Hillary vs. Bernie: The View From Berkeley

It's Super Bowl week on the Left Coast but the number one topic of conversation is not the Broncos or the Panthers, it's Hillary versus Bernie. That's a big change from three months ago, when we talked about the Warriors and the awfulness of Donald Trump. But now we have a real contest for the Democratic nomination.

The Hillary versus Bernie controversy divides Berkeley households. While there are many females who argue that Clinton deserves a shot because "It's time the US elected a woman President," there are plenty of others who support Sanders.

Many Berkeley residents knew Hillary, in 1971, when she did a legal internship at the liberal Oakland law firm of Truehaft, Walker, and Burnstein. From that and other contacts, Berkeleyites like Clinton but many believe she is not as liberal as she once was. In contrast, Bernie Sanders never lived here but some activists knew him when he was involved in organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Students for a Democratic Society. Almost without exception, Berkeleyites accept Bernie as a liberal.

There are two lines of thought: whether major social change can happen suddenly or must occur incrementally. The other is whether Clinton or Sanders has the best chance of beating the Republican nominee.

Many Berkeley Democrats ask, "How is Bernie going to accomplish his agenda?" They accept the legitimacy of leveling the playing field and getting big money out of politics, but doubt that Bernie can accomplish this.

Clinton leads with voters who value her experience. At the January 17th Democratic debate, when asked what she would do in her first 100 days in office, Clinton replied, "I would work quickly to present to the Congress my plans for creating more good jobs in manufacturing, infrastructure, clean and renewable energy, raising the minimum wage, and guaranteeing, finally, equal pay for women's work... I would also be presenting my plans to build on the Affordable Care Act."

In contrast, Sanders said, "So, what my first days are about is bringing America together, to end the decline of the middle class, to tell the wealthiest people in this country that yes, they are going to start paying their fair share of taxes, and that we are going to have a government that works for all of us, and not just big campaign contributors."

University of California Economics Professor Robert Reich observed the two candidates have contrasting views about how Presidents make decisions. He described Clinton's perspective as the president as "deal-maker-in-chief...by which presidents buy off or threaten powerful opponents." Reich described Sanders' perspective as a kind of "agitator-in-chief, " where the president mobilizes "the public to demand [big things] and penalize(s) politicians who don't heed those demands."

Clinton is running as an extension of President Obama. At the January 17th debate she said, "I want to be a president who takes care of the big problems and the problems that are affecting the people of our country everyday."

At the same debate Sanders said, "Very little is going to be done to transform our economy and to create the kind of middle class we need unless we end a corrupt campaign finance system which is undermining American democracy....And what we have got to do is create a political revolution which revitalizes American democracy, which brings millions of young people and working people into the political process.'

While some liberals question Sanders' "political revolution" notion, others remember that in the hardest slogging of the civil-rights era, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., called for a revolution of values: "We must rapidly begin ... the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered."

This inevitably leads to the concern about electability: Who has the best chance of defeating the republican nominee?

Many Berkeley residents feel that Hillary has the best shot at beating Trump or Rubio or whomever. But in the latest Huffington Post ratings, Sanders beats Trump by 5.5 percent while Clinton beats Trump by 6.4 percent; Sanders beats Rubio by 4.5 percent, Clinton beats Rubio by .9 percent.

The "elephant in the room" are Hillary's unfavorability ratings. In a recent Gallup article pollster Frank Newport observed that Donald Trump has a 60 percent unfavorable rating, "he has a higher unfavorable rating than any nominated candidate from either of the two major parties going back to the 1992 election." Newport noted that Hillary Clinton has a 52 percent unfavorability rating compared to Bernie Sanders 31 percent. (Among Democrats Sanders "net favorable rating" is 4 points higher than Clintons. 53 percent to 49 percent.)

The good news is that we have a real contest for the Democratic nomination and we will have lots of opportunity to talk about this between now and the July Democratic convention.