Yesterday, my friend Atif Qarni – teacher, Iraq War veteran, Democratic nominee for House of Delegates in 2013 and candidate for the State Senate in 2015 – posted a column here at Blue Virginia, entitled Sanders or Clinton: Shoot for the Stars or Better Safe than Sorry? In it, Atif made a strong case for why Bernie Sanders isn’t just the more progressive candidate — “a positive and inspirational figure who can transform our society in ways that only a true visionary can imagine,” as Atif puts it — but also the most electable Democrat in 2016 (Sanders, “with his message of hope and political revolution, will be able to inspire the masses and accomplish an Obama-like turnout.”). I respectfully disagree with Atif; here’s why.
First off, while Atif’s correct that Bernie Sanders is a strong progressive, also a “positive and inspirational figure” (unlike most Republican 2016 candidates, who are all about how America sucks, is rapidly heading down the tubes, needs to be be “restored” to its former “greatness,” blah blah blah), I’d argue that when it comes down to it, Sanders’ voting record hasn’t been significantly more progressive than Hillary Clinton’s. Check out Progressive Punch’s scores, and you’ll see that Bernie Sanders lifetime rating of 96.82% progressive, while excellent, ranks him #18 among current members of the U.S. Senate (e.g., Sanders is behind Elizabeth Warren, Ed Markey, Cory Booker, Sherrod Brown, Tammy Baldwin, Al Franken, Tom Udall, Ben Cardin, Kirsten Gillibrand, Jeff Merkley, Jack Reed, Chris Murphy, Sheldon Whitehouse, etc.). So it’s not like Sanders is the great progressive in human history or anything, let’s not get carried away here.
As for Hillary Clinton? Well obviously she hasn’t been in the U.S. Senate for a while now, but back in late 2007, she had a 92% Progressive Punch score, roughly the same as Barack Obama’s 90% score at that point, and just a bit lower than Sanders’ 96.8% score. So sure, one can argue that Sanders has been somewhat more progressive than Clinton throughout his career, but in terms of actual votes on actual bills in the U.S. Senate, they’re both in the “A” range, there hasn’t been a great deal of difference as far as I can tell.
Second, in terms of Clinton’s and Sanders’ 2016 campaign platforms, there’s no doubt that Sanders has been more the “aggressive progressive,” to borrow Del. Mark Levine’s memorable phrase, pushing for single-payer health care and strong action against income inequality, among other things. But it’s not like Hillary Clinton is a slouch either, with strongly progressive stances on issue after issue, from LGBT equality to immigration reform to women’s rights and opportunities to voting rights to..you name it, pretty much.
Third, and more to the point, the question is whether Sanders or Clinton would have a better chance of achieving their laudable, progressive goals if elected president. On that front, I come down for Clinton, who I believe has the skillset, temperament and experience over many years to at least have a fighting chance of getting stuff done, given the system we’ve got, not the one we wish we’d got (but don’t, unfortunately). I mean, seriously, does anyone really believe that a “political revolution” is going to allow a President Sanders to sweep through opposition by the health care industry, Republicans in Congress, etc, etc. and get single-payer health care enacted (including the steeply progressive tax rates Sanders would use to pay for his “Medicare for All” plan?). Sorry, but as much as I’d love that, I just don’t see it happening. What I DO see is the potential for a pragmatic progressive President, like Hillary Clinton, to build upon the tremendous progress President Obama has achieved in his two terms in a wide variety of areas. Of course, I’d love to see nirvana achieved tomorrow, but realistically I’ll settle for “things getting better, as rapidly as is realistically possible” given our highly divided, checks-and-balances system of government, and on that front I believe that Hillary Clinton is the person who can make that happen.
Fourth, of course, before any of the above can happen, the Democratic nominee for President in 2016 first has to, ya know, get elected and all that? 🙂 On that front, I’m not arguing that Sanders is unelectable, but I’m simply more confident that Clinton could win in November. Why? Because, even though I’m mostly cool with a self-proclaimed “Democratic Socialist” as our nominee, I find it hard to believe that once that right-wing attack machine kicks in against Sanders, that the majority of America will be. In contrast, Hillary Clinton has been subject to vicious right-wing attacks for decades now, and has surived them all. What else can they throw at her? Got me; and that’s kind of the point. Who knows what they will do to Bernie Sanders if he actually becomes our nominee, and how well Sanders will be able to parry those (inevitable) attacks. Given the enormous stakes of this election (just think of a President Trump and a 6-3, 7-2 right-wing Supreme Court demolishing everything we care about; shudddderrrrr), I’d really rather not take my chances.
Last but not least, I’ll just throw in my concern over a Michael Bloomberg independent run for President, which it appears would only happen if Democrats nominate Sanders, not if we nominate Clinton. What I’m worried about is Bloomberg spending $1 billion of his own money (as he’s said he would) to basically draw a lot more votes from Sanders than from Trump, effectively electing President Trump. Obviously, that’s completely unacceptable, and as someone who will never forget what happened in 2000 to Al Gore (thanks a lot, Ralph Nader!), I’m not going to just pretend that risk isn’t a real one.
Bottom line: both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are strong progressives, but I believe that Clinton gives us our best shot at the White House – and at getting progressive stuff done starting in January 2017 – in this year’s election. That’s why I’m supporting her – because yes, I’d rather be “safe than sorry” – despite my tremendous respect and admiration for Sanders, for the pro-Sanders arguments made by friends like Atif Qarni, and for their desire to “shoot for the stars.”