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For the past several months, both online and out in the real world, I have advocated for the candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders. I believed then as I believe now that he is an honest, principled advocate for the concerns of working people who are seeing their livelihoods imperiled on a daily basis by political process that is rigged against them and an economic system that favors massive, inherited wealth and fosters inequality. I believed then as I believe now that the vast and growing gap between the wealthy elite and the struggling masses threatens the very foundation of our collective society and that the only way to prevent a new-fangled aristocracy from permanently seizing the reins of power would be for immediate and drastic actions to not only stop but reverse this devastating growth of inequality. I believed then as I believe now that, even though Secretary Hillary Clinton is an eminently qualified candidate to lead our nation, it was necessary for someone like Senator Sanders to challenge her to confront these issues and speak to and up for the losers of our economic system.
I would have been happiest probably with Senator Elizabeth Warren, and I think Vice President Biden would have brought a very interesting perspective to these issues as well but, as fate would have it, it would up being Senator Sanders filling that role. I don’t think anyone, save maybe the Senator himself, would have predicted how truly successful his campaign would be in this capacity. I certainly didn’t. On issues from the minimum wage to climate change to Wall Street regulation to black lives mattering, he has moved the conversations of this election forcefully in the direction of honesty and compassion. For that he deserves to be commended, even from those who would rather see Secretary Clinton or Governor O’Malley in the White House.
But February 1st is about picking the individual best suited to assume the office of President of the United States and that is no light task. The bar set for leaders of the free world is, necessarily, far higher than those set for participants in the national political debate. In this contest, Senator Sanders has slightly less to recommend him that many I know are willing to admit. His temperament is most charitably described as “excessively passionate,” his foreign policy expertise leaves a lot to be desired, and his domestic policies, while certainly well-intentioned, are not ideal. For instance, his proposal for free tuition to state colleges and universities fails to address the structural issues that prevent many minority and working class students from applying and being accepted to college in the first place, to say nothing of actually attending. His plan to reinstate Glass-Steagall and separate the commercial and investment banks is but the first of many necessary steps to reign in Wall Street’s reckless greed and combat inequality. And his single-payer health insurance proposal, even while it highlights the important failings of Obamacare and has helped foster a discussion about where we go from here, does not seem, for a variety of reasons, like a serious attempt to solve our healthcare problems.
The significance of the decision that I have to make at this year’s caucus has highlighted all of these shortcomings for me, and the deluge of recent articles and op-eds detailing how and why a Bernie Sanders presidency would be hamstrung by the harsh realities of Washington politics has certainly given me pause. The fact that Sen. Sanders is now within striking distance has forced Secretary Clinton and her supporters to finally lay out what they view as the most important contrast between herself and the Senator and they have seemingly landed on pragmatism. Senator Sanders is, they allege, a dreamer, an idealist, a romantic visionary maybe, but not a serious candidate. Secretary Clinton, on the other hand, is a doer, a realist, a seasoned politician with the experience to get things done. This narrative was, at first, hard to refute. It can hardly be argued that Senator Sanders is not a dreamer or an idealist. It is something he prides himself on and it is one of the many things about him that I am still drawn to.
I spent days mired in indecision and uncertainty, thinking about this narrative, relitigating my choice, until it finally dawned on me idealism and seriousness do not have to be mutually exclusive. I realized that in this age of hyper-partisanship and racial tensions and growing inequality, anyone who suggests that gradual progress and incremental change is sufficient to meet our challenges isn’t taking things as seriously as they might think. An incremental change to the minimum wage is not sufficient for many of my coworkers in the service industry who often work two full-time jobs just to support their families. Gradual progress on racial injustice will not be sufficient for the dozens of black teenagers who will be shot by police in the next four years nor for the millions who will languish in for-profit prison system that robs them of their freedom and their dignity and, even after they are released makes it difficult if not impossible to vote or secure employment. A candidate who understands that gradual progress and incremental change will not suffice for millions upon millions of Americans seems, in my mind, to be the candidate best suited to assume the office of President of the United States.
Maybe Senator Sanders legislative agenda really is dead on arrival in this sloppy excuse for a Congress. Maybe Hillary Clinton really does stand a better chance of winning incremental changes and gradual progress than Sanders does of sparking his own precious political revolution. Maybe Sanders will fare no better than Bobby Kennedy or Henry Wallace or Robert La Follette in his effort to bring real change to this country. Maybe this chorus of cynics (stole this phrase from a guy I used to work for) that has spoken up in response to Sanders’ rise in the polls is really right about everything they say. Maybe our only option from here on out is gradualism.
I sure hope it’s not. I hope that our society, and at the very least our Democratic Party, still possesses the fortitude to stand up to gatekeepers of power and say that their status quo will not work for us. I hope that our political process is not so far lost to corruption and oligarchy that it is no longer realistic to pass common sense and widely popular policies like an assault weapons ban or expanded background checks. I hope that our country can still reclaim the mantle of our moral authority by finally closing the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, ending our drone strike program, and leading the world on climate change. I hope that our economic system still has a empty seat at the table for the workers and the communities and the stakeholders who deserve more than the scraps they have been offered. But above all, I just hope. I hope and I don’t ever plan on giving it up; it is positively my favorite vice. And that is why, on February 1st, I plan to caucus for Senator Bernie Sanders. I hope you do too.
For the record, this is why I never considered caucusing for Governor O’Malley, and this is why, if I have the opportunity, I will be happy and eager to cast a ballot for Secretary Clinton this November.