March 11, 2016

Clinton v. Sanders in the Univision Debate

President Barack Obama confers with U.S.Secret...
President Obama confers with U.S.Secretary of State Clinton during the NATO summit in Strasbourg, France. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I finally got around to watching the most recent Democratic debate. While I certainly prefer Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton, I am not among those who hate Clinton or find that she has nothing of value to contribute. As I watched this debate, I found myself focusing on the candidates' contrasting styles and realizing that I can find merit in both. I recognize that this may be an unpopular view in today's polarized climate, but I find that I am becoming far more comfortable with the awareness that many of my views are unpopular.

Clinton seems oriented toward maintaining what she sees as progress made during President Obama's administration and building on it in fairly subtle ways. In essence, her approach is one of incremental progress. For example, she clearly believes that passing flawed legislation is sometimes better than nothing and might even be helpful in paving the way for better policy down the road. She's probably correct here. While I can imagine that some legislation might make improvements less likely than they would otherwise be, I suspect that this is the exception rather than the rule.

Sanders seems far less patient and relatively uninterested in settling for what he regards as bad policy. After all, he's the one speaking of revolution. For Sanders, much of the system is corrupt and needs to be dismantled or at least reigned in far more drastically than anything we have yet been willing to do. I don't think it is necessarily fair to characterize Sanders' approach as one of "tear it all down," but he appears to regard much of Clinton's approach as insufficient and likely to maintain the status quo. He's probably correct, as she's certainly talking about a different and much slower sort of change. Sanders' voting record and rhetoric suggests that he's more likely to stand on principle and less likely to support what he regards as flawed legislation. This looks like integrity but does raise questions about feasibility.

As I compare these contrasting approaches to what both candidates say they want, I can easily understand why Clinton is regarded as the more sensible but not particularly exciting choice. For those who are very happy with President Obama, want to see his policies continued and perhaps expanded slowly and in some small ways, Clinton is the obvious choice. She's extremely well qualified, experienced, and unlikely to shake things up. For those who are already content with the way things are, she's the ideal candidate.

At the same time, I can certainly understand why Sanders has generated so much more enthusiasm, especially among the youth. He may be a less sensible choice in many ways, but his core message is far more appealing to many of us than anything Clinton is offering. Despite what I continue to hear from the mainstream news media, I do believe that the overwhelming majority of liberals in the U.S. are completely satisfied with President Obama and not longing for more liberal policies than what he has offered in many areas. For those of us who have not been satisfied with his administration, Sanders is the obvious choice. He sounds genuinely committed to bringing about the sort of changes many of us were hoping for when we voted for Obama.

When I think back to 2008, it is safe to say that I voted for Obama over Clinton because I perceived him as being to her left on many issues. This perception has not changed, although my perception of his commitment to some liberal principles has eroded. The Obama administration has not been nearly as liberal in many areas as I would like. I'm interested in seeing far bigger changes than anything Clinton is talking about. With this in mind, there is no way I could support Clinton over Sanders. But since I've already cast my vote in Mississippi's primary election, I suppose this no longer matters much now.