politics February 5, 2016 Jack No comments

On Bernie Sanders vs. Hillary Clinton – without talking about financing

It won’t come as any surprise to people that know me personally that I’m a Bernie Sanders supporter. I’m pretty far left and I have absolutely no problem looking toward Europe for examples of good government taking care of its people better than the US. I don’t think twice about labels like “socialist” because I know what that actually means and that Democratic Socialism been a successful model elsewhere.

However, in this write up, I wanted to give concrete reasons to choose Sanders over Clinton for someone that doesn’t want to predicate this decision solely on whether Hillary Clinton has been bought and paid for by the Washington machine because even though it’s obvious that money and lobbyists are corrupting our politics in general, it’s hard to prove that Clinton specifically is corrupt. The closest I’ve come is Elizabeth Warren calling out Clinton in 2004 about reversing course on bankruptcy legislation which stinks of corruption but is still just conjecture about Clinton’s own motivations. In essence, I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt that she’s a woman of honor and the fact that she takes corporate money and gives paid speeches to Goldman Sachs doesn’t compromise her integrity.

Judgment vs. Experience in Foreign Policy

Bernie Sanders voted against invading Iraq – twice.

It’s a bit annoying how much he flogs this point in the foreign policy debates, but it is important to me. Why? Because in 2003 I was a 17 year old boy and over the course of that war I saw men just like me go to Iraq and Afghanistan and come back broken, or not at all. Issues tend to hold more influence when it causes people that are just like you come back in flag draped coffins from an unjust war. This was a big reason I voted Kerry in 2004, and Obama in 2008/2012.

In the end though, it’s not even directly about the Iraq War as much as it is the difference between experience and judgment as Bernie mentioned in last night’s debate. Hillary has the foreign policy bona fides of being Secretary of State but that amounts to experience where her vote on the Iraq War showed a lack of judgment that was extremely costly for this country both in terms of dead soldiers and wasted money that all went to toppling a dictator that was the only thing holding back the factional warring we now see with ISIS. We traded lawful evil for chaotic evil.

Bernie, having no foreign policy experience but great judgment, voted against the Gulf War in 1991 on moral grounds only days after taking his first national office. Then, in 2002, when he had access to the same information as Hillary, he not only voted against the Iraq War, but also predicted the disastrous results including the fight with ISIS (the whole thing is good but his list of unanswered questions begins at 2:46 and his fifth question is “Who will govern Iraq when Saddam Hussein is removed, and what role will the US play in an ensuing civil war that could develop in that country?” at 4:30).

Now it could be argued that her 4 years as Secretary of State make just that big a difference. After all, this was 2002 when she had no foreign policy experience, and as Hillary rightly pointed out in the debate, one vote in 2002 doesn’t give you a strategy against ISIS 14 years later. Yet Clinton certainly didn’t think it was an issue when she was running for President in 2007 and 2008 with no foreign policy experience, and less experience in government than Bernie Sanders has now. And she certainly doesn’t have anything bad to say about Obama’s foreign policy (because it was hers) even though he didn’t have any experience.

Bernie has excellent judgment despite lacking foreign policy experience (just like Obama and Clinton in 2008). As President, Sanders will have the best advisers and intelligence in the world, but he still has to make the right choices, even if it’s in regard to something he’s not an expert on (like new threats, or unprecedented world events). I just don’t buy that having a ton of experience outweighs having the judgment to make the right call, and the judgment to surround yourself with people that do have experience.

The PATRIOT Act

In a similar vein, Hillary voted consistently to support the PATRIOT Act. When it first came up in 2001, and then again in 2006, and then again in 2015 when it resurfaced as the USA FREEDOM Act (which was just the PATRIOT Act without NSA surveillance because we found out).

Bernie, unsurprisingly, voted against it all three times.

