A pragmatic defense of Bernie Sanders

I am a pragmatic voter. Unfortunately, as a Bernie Sanders supporter, many of my peers do not see me that way. In political debates in hallways, offices, and classrooms, I have been surprised by the absolute dismissal of Bernie, which many “informed” students on campus have communicated when either side gets on the soap-box. Their  message, while intentional or not, is simple: if you’re smart and rational, you will vote for Hillary. Please note, I do not seek to generalize the views of Hillary supporters, but rather speak from my own personal experience with both informed and uninformed political discourse.

I take issue with much of the rhetoric and reasoning utilized by many Hillary supporters. The banner of many Hillary supporters has become elitist pragmatism, and it is a great disrespect to both the opinions and intelligence of Bernie supporters. This frame of reasoning essentially argues that Hillary is objectively more likely to win the general election, thus Democrats should nominate her regardless of whether or not they agree with her. In no other phrase is this argument more overt than in: “a vote for Bernie is a vote for Trump.”

If we dig into this reasoning even a little bit, the condescending implication is clear: Bernie is not a rational choice. As a result, Bernie supporters must be either unpragmatic, misled,  or naive. Of course, this slight is easy to commit when the stereotype of a Bernie supporter is a young college student, but it is thoroughly undeserved. Contrary to the beliefs of many Hillary proponents, Bernie is competitive in the three clauses of the pragmatist manifesto: experience, electability, and policy viability.

Hillary is often cited as the most experienced candidate. As Marco Rubio infamously said himself: “If this election is going to be a resume competition, then Hillary Clinton’s going to be the next president.” However, it is important to seriously consider experience in a less than absolute sense. Deciding what type of experience is a credible asset is hugely important; experience is more than just a position, as it is measured against values and actions taken during that time. For example, in order to consider Hillary’s time as Secretary of State a vital asset to your representation, it is important to agree with her largely interventionist policies.

Comparing Clinton against Sanders, it is clear that Sanders has had more experience representing the public. Bernie been in elected office for 34 years and counting, which is 26 more years than Hillary’s eight. Hillary debatably makes up for this difference through her time as First Lady, of both Arkansas and the U.S., and her four  years as Secretary of State. However, Bernie’s strength lies in his active and unusually ceaseless representation of the issues he most cares about, notably income inequality, health care, and climate change. At the very least, Sander’s consistent zeal should be weighed seriously against Hillary’s foreign policy experience. From there, the choice is merely a policy and value one.

Electability is by far the most hammered-on point by Hillary supporters. The Hillary argument has largely revolved around her status as a moderate. By application of basic “Intro to Government” principles, she should be the top candidate. However, if any election cycle were to deviate from traditional analysis, it would be this one. Under the same moderate idea, we have expected Trump to implode months ago; however, he and Cruz’s success has demonstrated an emerging principle of modern elections: elections are increasingly being won by mobilization, while moderates have voted less fluidly. Naturally, the takeaway is that raising voter turnout in increasingly blue swing states should be the goal of the next Democratic nominee.

While Hillary has been dominating in the South, her sweep will likely include only two potential swing states: Florida and Virginia. If Sanders follows his current trajectory, he will continue to win more northern and western swing states. Furthermore, turnout has been incredibly low for Democrats. Recently Bernie has had a breakout moment, winning with record turnouts in Kansas, Maine and Nebraska. Even more, he has been able to mobilize previously non-political groups, specifically the younger generation. Hillary, in contrast, has had serious problems with voter mobilization and turnout. While the primary is not largely indicative of the general election, significant turnout and mobilization in swing states are undoubtedly key in the general. Given the record so-far, Bernie is not lacking in electable momentum.

Even if Bernie is elected, many Hillary supporters say his policies will never pass in Congress. By nature of Bernie being more left of Hillary, he is easy to ride off as a polarized worker. In fact, Bernie not only has a long history of being prematurely decreed ineffective as an independent representative, but a long history of repeatably repudiating those claims. Through use of the legislative amendment, he has passed many unabashedly progressive amendments to bills. Most notably, he passed a $100 million expansion of health centers, necessarily crafting bipartisan support for initiatives like these. His record shows you do not need to be a decreed “moderate” to pass meaningful bipartisan action, and that he has both the skills and will to enact creative and palatable policy.

After closer assessment, not only is much of the anti-Bernie rhetoric disrespectful, it is simplistic and misleading. The three most common arguments for Hillary—experience, electability, and policy viability—are less clear-cut than we are lead to believe. Simplistic reasoning culminates into what I consider one of the great misconceptions on the Democratic side of this election: the case for Hillary is simply to refute the case against her. This saying, seemingly repeated again and again, relies on either one of two overt assumptions: (1) Bernie is not a viable candidate and (2) Hillary is intrinsically the most qualified candidate. Having earlier explored the records of experience and trends of electability, it is clear neither of these assumptions are valid.

I implore you to take a serious look at Sander’s record. To write him off with the rhetorical and simplistic arguments used by some Hillary supporters would be both tragic and destructive. The pragmatic case for Bernie reasonably rivals the case for Hillary. As a result, the election can move on to the actual spirit of a representative democracy: what policies and values do we prefer in each candidate? That is the question voters should be seeking to answer this primary.

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