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SMU Daily Campus


Sanders is the wrong choice for the Democratic nomination


By Fairooz Adams

Bernie Sanders has captured the heart of the Democratic Party because he is seen as someone who has demonstrated a lifetime of commitment to liberal causes long before they were mainstream, and someone who is seen as having the correct ideology necessary to reduce climbing income inequality in the country. His opposition to the Iraq War from even before President Obama joined Congress and his unwavering focus on the wealth gap are seen as signs of his authenticity. However well-intended and sincere he may be, his nomination would be an incredibly foolhardy choice for the Democratic Party.

A recent series of polls have shown Sanders leading Republican contenders by larger margins than Hillary Clinton. For some people, this is satisfactory proof that the independent democratic socialist from Vermont is a more electable candidate than Clinton, who has a reputation of being a pragmatic technocrat. The problem with this assertion, however, is that Clinton is the frontrunner whereas Sanders is not. It was not too long ago, shortly after Secretary Clinton left the State Department, that her approval rating nationally was above 60 percent. Since her announcement, the relentless attacks on her by the Republican Party have eroded much of that support. Rarely in the past several months, whether on the debate state or on Republican campaign literature, has Sanders been mentioned. And when he has been mentioned, it has been to tout him as a robust challenger to the Clinton juggernaut. Clinton has been at the focal point of GOP opposition while Sanders has largely been shielded. If Sanders were to become the Democratic Party’s nominee, he would become the target of the entire Republican Party and all conservative media outlets. Just as Clinton’s support eroded in the face of the constant Republican onslaught, so will Sanders’. How quick progressives are to forget that only a short time ago Clinton’s approval rating was stratospheric.

Unless Clinton’s bid for the Democratic nomination seems like a lost cause, the Republican Party will have every reason to sink her campaign. Sanders is the ideal candidate for the GOP to run against. The attack ads write themselves: Democratic socialist, honeymooned in the Soviet Union in 1988, supported the Sandinista government in Nicaragua as Burlington mayor during the Cold War. Add that to the fact that Sanders’ plans aren’t affordable unless middle class taxes are raised in addition to those of top income earners, the Sanders campaign is dead in the water. Between the Democratic National Convention in July and the election in November, whoever the Republican nominee becomes, the conservative party will be able to dole out fear and suspicion of Sanders with ease. Clinton, even after constant attacks regarding her email and Benghazi, has a strong, formidable campaign and she continues to outperform her Republican rivals in many polls. Older voters with memories of the Cold War are also the most reliable voters. In a general election campaign where terrorism will likely play a more central role in the political discourse, the history of American fear of “socialism” and seven years of a Democratic presidency already, Sanders will face a tremendous challenge against Republicans who are regarded strong on foreign policy, embrace free markets, and offer dissatisfied voters a complete change in ideology at the highest office in the land.

Clinton has demonstrated, through her hand in the Iran Deal and the beginnings of the Trans-Pacific Partnership that she is capable of bringing together people with disparate interests around a common goal. What she lacks in charisma she makes up as a ruthless tactician, the opposite of President Obama who has always been almost a reluctant politician. Clinton’s proven record of getting things done makes her an ideal candidate to work with a Republican Congress. Sanders, while he has been able to pass some things since becoming a congressman in 1991, he has only minor achievements to show for it.

What should worry progressives even more than his inability to get things done through Congress is the disappointment this will likely leave with Democratic voters. If Democrats stay home in 2020, that means Republicans will likely take the White House, Congress, and perhaps even more important, state legislatures. The last one is incredibly consequential because continued Republican domination of the state legislatures will mean that Democrats will not be able to retake control of the House of Representatives for another decade. Even though Democratic House candidates won the total popular vote among themselves in 2012, the GOP was still able to retain control of the chamber due to gerrymandering. Sanders’ calls for a political revolution are fine, but if the districts remain gerrymandered and the House stays out of Democratic control, no progressive initiatives will be passed. Historically Democrats have been able to pass hugely transformative progressive legislation with support from a solidly Democratic Congress. Even then, as we saw in President Obama’s first term, with a supermajority in the Senate and a huge majority in the House, the passage of Obamacare was a tremendously costly battle. That single challenge consumed virtually all of the president’s political capital.

Does Sanders really think he can pass universal healthcare? Democrats may take back the Senate in 2016, but it probably won’t be filibuster proof, and even then red state Democrats with memories of 2010 will likely tack right against a Sanders administration. That doesn’t even consider the gerrymandered House that is virtually guaranteed to remain in Republican control until at least 2022, when the new congressional districts will be drawn. Even his central campaign initiative, the separation of money and politics, will not be possible until after then. Only after gerrymandering is reversed will it be possible to win over the necessary number of states to amend the Constitution and reverse the Supreme Court’s decision in its Citizens United ruling. As sincere as Sanders may be about removing money from politics, that won’t happen because the law now says money is speech. Only a Constitutional amendment will change that.

For Democrats, the most pragmatic way to achieve progressive changes will require a gradual change. With Sanders, liberals in the party seek to jump two steps forward, but risk being knocked three steps back. When one considers Supreme Court nominations that will likely need to be made in the next four years, it becomes incredibly important that progressives pick a safe choice lest they risk the SCOTUS wiping out progress made under the Obama administration. When one considers how important it is for Democrats to win big in 2020, it becomes clear that the party must pick someone who will have the ability to work Congress to her advantage to get progressive legislation passed and ensure Democrats show up to vote in 2020. This is very unsexy. Virtually all Democrats have known the Clintons since 1992. They are not as new and as exciting as Sanders.

Nevertheless Clinton is the one that has the best shot of winning the general election in November, working Congress, holding onto the White House in the early 2020s, and pulling Democrats on her coattails into state legislatures to alleviate some of the gerrymandering. Only after this will it be possible to amend the Constitution and remove money from politics, and later pass grander progressive legislation. This is a long road, and there’s no guarantee of success, nor is there a guarantee that there won’t be any upsets. It is, however, the only realistic way to achieve any of what Sanders claims he will accomplish in his presidency. Clinton to many Democrats may be too familiar of a technocrat to be as appealing as the ideological firebrand that is Sanders, but ironically it is Clinton that is the most capable of leaving America a more just and progressive country than it is today.

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