My few friends who support Hillary Clinton seem to be confused by my many friends who support Bernie Sanders. The following are the five questions Hillary fans seem most befuddled by:
1. Why are Bernie fans attacking Hillary when Berners' (and all Democrats') #1 priority should be defeating Trump or whoever is the Republican nominee?
2. Why are Bernie fans so angry at Hillary when Hillary fans aren't angry at Bernie?
3. Why are Bernie fans so mean to Hillary fans?
4. If Hillary fans are so willing to support Bernie if he's the Democratic nominee, how come some Bernie fans say they won't do the same for Hillary?
5. Don't Bernie fans want America to have its first female president?
To me, all of these questions stem from the fact that Hillary supporters assume that they and Bernie supporters are fundamentally on the same team. While Bernie and Hillary fans may be rooting for different candidates now, both sides are Democrats with the same goal of beating the Republicans, right? Doesn't the fundamental rule of "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" still apply?
But here's what Hillary fans need to realize -- the enemy of your enemy may not be your friend if A) they are fighting a different, bigger, and more pernicious enemy than you are, and B) they think your leader, your enemy, and their enemy have too much in common.
So let's start with...
Question #1: Why are Bernie and his supporters attacking Hillary when defeating the republicans should be the #1 priority?
Hillary fans need to realize that a lot of Bernie's supporters are not registered as Democrats or even Republicans, but as independents like Bernie himself. In fact, independents are America's fastest-growing political party, and there are so many independents that they may soon outnumber both Democrats and republicans combined. That's because an ever-increasing number of Americans feel that neither party is truly fighting for them, represents their values, or delivers on their promises, which is probably why an embarrassing percentage of Americans -- somewhere around 50 percent -- don't bother voting at all. Some independents lean Republican while some (like Sanders, who caucuses with the Democrats) lean Democratic, but not enough to consistently support either party or whomever they nominate. In addition, a lot of young, first-time, and infrequent voters have no party affiliation simply because they aren't politically interested and only vote for a candidate they identify with who truly inspires them.
For a lot of Berners, defeating the Republicans isn't the #1 priority. Defeating the rigged economic/political system is. Besides, there are plenty of reasons to not like Hillary. Which brings us to...
Question #2: Why are Bernie's fans so angry at Hillary when Hillary's fans aren't angry at Bernie?
Lots of left-leaning Berners don't think Hillary is progressive enough, is essentially a lite Republican, and is at least partially responsible (along with her husband) for selling out progressive ideals. Right-leaning Berners probably don't like or trust Hillary at all. And nearly all Berners see Hillary Clinton as yet another embodiment of the rigged-for-the-rich economic/political system Bernie Sanders has raged against as his #1 campaign issue. Conversely, Hillary fans aren't angry at Bernie because he's a true progressive and is their second choice for achieving most Hillary supporters' #1 priority -- defeating Trump and the Republicans.
So why does a lifelong liberal like me not trust Hillary's claim that she's a real progressive? Here's my personal top 10 of Hillary's most un-progressive moments:
1. She said she's not a progressive (before claiming she is).
2. Her vote for the Iraq war, and defending it for years.
3. Her role as an architect of No Child Left Behind.
4. Her refusal to fight for single-payer, universal healthcare after once saying it was inevitable.
5. Her support for the death penalty.
6. Her support for the Patriot Act, twice.
7. Her affection and respect for Henry Kissinger.
8. Her rewriting of history on Nancy Reagan and AIDS.
9. Her failure to support the $15 minimum wage.
10. Her acceptance of Wall Street donations and speaking fees.
When I bring up that there's a lot about Hillary's claims of being a progressive that I don't trust, I've been accused by Hillary supporters of being duped by Republicans' decades-long propaganda campaign of character assassination against her. However, if you look at my list, you'll notice that Whitewater, Benghazi, and Hillary's personal email server aren't there. That's because, as a liberal, I've always known that those "scandals" were nothing more than cynical political fishing expeditions invented by Republicans to tarnish Hillary's image. So I don't hold them against her.
But as dishonest as these Republican attacks have been, Hillary supporters must accept the fact that they've been effective on a huge percentage of American voters, particularly ones who aren't politically-aware liberals. This includes Democrats, Republicans, and independents, especially ones who don't follow the news closely but have seen the headlines about various Clinton-related investigations for years. Because of this, Hillary is largely seen as untrustworthy by voters across the political spectrum, earning her sky-high disapproval ratings that would make her the most unliked Democratic nominee in recent history. Yes, that's unfair and largely undeserved, but that doesn't stop it from being true -- and it makes her a real liability if your #1 priority is stopping republicans from winning the 2016 election.
