There's a Progressive Argument for Supporting Hillary

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is introduced during a campaign stop Friday, Jan. 22, 2016, in Rochester, N
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is introduced during a campaign stop Friday, Jan. 22, 2016, in Rochester, N.H. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Look, let's get this out there once and for all: It's not that I don't think Bernie can win, it's that I don't want him to.

For some reason, that's difficult for a lot of people to comprehend.

I am a progressive. I want the things Bernie promises for this country. I want universal health care, and free higher education, and reduced incarceration, and an end to the artificial redistribution of wealth into the pockets of the filthy rich.

But I also understand basic civics, and I read the news, so I know that the Republican party is simultaneously in shambles and completely entrenched in Congress.

Bernie Sanders has no plan for enacting his ambitious, domestic, legislative agenda other than "political revolution." Vote for me, he says, and we'll get the money out of politics and thereby force Congress to listen to the American people.

Putting aside the questionable idea that campaign finance reform is the only thing standing between the United States and truly representative politics (our politics was morally bankrupt long before Citizens United), we are not going to have a revolution in 2016. We are going to have a new president.

I know what a revolution looks like, and this election -- using the complicated system of party delegates and the electoral college to choose the leader of one of the three branches of the government of the most powerful empire in the world -- is not it. This is politics.

And if Sanders tries to force this Congress to do something like raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour nationally, the likely political result will be a government shutdown. Jeet Heer summed this point up well at The New Republic last week:

The great difficulty Sanders faces is that given the reality of the American political system (with its divided government that has many veto points) and also the particular realities of the current era (with an intensification of political polarization making it difficult to pass ambitious legislation through a hostile Congress and Senate), it is very hard to see how a "political revolution" could work.

This is not to say that the presidency is unimportant or cannot have revolutionary consequences. The accomplishments of President Obama, even in the last six years of a hostile Republican Congress, have been manifold. But that's precisely the point. As Jonathan Chait wrote at New York Magazine recently:

Those areas in which a Democratic Executive branch has no power are those in which Sanders demands aggressive action, and the areas in which the Executive branch still has power now are precisely those in which Sanders has the least to say. The president retains full command of foreign affairs; can use executive authority to drive social policy change in areas like criminal justice and gender; and can, at least in theory, staff the judiciary. What the next president won't accomplish is to increase taxes, expand social programs, or do anything to reduce inequality, given the House Republicans' fanatically pro-inequality positions across the board.

I'm not, by nature, a pragmatist. I believe in thinking big, and I believe in thinking with our values. But I also believe in thinking about the fact that small policy changes have big impacts on people's lives. They might bore most civilized people to tears, but debates about closing the Medicaid gap created by Republican governors' refusal to cooperate with the Affordable Care Act are important because without health care coverage, people die.

So it matters to me that I simply do not believe that Bernie can deliver on his promise to enact "Medicare for all"-style universal health coverage. Normally, a president comes out with a plan slightly more ambitious than what they would settle for, and then he (always he) negotiates his way to the center.

Bernie is not like that. Bernie does not have work-arounds, or plans for compromise, or any sense that it's worth settling to get some people some health care because that's lives saved. Time spent trying to force universal health care through a reluctant Congress -- and pissing them off in the process -- will mean fewer people insured than if Sanders simply focused on closing the Medicaid gap.

So while Hillary's plans might be less ambitious and less progressive on most points, I believe that the actual ground that she will gain is greater than the actual ground that would be gained under a Sanders presidency.

Hillary thinks in work-arounds. She is, in many ways, the source of President Obama's growing assertiveness in the use of executive orders. She is smart, and she is ruthless, and she is good at politics, and I am tired of people acting like that's a bad thing when somebody is fighting for a better country.

Which brings me to my last point.

I am voting for Hillary because I like her.

This post originally appeared in Bottle magazine.