John Sheirer: The Sanders-Clinton conundrum

  • John Sheirer of Northampton.KEVIN GUTTING

Sunday, January 10, 2016
I’m a fan of Bernie Sanders. He brings energy to the campaign beyond the conventional candidates. And Sanders has championed several core liberal issues, especially income inequality, tax fairness and college costs. I’ll gladly vote for him if he wins the nomination, and I respect and share his supporters’ passion.

But I’m seeing something disturbing. Some Sanders supporters claim that Hillary Clinton is too much like a Republican and call a potential election between Clinton and the Republican nominee, “the lesser of two evils.” But lumping Clinton with the terrible cadre of Republicans food-fighting for their party’s nomination is wildly inaccurate.

Calling Clinton “Republican lite” ignores the fact that she and Sanders voted alike 93 percent of the time when they served together in the Senate. The details may differ, but on the broader issues, they are far more similar than different.

Their policy positions are available on each campaign’s Internet pages and the nonpartisan “On the Issues” website. Scanning these resources shows that Sanders and Clinton share basic views on these issues: Raising the minimum wage; expanding voting rights; supporting unions; reforming campaign financing; passing reasonable gun-safety laws; reforming the financial sector; supporting LGBT rights; separating church and state; promoting equal pay for equal work; budgeting for sensible deficit reduction and reestablishing a fair tax structure.

There’s more: making college affordable; prioritizing diplomacy in foreign affairs; supporting the Iran nuclear deal; fighting terrorism by creating international coalitions; abolishing torture; closing Guantanamo Bay; strengthening Social Security and Medicare; supporting abortion rights, contraception, women’s health, and family planning; and supporting stem cell research.

And don’t forget: improving access to healthcare; legalizing medical marijuana; reforming the criminal justice system; passing comprehensive immigration reform; screening and welcoming refugees; opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Keystone Pipeline; fighting climate change and preserving the environment; providing support for our veterans and active military members.

Of course, Clinton isn’t perfect. No candidate is. There are legitimate questions about her corporate donors and super PAC, campaign tactics, connections with party establishment and evolution on important issues. She is less in favor of marijuana decriminalization than Sanders and has been in favor of capital punishment in the past — although quiet on that subject recently.

But after reviewing the list of views she shares with Sanders on so many crucial issues, it’s obvious that Clinton has little in common with Republicans.

Ample evidence also exists from Clinton’s career to support her from a liberal viewpoint. The facts rarely see the light in our scandal-obsessed corporate media, but Clinton’s progressive record is clear to anyone who looks beyond the smear campaigns.

Clinton made history as First Lady when she went to repressive China and spoke courageously about women’s rights. She fought for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which continues to provide health care to millions of children. She created “Hillarycare” two decades before “Obamacare.” As a senator, she championed veterans, active-duty military, and 9-11 first-responders. She strengthened CHIP. And she helped reform immigration policies, improve flu vaccines, support family caregivers, and expand access to family-planning services.

As Secretary of State, she and President Obama rebuilt America’s respect abroad. In private life, her work with the Clinton Foundation improved the lives of millions of people throughout the world.

We need to look at Clinton’s positions on the issues and career experience objectively and ignore decades of right-wing attacks. If Clinton beats Sanders (which polls show is likely), all Democrats need to support her in the general election.

Sanders supporters shouldn’t give up, obviously.

He would make a terrific president. The vast majority of Clinton voters would support him if he wins the nomination. But Sanders himself will certainly endorse and vote for Clinton if she’s the nominee. He has vowed not to run as an independent, and he won’t write in his own name or vote for a third-party candidate with no chance to win. And he absolutely won’t stay home on election day.

If Clinton is the nominee, then she might buck convention and ask Sanders to be her running mate. Stranger things have happened. More likely, Clinton could appoint him Secretary of Labor, where he could have an even bigger policy impact than he has in the Senate.

One reason we got two terrible George W. Bush terms is that some Democrats didn’t think Al Gore and John Kerry were perfect enough. And a big reason we have a horrible Republican Congress and so many bad Republican governors and state legislatures is that people didn’t think Obama was perfect enough in 2010 and 2014.

If Democrats refuse to vote for Clinton because she’s not Sanders, then we’re likely to elect President Trumpcruzrubiobushputin — and get more wars, more tax cuts for the rich, more fights about marriage equality, no minimum wage increase, no reasonable gun laws, no improvements to health care reform, no sane immigration policies, lots of extremists in the cabinet and Supreme Court, and on and on.

Bush was bad, but the people vying for the Republican nomination right now are many times worse.

The bottom line is that Democrats must vote, whether we nominate Sanders or Clinton. If we don’t, then a Republican will win. That’s not fear mongering. That’s basic electoral reality.

John Sheirer’s column appears every second Monday of the month. He is an author and teacher who lives in Florence and can be found at JohnSheirer.com.