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The Democrat Dilemma

The Democrat Dilemma
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BY DON PORTOLESE

I know I speak for more than myself when I say that this year’s presidential election has left me somewhat divided. I have been watching the candidates closely, but, even as people cast their votes in the Iowa Caucuses today, my hopes and support have yet to congeal around a specific candidate.

It’s not the GOP horse race they call a primary that has me in a quandary. Republican candidates are just varying hues of the same xenophobia, bigotry and populism. No, for me, the real dilemma is who to vote for on the democrat side: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. I want to go with my gut feeling, but another voice inside me tells me that I have intestinal problems. This conundrum is rooted in an unsettling conflict between the idealist and the pragmatist in me.

Let’s start with my idealistic side. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is the one my progressive gut tells me to vote for. While I agree with almost everything he stands for, my first concern is how a self-proclaimed democratic socialist is going to win against the republican nominee. The word socialist is considered nothing short of profane by many voters, and Mr. Sanders lacks the appeal to revise its demonized definition. It would be like handing conservatives a club to repeatedly bludgeon him with.

Nevertheless, if we really want to root out government corruption and rebuild the middle class, our country would best be served by a democratic socialist, rather than yet another candidate beholden to special interests. And while democratic socialists are certainly not incorruptible, Senator Sanders is clearly not in politics for the power or the lobby dollars. He is an anti-establishment progressive who has fought for income equality and social justice issues for the last fifty years. He has stood up for just about everything I believe is important. He also shares my disdain for our political process, which is predicated upon image rather than substance, upon deceptive sound bites rather than nuanced truth. So where’s the problem?

It’s not my faith in Senator Sanders but my faith in the U.S. electorate that’s the problem. Slick-talking politicians have hoodwinked people into voting against their own best interests. These voters are not politically sophisticated enough to see beyond the rhetoric and understand a candidate like Sanders. Most rely on talking points and few examine candidates’ voting records or policy decisions in order to see which candidate will truly serve and protect them. This will work against Sanders as it has worked against just about every decent person who has run for political office.

Another concern I have is that while Senator Sanders may be an honest man fighting for just causes, that doesn’t necessarily make him a good politician. (One could argue that the terms honest and politician are mutually exclusive.) He has little patience for partisan games. He also has little tolerance for a media that isn’t focused on the causes he holds dear. A healthy disdain for politics and the media is certainly refreshing. Nevertheless, if you’re going to be president you should have some degree of patience and willingness to play the game. Despite facing some of the worst stonewalling of any president, Obama wonkishly kept his eyes on the prize. In doing so, he endured some brutal criticism and pointless obstruction, yet he handled it with more finesse than I believe Mr. Sanders could.

Which brings me to my pragmatic choice: Secretary Hillary Clinton. While this may seem a bit cynical, I feel I should simply vote for her because she has a better chance of winning the election. With so much at stake, we can’t afford to take any chances. This election is about beating republicans who seem hell-bent on undoing all of the progressive agenda President Obama has achieved.

I agree that she has been too compromised by corporate interest groups to make any important Wall Street reforms. She is also less than progressive on a host of issues that matter to me. She supports things like the Patriot Act and the death penalty while being against legalizing marijuana. However, I think her ideas about healthcare are more realistic than those of Mr. Sanders.

The important thing is that she will continue Obama’s legacy in many areas, which I find heartening. This will certainly continue to cause partisan gridlock in Washington. However, as she isn’t as far to the left, she may be able to compromise in areas where Sanders would not. In addition, she is a skilled politician who will not become flustered by the underhanded gamesmanship of politics and is probably more capable of beating the republicans at their own game.

Another thing she has going is her diverse political experience. While Sanders has been in politics longer than Clinton, the bulk of his experience is on the domestic front. If we look at the resumes of all the candidates, democrats or republicans, Mrs. Clinton has by far the most valuable experience precisely because she has worked extensively on both domestic and foreign policy. She knows how political decisions play out both in this country and beyond our borders. She is also a bit more hawkish than Sanders, which may help her in this election. Voters will find her less wishy-washy than President Obama.

Damn, I’m back to the same cul-de-sac. Just when I’ve almost convinced myself to vote for one candidate, I find myself supporting the other. However, as difficult as this decision has been, I find comfort in the fact that whether I follow my idealistic or pragmatic instincts, at least my second choice will be far better for this country than the top choice among republicans.

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