Hillary supporters don't have any animosity towards Bernie because Bernie is a true progressive who is to the left of Hillary on nearly every issue, with the notable exception of gun control. Hillary fans, like a majority of Americans, probably want universal single-payer healthcare, but they've been told by Hillary that it can't be done, along with the lie that fighting for it would somehow lead to the destruction of Obamacare, even though "Medicare for all" would be an expansion of one of Obamacare's key elements. They probably share Bernie's desire for a $15 minimum wage (Hillary will only ask for $12), more paid family leave, more vacation time, guaranteed sick leave, free college tuition, and a ban on fracking.
In fact, the biggest complaints Hillary supporters seem to have against Bernie is that he wouldn't be able to defeat the Republican nominee, his ideas are too idealistic and unachievable, and that his supporters are mean -- even though nearly every poll shows Bernie beating any Republican nominee by much wider margins than Hillary would, and most of what Bernie is calling for is already enjoyed by nearly every industrialized nation. As to whether Berners, as a group, are mean, that brings us to...
Question #3: Why are Bernie supporters so "mean" to Hillary supporters?
I can only speak to the fact that the Berners I know are amongst the most kind, generous, caring, thoughtful, and compassionate of all my friends -- and the most fired up ones are women, not mythical "Bernie bros". However, I will definitely admit that Berners seem to be way more passionate, vocal, and motivated than the Hillary supporters I know who, with only one or two exceptions, are a curiously quiet bunch. It doesn't surprise me that emotions tend to run higher on the Bernie side -- after all, Bernie is calling for a revolution. I wouldn't characterize any of my Berner friends as mean, nor do I think it's "mean" to point out a candidate's flaws, inconsistencies, and what you don't like about their record and platform. If you find your Berner friends to actually be mean, maybe that says more about the quality of your friends than the character of all Berners. And if Hillary supporters are referring to the meanness of anonymous Bernie fans on the internet, it's well known that being able to say whatever you want while hiding your identity has made the comment sections of the internet pretty cruel places.
But for the sake of argument, let's say that Berners are "meaner" to Hillary supporters. This might have something to do with my answer to Question #2, that Bernie fans see Hillary as a part of the problem of the corrupting influence of big money on our political system, while Hillary supporters don't see Bernie as part of the problem of a potential Trump presidency. Since Hillary and her husband are two of the biggest money raisers in politics while claiming to uphold progressive values, they're seen as both increasing and legitimizing the role of big donors in our political system. So for Berners, Hillary supporters are like people at a casino who root for the house to win. There are also Berners who simply dislike Hillary for a mix of other legitimate, illegitimate, and personal reasons -- and if the enemy of your enemy is your friend, the supporter of your enemy is going to catch some heat.
However, while Berners display a lot of passion that can cross over into anger, what I often see from all levels of the Hillary side -- including Hillary, her campaign, her surrogates, and her supporters -- is what I would describe as dismissive condescension. In fact, dismissive condescension is the cornerstone of Hillary's argument against Bernie, and it has been from the very start.
First, Hillary's campaign (aided by the Democratic National Committee) pretended that Bernie's campaign didn't even exist, since everyone knew Hillary would be the nominee before a single vote was cast. When that failed, Bernie's candidacy was simply dismissed since someone calling himself a "democratic socialist" could never win in a general election. When Bernie's campaign became competitive, his goals and prescriptions for what America needed were given a pat on the head and dismissed as well-meaning but naïve idealism. Later, Hillary characterized Bernie's proposals as "pie in the sky stuff" meant to trick young people to vote for him with promises of free stuff, continuing the characterization of Bernie supporters as mostly dumb children (literally or just intellectually) who don't do their research, think for themselves, or understand politics, the issues, or how the "real world" works, and are thus deserving of Hillary's pity. And, of course, there was the infamous double-barrel blast of feminist icon Gloria Steinem and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright -- both Hillary supporters -- who respectively characterized young women who support Bernie as simply being boy crazy (since, as Steinem said, "The boys are with Bernie,") and earning themselves "a special place in Hell" for not supporting another woman (both later apologized). And, for dessert, there's the implication by some Hillary supporters that those critical of Hillary are simply misogynists or those duped by Republican propaganda.
In light of all that, can you imagine why a Berner might get a little steamed?
Question #4: If Hillary fans are so willing to support Bernie if he's the Democratic nominee, how come so many Bernie fans (like Susan Sarandon) dare to say that they won't do the same for Hillary?
