Friday, April 8, 2016

Oh, Bernie.

Bernie Sanders, coming off a series of primary victories, is feeling pretty good.  Who can blame him?  He’s also feeling more aggressive, and that isn’t necessarily a good path to take.   His recent assertions that Hillary Clinton is not qualified to be president are more than a stretch.  One may not agree with her on matters of policy past and present, even vigorously so, but objectively she remains the most qualified person running in either party.  There is likely no more difficult job in the world than being our president.  No one is fully prepared for what is in some ways the ultimate unknown.  It’s like being a parent for the first time multiplied a thousand fold.  Hillary has an unusual depth of experience beginning with her eight-year birds eye view inside the White House, another eight years in the senate and then four as secretary of state.   While not serving herself, she is as close to being an incumbent candidate as we have had since TR ran against Taft and Wilson.

For reasons expressed in February, I support and expect Hillary to win the nomination, but would certainly vote for Bernie if he accomplishes what would be an upset.  And that wouldn’t be a difficult vote since I agree with many of the things he says and in which he believes.  But one of my problems with Bernie is that he is an absolutist — his long held views are both admirable and potentially troubling.   For sure they strike a chord with many voters in this discordant and frustrating time, but such fervor may tip the balance between conviction and feeling possessed of “the” truth.  As I’ve often written, that’s bad in religion and equally so in politics — bad and potentially dangerous.    It is exactly what has put governance in virtual limbo these last years.  I’m sorry to say this, but Sanders’ assertion smacks of “she’s unqualified because she doesn’t think or act like me”.  Maybe he doesn’t mean it that way, and one hopes it’s only over-the-top campaign rhetoric, but to me it’s a red flag.  Presidential campaigning, especially with big adoring crowds and some success at the polls can be a huge ego boost.   It’s addictive.  I hope it hasn’t gone to his head.

Hillary Clinton is hardly a perfect candidate.   She continues to have high unfavorable ratings and has trust problems, some self-inflicted.  Just being a Clinton carries a lot of baggage.   Much of Donald Trump’s wealth, though most of his admirers are blind to it, comes from celebrity rather than business management.   And, like the political class described in Mark Leibovich’s book This Town, so does Clinton’s.   At the core, and unlike her husband, Clinton is also private person, not necessarily ideal on the stump.  But she’s no more private than Obama, though she considers him a more natural politician.  Understanding all these perceived deficits, I think Clinton is a true progressive.  She was onto expanding healthcare before Obama and has been a consistent advocate for women whether on choice or in the workplace.  She is a strong believer in climate change and its scientific underpinnings; a partner with Obama is seeking global partners in that regard.

Clinton is a progressive, but not an ideologue.  From some of us on the left, that’s a negative.   I don’t agree.  Ideologues claim possession of “the” truth, which stands in the way of getting anything done, of the compromise necessary not only in politics but in sharing the planet with others.  Whether in our family life, our friendships and acquaintances, or simply functioning on some reasonable level, accomplishments are generally more likely with some sense of modesty, even of some self-doubt.   This is not to argue against conviction or passion but to suggest that the other person might possibly have it right, or as right.  I think Hillary understands that.  Finally, unlike many of the Democratic candidates for office in 2014, she is not running away from either the person or the record of Barack Obama.  Rather she clearly hopes to build on what he has accomplished in his two terms.  She will be different, not the least being the first female president, but promises continuity.

Contested primaries are essential to the democratic process, if for no other reason than reminding us that we should always and do have options.  Bernie Sanders has brought excitement and a refreshing — I think essential — focus on both economic and political inequality.  He has pushed Clinton and the party to the left, demanding focus and conviction.  What he has done will hopefully endure impacting on the agenda of the next president and the country.  His meaningful and vigorous challenge has, as did that of Obama eight years ago, made her a better candidate.  That was evident in her speech yesterday at Carnegie Mellon University broadcast on C-Span.  The coming election, even if Donald Trump wins the  Republican nomination will not be a cakewalk.  The stakes as she said yesterday are high.  Of course, we hear that in every election cycle.  This time it may be an understatement.  Come November, I hope all Democrats will stand behind and work vigorously for the nominee.  I hope too that if Hillary prevails she will not only have benefited from Bernie's vigorous challenge, but that she will take his message to heart and make much of it part of her own.