I like Bernie Sanders. I think that his criticism of a US economy that allows for such great levels of economic inequality is perfectly suited to the trying times we find ourselves in.
It no longer seems like America is the "most powerful country in the world," a notion we have held near and dear since the end of World War II. We are beset by uncertainties at home, where mass shootings have become a regular occurrence, an economy that, while functioning, still seems to be unable to fashion Americans with the quality of life they expect, and the persistent idea that when it comes to areas such as immigration, terrorism, and climate change, we have somehow failed, leading to a pervasive undercurrent of fear that is shaping the current presidential campaigns.
We see this not only in Donald Trump's call to ban Muslims from entering the US, but also in the populist glee behind Sanders' call to level the economic playing field by attacking the 1% popularized by the Occupy Wall Street movement.
One is born of a fear of a lack of safety, the other of a fear of being unable to support oneself and family. As is the case with many things born of fear, neither is good policy or politics.
Sanders' ideas are exactly the ideas we need to reevaluate our domestic priorities today. This is a large reason why Sanders surged in the polls this summer, gathering surprising steam in the primaries and fundraising.
As much as we need the ideas Sanders brings though, he isn't the president we need.
Sanders' policies hinge around the driving narrative of his campaign-economic inequality. The majority of his policies are domestically focused, as one can argue they should be, but he has shown an inability to go off message, particularly when confronted by issues outside of the domestic arena (aside from perhaps climate change).
Writing about Sanders' one dimensional candidacy in the Washington Post, Chris Cillizza notes that in the democratic debate after the Paris attacks:
"The first question was, predictably, about the attacks and what they meant for both the ongoing fight against ISIS and the broader battle against terrorism.
Bernie Sanders got the first crack at it. Here's what he said:
'Together, leading the world, this country will rid our planet of this barbarous organization called ISIS.
I'm running for president, because as I go around this nation, I talk to a lot of people. And what I hear is people's concern that the economy we have is a rigged economy. People are working longer hours for lower wages, and almost all of the new income and wealth goes to the top one percent.'"
Sanders is of course correct to maintain that economic inequality is important. However his inability to address the issue in a meaningful way, given the opportunity, and stick to prewritten talking points show a lack of versatility and attention to foreign policy that we desperately need in the next president.
We also see this lack of versatility in relation to the recent, and consistently intermittent, focus on gun violence in America in the wake of the San Bernardino shootings that killed 14 people last Thursday. Speaking at a rally the following Saturday in Keene, Sanders made no reference to gun violence. As a representative of a largely rural state with a tradition of hunting and comparably few restrictions on firearms, he has a mixed voting record on the matter. This includes opposition to the landmark Brady Bill in 1993 and support of legislation in 2005 that shielded gun manufacturers from lawsuits. This won't be the first time he has come under scrutiny for his past stance on gun laws, nor should it be the last.
Now, one could of course argue that sticking to a narrative, and not letting immediate events dominate other issues he's touting, such as economic inequality, is a good thing. But the fact of the matter is that the next president needs to be able to address issues as they arise, even if it's just to reassure America that, in spite of their fears after San Bernardino, we are fighting terrorists.
What we need, when it comes down to it, is what former Defense Secretary Robert Gates terms a "problem solver:"
"Our new leader must be a problem-solver. Recently, we have elected presidents with a conservative agenda or a liberal agenda. This election, how about we look for one whose agenda is just making things work? I realize this is a tall order at a time when most of the candidates are highly ideological, on both the left and the right. But the paralysis within Congress and between Congress and the White House under the past two presidents has been harming the country and putting our future at risk. No wonder so many Americans are pessimistic about the direction of the country. We desperately need a president who will strive tirelessly to identify and work with members of both parties in Congress interested in finding practical solutions to our manifold problems. We need a president who understands that those problems are so complex and so big that overcoming them will require bipartisan support through multiple Congresses and presidencies."
As much as I like a number of Sanders' ideas, there are a large number of people in this country that perceive his policy ideas the way I do Trump's; deplorable. A president who divides the country is not what we need.
Sanders hasn't shown the versatility needed to lead us in an ever more connected and globalized world. I doubt he can be the problem solver that Secretary Gates described above. We do not need a revolution. We need a government that can perform basic functions, something it has failed to do recently, and I'm not sure a Sanders presidency would be capable of doing that.