Personally, I am more than prepared to set aside my misgivings about Hillary and vote for her should she win the Democratic nomination, and nearly every Bernie supporter I know feels the same. While both Democrats and Republicans share the trait of relying on the same dodgy, corrupting campaign finance system, it doesn't mean that there are no differences between the parties, and Republicans have become so extreme, unhinged, and divorced from reality that those differences are more stark than ever. I also think that a lot of people who now claim that they won't vote for Hillary in the general election will find themselves holding their noses and checking her name on the ballot when faced with the reality of a Donald Trump or Ted Cruz presidency.
But not all Berners will, which enrages and confounds Hillary supporters. However, I think this again stems from Hillary fans not fully understanding who Bernie fans are.
If Berners were all Democrats, this anger and confusion would make sense. But they aren't -- they're a mix of Democrats, hardcore liberals, left- and right-leaning independents, first-time voters, embarrassed/disaffected Republicans, swing voters, young people, unaffiliated voters, infrequent voters, anti-establishment voters, single-issue voters, etc. It's an incredibly wide and diverse coalition of groups -- the kind needed to win elections in an age when simply turning out your party's base is no longer enough. Few of those groups hold any allegiance to the Democratic party or Hillary in particular, who some of them downright loathe. So Hillary supporters shouldn't expect Berners to fall in line and unite with the Democratic party's nominee when so many Berners aren't traditional Democrats and don't necessarily share the same enemy.
This is not to say that Berners would necessarily vote for the Republican nominee instead of backing Hillary -- unless your sole issue is being anti-establishment, I find it hard to believe that someone who likes Bernie Sanders would vote for Trump or Cruz, who Sanders has nothing but disdain for. But without a candidate who they believe in who truly inspires them, some Berners may simply do what a huge percentage of Americans do on Election Day -- stay home. This is especially true for young, first-time, infrequent voters, or anyone who's never developed the voting habit.
But more importantly, as my buddy Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks pointed out, Hillary is not entitled to the votes or support of Bernie's supporters -- she needs to earn them. The passion and enthusiasm of Berners can't simply be signed over to Hillary because she's the Democratic nominee, especially if Berners see her as merely the lesser of two evils. She needs to commit to some of the same progressive goals and ideals Bernie champions, and in a way that doesn't feel like lip service, empty promises, or simply pandering for votes. This is a tall order considering how many voters find Hillary to be fundamentally untrustworthy, but it's also why Berners' support for Hillary shouldn't be treated as a given.
Question #5: Don't Bernie supporters want to see America elect its first female president?
With a few of my female friends who support Hillary, the discussion of Hillary's pros and cons has quickly given way to the fact that these women really want America to have its first female president. A few of those arguments have been "It's time America had a woman president," "I'm sick of men always being in charge," "A woman president will be an amazing example for my daughter," and "I want my mother/grandmother to see America's first woman president before she dies." If I respond with something like, "I also want America to have its first female president, but Hillary being a woman isn't enough for me," I've gotten a response like, "That's easy for you to say. You're a man." There's really not much to discuss after that.
It's true -- I'm a man, and I've never lived through the sexism, inequalities, and discrimination that women are faced with every day. While I am a staunch feminist and very much want America to have its first woman president, I understand that it could never mean as much to me as it would to most women. I also have no daughters, both of my grandmothers are dead, and I'm optimistic that my mom will see a female American president in her lifetime. I will totally concede that Hillary is more of a woman than Bernie could ever be, and I think Hillary would probably be slightly better on women's issues than Bernie would.
But I also think it's true that being the first of something isn't always a good thing.
Take a look back at the George W. Bush administration. Condoleezza Rice was the first woman to ever hold the position of National Security Advisor and is the first black woman to be Secretary of State. Are these impressive achievements celebrated by women, black people, or those who support diversity? Alberto Gonzales is not only the first Mexican American to ever be the US Attorney General, but is currently the highest-ranking Latino American to ever hold a position in the executive branch. Do any Latinos celebrate him with pride as a trailblazer? Last I heard, Gonzales was having trouble finding a job.
Are Indian Americans proud of Bobby Jindal, America's first Indian-American governor? And what would a Sarah Palin presidency do for women? Would she be a good role model and example for America's daughters?
Simply being the first of something shouldn't be a goal in and of itself, even something as overdue as having a woman elected president of the United States. As you can see from the examples above, context and what the person actually achieves ultimately trumps being first. Believe it or not, I very much want every person's mom, grandmother, daughter, and myself to see America's first female president -- but I want that woman to be an amazing progressive president who I can be proud of. And I'm not sure if Hillary would be that president.
And who do I hope that female president will be? Elizabeth Warren.