I believe that this is another instance in which Sanders showed better judgment despite the mania of the time. Regardless of the size of the terrorist threat, there are certain freedoms that should not be infringed upon, like the 4th Amendment in the Bill of Rights (against illegal search and seizure). Ultimately, all the PATRIOT Act did was give the government license to monitor all of your communications with the barest hint of reasoning and without even a modicum of true oversight.

On top of that, it was rammed through Congress without enough discussion and debate. It was introduced on October 23rd, passing the House on the 24th (without Sanders’ support), and passing the Senate on the 25th (with Hillary’s support). The bill was 350 pages long and quite complex, I believe it’s highly likely that Clinton (like the 97 other senators that voted for it) rubber stamped the PATRIOT Act without even reading it, based solely on the prevailing fear of the day – again failing to exercise good judgment.

Capital Punishment

Capital punishment is utterly barbaric and has no place in an enlightened society. You can’t kill people to show that killing people is wrong. There’s too much opportunity for miscarriages of justice to occur because there’s no such thing as 100% certainty. Even “slam dunk” cases can always have new light shed on them, as we saw with the advancement of DNA technology in the last century, and as such we should always leave room for error.

A list of exonerated death row inmates shows that we exonerated seven death row inmates just last year who were convicted between 1985 and 2013. Each one of these people was wrongly locked up, which is bad enough, but it would have been immeasurably worse if their sentences had been carried out.

Hillary, at last night’s debate, said that capital punishment has its place, even if reluctantly, based on some draconian idea that really bad people deserve it. As if spending the rest of your life in a prison cell wasn’t an awful (and more just, and cheaper) punishment already.

Bernie Sanders is against capital punishment entirely, and his home state of Vermont has banned it since 1965.

Healthcare

The Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) is a disappointment. I’ve defended it in the past for only one reason: it’s a foot in the door. It gets everyone into the system and when everyone has a stake people are a lot more likely to care when opportunities for reform arise. In my view, the ACA ceased being a complete solution the moment the public option was dead because at that point it was just a way to force everyone into the for-profit insurance industry.

To be clear, Sanders voted for the ACA as an incremental improvement to a flawed system. However, he believed that it didn’t go far enough, wanting to supply Medicare-For-All in a single payer model. This is a proven model elsewhere in the industrialized world (like Canada, the UK, Australia) and would provide us with truly universal and free healthcare at the overall cost of a slight bump in taxes which would be offset by the savings from not paying for insurance.

When Sanders was helping to draft the ACA, he attempted to pass an amendment that would have converted the ACA into Medicare-For-All but was forced to withdraw it because Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) threatened to destroy the entire bill. Sanders vote for the ACA was merely not letting perfect (single payer) be the enemy of good (the ACA’s improvements).

Hillary’s only real argument against it (other than the “he’s dismantling Obamacare” which was hopefully debunked last night) is that it would force us into another politically contentious debate with Republicans… well what issue in either of these camps wouldn’t? Who believes that anything that they agree on, from gun control, to education, to infrastructure, to bank regulation would go through Congress without a fight? Nobody. So if we’re going to fight about everything, why not aim for the system we want instead of calling it good enough to avoid the heat?

More to the point, Hillary’s desire to incrementally improve the ACA is admirable, but incremental change will never transform the ACA into government run, non-profit, cost controlled, and free healthcare like we see elsewhere in the world. At best it would add further restrictions to the insurance companies, but as long as those same companies are out to make a buck it’s going to be impossible to get them to stop cutting corners, stop finding ways to exclude costly patients, and overall stop finding ways to screw the American public.

Marijuana

It’s 2016. There are states in this country that have legalized recreational marijuana and have seen positive effects from that legalization. Even more states have decriminalized marijuana or authorized medicinal marijuana. The time for Hillary’s approach – moving it to Schedule II (which includes drugs with “high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence” like Adderall or Vicodin, which is far more harmful and addictive than marijuana) and doing research for another 20 years – is long over. Moving marijuana to Schedule II merely opens the door for national medicinal marijuana rather than actually dealing with any of the real issues.

