wanting to vote for anyone at all damages Hillary Clinton’s electability the most.
Young people, who overwhelmingly back Sanders, are not as reliable as people with higher income and education when it comes to political participation, according to the United States Elections Project.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has been battling controversy since her husband was Governor of Arkansas in the late 1970s. They have always been in the public eye. For good or for ill, Clinton has dealt with more attacks than any other candidate and voter positions on her, in my opinion, are relatively stable. There isn’t much else they can bring against her.
Sanders, by contrast, is a relatively new figure to the majority of Americans despite his three-plus decades of political experience. Very little dirt has been dug up yet. Republicans have not focused on him because they have long assumed Clinton would be their general election target. But there are plenty of things that Republicans can bring against him that Sanders may not be prepared for or able to counter with simple honesty.
Sanders calls himself a “Democratic Socialist.” Consequently, Sanders will be demonized as a socialist incredibly easily, rather than as a centrist or someone center-left. And Gallup found that only 47 percent of people would vote for a socialist if they were well qualified. Atheists earned 58 percent, Muslims 60 percent, someone gay or lesbian 74 percent. A woman, hispanic or African American, would earn nine of every ten voters.
Republicans can point to Sanders’ previous ties to the Socialist Workers Party, comments that he would be for redistributing wealth, his calls for taking over businesses and showing sympathy with socialist movements with Latin America. It’s old history, but strong ammunition.
They can also reference recent policies and things he has supported, like raising taxes. An April Gallup poll found that 57 percent of Americans think taxes are too high, and 37 percent believe they are just right. He wants to raise them (mostly on the upper echelon, but a small two percent increase would be levied on the middle class, too) to have the federal government fund things like single-payer healthcare and four years of free college education. The federal government would be even more bloated than now.
Some experts suggest that the healthcare plan alone would expand the government by over 50 percent, according to The New York Times, and cost twice as much as what Sanders estimated it will. It would fall between $2 trillion and $3 trillion. If Republicans were able to frame Obamacare as a “government takeover of healthcare,” imagine how they could label this big program.
Also consider that nearly 69 percent of Americans labeled “big government as the biggest threat to [the] future” according to a December 2015 Gallup poll. Pretty much everything Sanders calls for, save for reducing military spending, is major government involvement.
The short version here is that Sanders’ electability is questionable. Clinton’s is also questionable, but perhaps less so. The question one now needs to ask oneself before abstaining from voting is what the alternative is.
A Republican, based off of their currently expressed stances, would happily try rolling back any progress made in health care, reproductive rights and social equality. They would also nominate a Supreme Court justice or two that would determine whether or not laws are constitutional, which is arguably even more important. Some issues that have recently come up, for example, are labor unions and abortion clinic restrictions. So far, only a tie has saved the court from issuing a strong ruling. It is also even more plausible that they would further solidify our involvement in wars everywhere.
Yes, Clinton is to the right on foreign policy. Her adoration of Henry Kissinger is questionable at best. But at least she’s called for protecting Obamacare, Planned Parenthood and wouldn’t appoint another Antonin Scalia. She is a centrist Democrat. She has also shifted her views in response to voter sentiment on gay rights and other things, which is also noteworthy. You can call it flip-flopping, I call it “evolving on issues.”
Politics is about compromise. We have a two-party system and a bicameral legislature for a reason. Different perspectives exist. A $15 minimum wage here and now, for example, could drive small businesses into ruin or encourage corporations to rely more on automation. Putting a higher tax on capital gains, meanwhile, could disincentivize investment in an economy that is still sluggish.
Is that right? Is it wrong? Does it sound like a logical argument? Even if you think that is a garbage talking point, it’s a reasonably common perspective that someone proposing major changes would have to deal with somehow. Arguments about morality and “doing the right thing” are not enough.
That being said, progress does not always come in one massive wave. It often comes gradually in ways that are manageable and properly debated. A $12 minimum wage — a middle ground that Clinton has previously advocated for — is much easier to push for than a $15 one in our current Congress. Is it not better to have some progress than none at all?
Lastly, let me remind you that the alternative is not just a Republican: it is likely Donald J. Trump, who has called for building a useless wall along our southern border, engaging in trade wars, banning all Muslims from entering the country until the screening process is perfect (i.e. never) and a tax plan that would bankrupt the United States. He has also insulted virtually every single group he would have to work with to accomplish anything.
It may be awhile before there’s another warrior for the middle class like Sanders. And don’t get me wrong: I like Sanders as a person. But not voting for Clinton and being all-out hostile to her helps nobody on the Democratic side. The only message it would send is one of division and willingness to sacrifice one’s own well-being to cater to populist passion.