I Really Like Bernie Sanders, But...


I really like Bernie Sanders and his sincerity. I like his track record, which is consistent. I like the fact that he entered the race without high ambitions and perhaps to make a certain point. I like his supporters and the kind of passion they have for making America a more equitable and better society. There is that romanticism and heady idealism in his supporters. Politics always carries an element of romanticism. Nothing wrong with that, as without it, we won't be voting for non-selfish reasons or in fact perhaps not voting at all! Frankly, it makes rational sense not to vote!

People like Sanders are like torchbearers of movements. They are the ones who push items and ambitious plans into the national discourse and pave the way for future. They are the vanguards of progressive movements and that is their best role. They are not suited to assume executive positions. In this election, despite the fact that I like Sanders a lot, I am not supporting him.

My choice is Hillary and I think I have very solid reasons for it. Before I explain my rationale, I would clarify that I am not supporting Hillary because of the common perception that Sanders is "un-electable" if he gets the nomination. This is a very different election and Sanders may end up getting the nomination and even the presidency. His electability or lack thereof is not my reason for supporting Hillary.

My reasons for supporting Hillary are several.

To begin with what Sanders is offering is not doable in practice. I am not being pessimistic here, but just extremely realistic. This is a radical agenda which will face several constrains. To begin with, USA's population is extremely diverse and you cannot simply impose a radical agenda on them. Laws and policies are not like speeches and promises. They have to be accepted not only by the public but more importantly by the elected representatives who are often representing not only public but also special interests.

Almost half of the country votes conservative, albeit with varying degree, and to impose a radical agenda which actually entails increases in government involvement on them would be extremely difficult and attract a very strong backlash. Politics is about compromise and in USA's context, changes take place after a lot of negotiating and renegotiating. Negotiation is easy if your agenda is progressive without being too radical. It becomes difficult and in fact almost impossible when it is too radical.

In the USA, party discipline is also weak which means that not only you need to work with Republicans but even members of your own party. Remember that when Obama tried to improve background checks after Sandy Hook in 2013, several of Democratic senators voted against his proposals.

Most of the time, those executives are able to change things who govern from the middle. It is easy to govern from the middle if you are progressive but skewed towards center, rather than far left. A person like Sanders will really find it difficult to govern from far left in line with his campaign promises. He will be forced to compromise and in fact too much if he wants to get anything passed. In other words, he will be forced to renege.

By the way, one thing which Sanders supporters simply overlook is the complicated institutional structure of USA. Many actually think that a president can do a lot. In reality, he is severely constrained by many things. The USA is a presidential system where legislation and executive powers are separate. This division of powers is designed to prevent possible abuse, but on the flip side it also makes the system somewhat inefficient as the opponents have too many veto points to try and a stop a proposal. If the Congress is divided then it becomes even more difficult to get a radical agenda passed.

But the problems do not just end here. In my opinion, most of what Sanders is suggesting is not even practical even if Congress somehow or the other agrees. Yes, one can talk about single payer health system. One can talk about dismantling the ugly big banks and raising the minimum wage to 15 dollars. One can even promise the moon. But are these things in reality even possible?

I hear a lot about a single health payer system and how US insurance companies are ripping off ordinary citizens. I fully concur that health care in the USA needs a lot of improvement. However, single payer system will be extremely difficult to adopt both due to very strong backlash from the insurance sector and the costs involved. But more importantly, the flaw with US system is less with insurance and more with the high cost of medical treatment.

You cannot give affordable coverage even if you somehow or the other create a single payer system. Without addressing the high medical costs of treatment, making a transition to a single payer system (assuming that some big miracle happens and Congress passes such a dramatic transformation) would merely lead to placing a huge budgetary burden on the government. This argument that by raising some taxes on the rich and middle class, everyone can have affordable health care is naivety, and frankly Sander's math is many trillion dollars off the mark. The fact that USA is basically a market economy and values individual choice (rightly or wrongly is another matter) as a virtue and derides increase in government involvement, also escapes many of Sanders supporters.

I think it is better to improve along the lines of the existing system, something which Hillary is recommending and which is doable also. I know in this election pragmatism has become unglamorous but it has its virtues!

I fully agree that minimum wage has to go up, but suggesting that it should be raised to 15 dollars an hour may make it an attractive election slogan -- but is again not doable. Raising it to that level (if you are actually able to raise it) will actually discourage employers from hiring. It would also hurt their competitiveness and lead to losses and layoffs. We have to strike a proper balance between workers and employers (particularly small-scale businesses) and our goal should be to ensure that while minimum wage goes up, it is still viable for the employers because only then can improvement take place. What Hillary Clinton is suggesting is progressive and yet also more feasible.

Likewise, ideas like breaking up the big banks are highly impractical and if implemented can seriously undermine investor confidence. I know this slogan is attractive and it feeds into the collective disgust which many feel for the "greedy" Wall Street bankers, but it is not the right idea. This is not suggesting that Wall Street should be given free reign. What we need is better supervisory oversight rather than reducing the size of the banks.

I think the choice between Hillary and Sanders is fundamentally not of progressive credentials or for that matter even feminism. You can be a feminist and yet vote for Bernie and your progressive and liberal credentials won't be undermined if you vote for Hillary. It is about electing someone who is progressive and can actually also get things done.

Hillary Clinton is by far the one of the most experienced and qualified candidates in the modern times and someone who knows the system and can maneuver proposals successfully. She is a progressive, a liberal and a feminist. Since she has been at the center of power politics, therefore it is easy to find her flaws and mock at her compromises. I doubt if Sanders had been in those positions, would he have behaved much differently.

That is why despite really liking Sanders, I am supporting Hillary Clinton.