Even if she won’t commit to fully legalize marijuana it’s well past time to recognize that locking people up for marijuana is a travesty and decriminalize it. The idea that we should ruin someone’s life by locking them up and giving them a police record to keep them from ruining their life by smoking marijuana is absurd, especially when it clearly hasn’t worked as a deterrent.

In the end, legalization of marijuana is a win for everyone. Not only does it legalize activity people are taking part in anyway (fueling black markets with unregulated access to all other drugs), but legalization means that Americans can start making money on marijuana instead of the Mexican cartels that are happy to live like warlords on American dollars.

With government taxation, and the reduction of the load on the justice and penal systems, it would even be a net gain for the government itself (as it has been in CO, AK, WA, and OR). It’s rare that libertarians and liberals can agree on an issue, but there is wide agreement on this from everyone that can look past the War on Drugs rhetoric.

Now Bernie hasn’t come out and said “I will legalize marijuana” but he supports ending the federal prohibition on marijuana (legalizing it without overriding the states) which would make it a lot easier for marijuana based businesses to use federally backed services like banks and operate without the fear that the DEA will come knocking. Not to mention it would remove one more concern for states that want to legalize. I would prefer it if he was totally pro-legalization, but his position is still miles ahead of Hillary’s.

Other Concerns

Again, without bringing up Wall Street or campaign finance, there are some other concerns where the margins are a little slimmer between the two candidates.

Gay Marriage

In 2004, Senator Clinton defended the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) arguing that marriage was between a man and a woman and only served to raise children. In 2007, candidate Clinton supported civil unions and marriage was a states issue. In 2016, as a candidate again, she supports marriage equality… now that it’s overwhelmingly popular, has been upheld by the Supreme Court and requires no action only continued defense of the status quo.

Sanders voted against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) in 1993. Defended gay soldiers in 1995. Voted against DOMA in 1996. Supported Vermont civil unions in 2000, and Vermont gay marriage in 2009 before it was legal nationally. The only blip in his support was in 2006 (while in the House) when he suggested that it wasn’t time to push for marriage equality because of the contentious nature of the 2000 civil union decision that proved extremely divisive in his home state. I’m inclined to let that pass considering it was pragmatically motivated rather than any sort of prejudice, there wasn’t any legislation actually on the table at the time, and the state politics of Vermont were outside of his arena as a member of (the obviously national) Congress.

The reason I don’t put much weight on this point is that both candidates are pro-gay at this point. Yet I think it’s worth bringing up because either Hillary truly evolved on gay rights (in an arc suspiciously matching public opinion year by year) while Sanders was pretty consistent over 20 years… or she was willing to support legislation she didn’t believe in (DOMA) to back injustice. Neither of these possibilities are particularly flattering to Clinton.

“Establishment”

Clinton is 100%, totally unarguably an establishment candidate. There’s a reason that, before even one vote had been cast, she had collected 320 super-delegates and was considered the inevitable nominee the instant she announced. Personally, I don’t care about the “establishment” label, but her insinuation in last night’s debate that she can’t be an establishment candidate because of her sex was indefensibly sexist and completely irrelevant to the issues.

Scandal

I also don’t get this argument that somehow Clinton’s high profile career means that she’s had all of her dirty laundry aired and that gives her an advantage over Bernie. Not only is there currently a minor scandal on her end that has taken too much time out of this campaign (emails), but Bernie has been in public office in various forms since 1981. Sure, he wasn’t in the White House but over the last 35 years hasn’t he faced a lot of public scrutiny? Wouldn’t every person he ever faced from being mayor of Burlington, to Representative, to Senator want to find some dirt on their idealistic and high minded opponent?

Conclusion

In the end I believe I’ve laid out a case for Bernie Sanders to be my choice for President, without touching on nebulous claims of corruption through campaign finance. If you agree, disagree, or have corrections feel free to use the comments.

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