The recent uptick in so-called "liberal" commentators telling people who want to vote for Bernie Sanders why they shouldn't and why Hillary Clinton is the better candidate has me moderately pissed-off. It's true, you can never change anyone's mind on the Internet, but it's been so long since my last political post on this blog that I figured I should take a shot.
One of the first things you'll hear critics say is that Bernie stands for "wide-eyed idealists" which is a nice way of saying "idiot children who have no clue" in what passes for political discourse here in the US. Hillary of course stands for the "hard-eyed realists" which is to say "smart grown-ups who know the system" or whatever other "serious" thing. And heck, it may well be true that Bernie is an idealist and Hillary is not. What you should question, however, is if the valuation implied in most "think pieces" on this topic is correct: Is it actually true that a "realist" president is better for the country than an "idealist" president?
Think, for example, about how you haggle at a flea market or a garage sale. If the seller wants $10 for their lamp and you want to pay $5 for it, do you offer $9? Of course not! You offer $2 or, if you're feeling nice, maybe $3. You can't offer $1 because you know for sure that the seller will shrug their shoulders and wave you on. But offering $9 right away is actually an insane proposition, isn't it? Would you really "haggle" like that?
Yet this is what so-called "experts" bring up as a "plus" for Hillary: Since she's "realist enough" to offer $9, she might actually be able to get that for us. Big surprise there! If you propose to replace, say, really bad inequality with ever-so-slightly less bad inequality, you're going to find quite a few multi-billionaires who'll say "Alright, maybe I'll give up a few million here or there, at least I'll get to keep my head on my shoulders." and then you can give a State of the Union address that sells this pile of garbage as a huge success.
But remember what you wanted to pay: $5! Bernie might actually be "idealist enough" to offer $3 and then achieve $6 after some back and forth. Perfect? Probably not. But without someone actually haggling you'll just end up with $9. Or maybe $11: After all, in politics, unlike at a semi-sane garage sale, the "other side" has already raised their expectation to $13 between the time they told you $10 and the time they hear your $9 offer. That would make it even more important to have an "idealist" in office, wouldn't it?
Another thing you'll hear bandied about a lot is that Bernie will simply be blocked by Congress regarding every single proposal his administration might make. Once again this might be true, maybe Congress really would be more adversarial toward Bernie than toward Hillary. But again you should carefully think about the implications of this so-called "argument": If it's true that President Bernie can be blocked by Congress, isn't it also true that President Hillary can be blocked? Or President Donald?
Note that it's irrelevant whether President X will actually be blocked. That's simply one for the history books because you can only know it in retrospect. Indeed, anyone who is "predicting" it as a certainty for Bernie now is simply being dishonest. Politics is a dynamic process after all, and Bernie might be able to play his cards in such a way that Congress will eventually go along. (Maybe by starting to haggle at $3 instead of $9?)
Furthermore most of the "he'll be blocked" folks seem to completely forget that the President is not powerless in a fight with Congress: The veto allows a president to simply stop legislation coming out of Congress. That's not always easy, but it's clearly the case that a "mean Bernie" might be able to veto enough stuff to really make the legislative sweat. Don't forget that representatives and senators come from certain states, and if their states don't get something because of a presidential veto, the people responsible might find their incumbancy in grave danger. True, there might also be some "collateral damage" because "normal people" in those states might not get something they really need. But if the goal is to fix the whole country and not just a state here or a state there, well, that might be a sacrifice some of us are willing to make.
And of course Congress is not the only thing that can "block" a president. The "virtual senate" of bankers and traders around the world can achieve much the same simply by shifting capital around in such a way as to hurt a country until some policy (whether proposed by President or Congress) is "off the table" again. That's in fact in large part how "neoliberal austerity" works in places that are not officially beholden to Washington's machinery of World Bank and International Monetary Fund. (Hillary actually has experienced that first-hand back during Bill Clinton's first term when they tried to pass a semi-decent healthcare bill but were promptly shut down by Wall Street.)
As Iowa showed yesterday, Bernie has some real momentum. He also has better policies (for the 99% that is) regarding almost everything. Hillary will be "more of the same" just like her husband was (for the 1% that is). I cannot for the life of me imagine how the country could be "worse off" with Bernie than with any of the alternatives. But I can see plenty of things that could be better with Bernie. I am a card-carrying skeptic and cynic of course: It might turn out that Bernie is also "more of the same" in the end, who knows? What we know for sure is that with Donald or Hillary we're guaranteed that nothing gets better. With Bernie we at least have a shot. I am willing to take that chance, and I am tired of people who smear Bernie with "arguments" that are none.