Monday, July 20, 2015

I Won't Be Supporting Sanders in the Primary

I thought I'd take this moment when so many are caught up in the kerfuffle at Netroots Nation to give an overview of my thinking about the Democratic presidential primary. Of course, all of this is subject to change as events unfold.

My thoughts leading into this primary were that I will have to reckon with the idea that there is not another Barack Obama on the horizon. Over the coming months, that means that I'll probably go through something akin to a grief process over the end of living through two terms of the best president in my lifetime. I have loved every minute of these last seven years and plan to keep my eye on what President Obama does as he plays through to the end of the fourth quarter and will likely follow his post-presidential activities as much as possible.

As a die hard political junkie though, I will also be sizing up the 2016 candidates - knowing that none of them will measure up to what I've become accustomed to. My preferred candidate, Deval Patrick, isn't going to run. And so yes, I have to choose between people I may not be able to support 100%. The way I see it, that's the more normal state of politics. Barack Obama's are few and far between. What I'll be looking for is someone who will protect that gains we've made over the last seven year and possibly build on them.

While I've never been a big Hillary Clinton supporter, I decided early on to stay open to the possibility of supporting her candidacy rather than simply writing her off from the get-go. Some of my questions about her have been answered sufficiently. Mostly I wanted to know if she'd learned anything from her mistakes in 2008. Here's what I've seen so far:

1. Her campaign team is light years better than the Mark Penn fiasco in 2008
2. She is running to build on Obama's successes rather than distancing herself from them
3. She is making all the right moves to reach out to the Obama coalition both in who she has brought onto her campaign team and the issues she's highlighted

The questions that remain for me are about how hard she'll fight to defend the successes of Dodd-Frank financial reform and how she'll respond to future chaos in the Middle East.

I'm not going to spend a lot of time talking about Martin O'Malley because it seems obvious to me that he's going nowhere. But I will say that initially I was interested in his candidacy. But when he came out of the gates raising every issue about President Obama that has been championed by the "disappointed left," I lost interest real quick. Hearing more about his record as Mayor of Baltimore pretty much killed the deal for me.

When it comes to Bernie Sanders, I don't think the current enthusiasm for his candidacy will grow much beyond where it is now. Dan Pfeiffer did a really great job of explaining why. But beyond all that - as well as his response at Netroots Nation - I wrote Sanders off a while ago. The reason is because watching President Obama over these last few years has turned me into a die-hard pragmatic progressive. When I listen to Sanders, I see that he is not offering serious proposals.

My issue with Sanders is not that he won't be able to get his proposals through Congress. None of the candidates (Republican or Democrat) will be able to do that in the current environment. And I suspect that none of them will address that issue truthfully. I'll at least give Sanders credit for being up front with the fact that electing him won't get the job done. He hopes to ignite a movement.

To illustrate what I mean about his proposals not being serious, I'll take two examples from his current list of priorities. First of all, he wants to implement single payer health insurance. But we all know that it failed in his home state of Vermont because they couldn't figure out how to pay for it. One might expect someone like Sanders to address that issue. But he hasn't. Until he does, it's not a serious proposal.

Secondly, he wants to break up the "too big to fail" banks. Sanders has actually produced a bill to do just that. Trouble is...its a total of four pages long. Most of that is taken up with the legalese required in any bill. What his comes down to is basically telling the Treasury Secretary to break up the banks. To a pragmatist, that is not even close to good enough. He's basically giving the Treasury Secretary the power to decide how to manipulate the largest most complex institutions in our country. Even if done well, that would cause tremendous fallout all over our economy. Someone needs to pay attention to the backlash and unintended consequences of such a huge move in order to protect the most vulnerable among us. Sanders doesn't seem interested in that.

While I certainly align myself much more closely with Sanders on values and priorities, I see his failure to address these kinds of concerns in the same light as I did Bush/Cheney's recklessness. It is dangerous.

That's where I stood on Sanders leading up to what happened at Netroots Nation. While I can respect a lot of what BooMan wrote about the need for both sides to listen to each other, I personally don't have a "dog in that fight" because I won't be supporting Sanders in the primary under any circumstances and I'm not interested in engaging in all the drama.

But on the issues involved, I do have an opinion. It's based on how Dara Lind describe the underlying problem.
There is a legitimate disconnect between the way Sanders (and many of the economic progressives who support him) see the world, and the way many racial-justice progressives see the world. To Bernie Sanders, as I've written, racial inequality is a symptom — but economic inequality is the disease. That's why his responses to unrest in Ferguson and Baltimore have included specific calls for police accountability, but have focused on improving economic opportunity for young African Americans. Sanders presents fixing unemployment as the systemic solution to the problem.

Many racial-justice advocates don't see it that way. They see racism as its own systemic problem that has to be addressed on its own terms. They feel that it's important to acknowledge the effects of economic inequality on people of color, but that racial inequality isn't merely a symptom of economic inequality. And most importantly, they feel that "pivoting" to economic issues can be a way for white progressives to present their agenda as the progressive agenda and shove black progressives, and the issues that matter most to them, to the sidelines.

So Sanders' performance at Netroots confirmed the frustrations that his critics felt. And Sanders' supporters' reaction to the criticism was just as predictable.
On this one, I stand firmly with what Lind calls the "racial-justice advocates." Addressing economic inequality is a necessary but insufficient step in addressing racial inequality. Watching Sanders respond to the fact that black people in this country are dying as a result of white supremacy by talking about the unemployment rate among black youth told me all I need to know about how he sees racial inequality as a symptom rather than a disease. I wanted to know how more jobs for black youth would have helped 12 year-old Tamir Rice...or the 9 people who were gunned down in Charleston. It's clear to me that Sanders doesn't get that. Perhaps the events this weekend and the follow-up will help him understand. We'll see.

I want to end this long piece by saying that, when it comes to the general election in November 2016, I'll be voting for the Democratic nominee - no matter who that is. The alternative is unthinkable. But each of us has to make a decision about who to support in the primaries. I have until the March 1st Minnesota caucus to make up my mind. If I had to chose between the candidates in the race today, I'd go with Hillary Clinton.


  1. This pretty much lines up with my thoughts (especially with regard to President Obama!) on the next presidential election. We've got to get through the next 15 months to see who the TGOP will finally settle on to head their ticket, and I'm fairly certain it will be John Bush and some other Republican guy.

    One person I would love to have seen enter the political arena this presidential cycle is Sen. Al Franken. I've always liked him and used to listen to him on Air America. He's smart, he's liberal, and has proven himself to be a good senator. Clinton/Franken anyone?

  2. This is EXACTLY how I think and feel. I donated to the Sanders campaign because I crave a smart discussion at the Democratic debates, but I have learned a lot from the past 8 years of Obama's presidency. I'm going to send your post to all my friends to explain my thinking on the coming primary.

  3. Keep an eye on Lincoln Chaffee. Converting to the metric system is the sleeper issue for 2016.

    1. I'd never have guessed. Thank you!

    2. OMG - how could I forget Chaffee & the metric system?!!!!!!!!


  4. My whole job these days is building alternative economic opportunities via worker coops. That said, I cannot see how this will alter the stunning racism built into our justice system. Someday perhaps, but any worker owner of color is STILL going to be treated incredibly badly by racist police, the court system, jails, prisons where too many POC are railroaded even when innocent. The single biggest issue of our nation since 1607 is racism. We have had economic ups and downs, inclusion and exclusion, and that doesn't go away. Sometimes it makes things worse. White privilege that pretends it doesn't exist outside better incomes ignores the Black theater and movie stars and business people who STILL cannot hail a cab. BlackLivesMatter at NN15 was Bernie's chance to talk about this, but as with the Charleston memorial on the Capitol lawn, his insistence on speaking HIS mind makes him deaf to the reality of racism and the accompanying violence he will never face. That is why unless something powerful changes, I also will not vote for him in the primary.

  5. I see Sanders doing for this election what Howard Dean did for the 2004 race. A lot of democrats were afraid to bring up the topic of the war in Iraq, assuming that it was a natural strength of the Republicans. But when Dean made it the focus of his campaign and started achieving a lot of success with that message, other Democrats started getting on board with the criticism.

    Sanders' main issue is income inequality. It is a very important issue, but it is also one that democrats have been hesistant to address. With Sanders in the campaign, they will have to address it. And this is a good thing.

    That being said, I agree with you that the Sanders people have a real blind spot when it comes to racial justice issues. As long as they continue to see it as just another aspect of income inequality they will continue to piss off people they need to support them.

    1. Personally I have no problem with Sanders being in the race. As you say, it might even be a good thing. It also distracts from the "Clinton is inevitable" meme that some folks were counting on throwing at her.

  6. Thanks for the reminder that Green Mountain single payer failed. Too many single payer advocates have it in their heads that single payer fixes everything, when in fact at this point it can score only 15%-20% savings over private insurance. Thanks to Obamacare, that is mathematical reality, and it means that it's time to focus on medical costs.

    I'd take Bernie more seriously if he pivoted to driving medical costs themselves down, and if Hillary went there, I bet it would be a crowd-pleaser.


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