For the first time in decades, New York State actually has the potential to tip the balance of the presidential election – and not just for one party, but both Republicans and Democrats – when it holds its primary on Tuesday, April 19.
And when was the last time there were three New Yorkers – out of five candidates – vying for President? One who embraced New York (Hillary Clinton), one who abandoned New York (Bernie Sanders) and one who would possess it (Donald Trump).
After careful consideration – after hearing the candidates debate, seeing them give speeches, hold rallies and town halls – former New York Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with her “pragmatic progressivism” is the best candidate for the Democratic nomination.
Bernie Sanders comes off as a one-note, hollow candidate having trouble actually fleshing out how he would achieve the noble vision he outlines without first achieving the political revolution that would sweep the Congress clean. And I can only imagine what will happen, if he is the Democratic nominee, when the Kochs and Republicans throw $1 billion in negative advertising plus all the dirty tricks at him. Will the candidate whose campaign is founded on shunning big donors of any stripe still rely on $27 campaign contributions from 6, 10 or even 20 million Americans, or even the public finance system which is woefully inadequate in the era of Citizens United?
As was clear in the “Brooklyn Brawl” – the debate at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on April 14 – on issues ranging from fracking to universal health care to Syria, Clinton’s retort held true:
“It’s easy to diagnose the problem. It’s harder to do something about the problem,” Clinton hit back at Sanders.
“I don’t take a back seat to your legislation that you’ve introduced that you haven’t been able to get passed. I want to do what we can do to actually make progress in dealing with the crisis. That’s exactly what I have proposed. And my approach I think is going to get us there faster without tying us up into political knots with a Congress that still would not support what you are proposing.”
The same response came up during a contentious back-and-forth on US-Israel relations, with Sanders contending that the US (and Hillary Clinton) did not give sufficient deference to the plight of the Palestinian people, suggesting that if only the US cared more about the Palestinians, the US could lead the way to peace.
Clinton responded, “Again, describing the problem is a lot easier than trying to solve it,” and went on to give a full-throated defense of Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas, a terrorist group supplied by Iran that has used Gaza as a base to fire rockets on Israel, rather than build up its own economy.
“If Yasser Arafat had agreed with my husband at Camp David in the Late 1990s to the offer then Prime Minister Barat put on the table, we would have had a Palestinian state for 15 years…So instead of having a thriving economy with the kind of opportunities that the children of the Palestinians deserve, we have a terrorist haven that is getting more and more rockets shipped in from Iran and elsewhere.”
And again, on Sanders’ signature issue of universal health care through a Medicare for All-style system and free tuition at public colleges, Clinton came back with the difference between a vision and a program:
“I absolutely agree with the diagnosis, the diagnosis that we’ve got to do much more to finish the work of getting universal health care coverage, something that I’ve worked on for 25 years…. But I do think when you make proposals and you’re running for president, you should be held accountable for whether or not the numbers add up and whether or not the plans are actually going to work….”
On policy, actual proposals and electability, Hillary Clinton, with her “pragmatic progressivism” and “Fighting For You” theme is the preferred candidate. And Clinton comes across as the most presidential among all the candidates – Democratic and Republican – including those who are not “officially” in the race (looking at you, Paul Ryan).
Clinton knows the issues in micro-detail, has had more experience than any of the rest in making decisions (including learning the “unintended consequences” of major decisions), handling crisis, handling the big issues that impact individual lives and families and communities. Whether or not you agree with everything she stands for, her intentions are on behalf of bettering lives, giving everyone a fair chance and opportunity. Her policy prescriptions make sense – they are do-able. And judging by how effective she was as a US Senator, to work across the aisle and before she was a Presidential candidate, actually earned respect of Republicans. She would be the best positioned to break this entrenched obstructionism that has been embedded in the Republican/TeaParty machine.
Authentic. That is the word that I came away with after seeing her in a fairly intimate setting at Medgar Evans College in Brooklyn, addressing the issue of women’s issues in the campaign. (As it turns out, “women’s issues” are basically all the issues: economic growth, jobs, income inequality, education, child care, pre-K, national security, fighting terrorism, criminal justice, gun violence prevention, immigration reform, infrastructure, and yes, access to health care and reproductive rights, without which, no woman is anything but a slave of the State.)
Authentic is also the word that comes to mind when I saw her at the Landmark Theater in Port Washington, Long Island on a panel with Congressman Steve Israel and five women who know all too well the pain and tragedy of gun violence and the crying need to institute commonsense regulations to stop 90 killings a day.
“Authentic” is a word that surprises my 20-something son when I use it to describe Hillary, and probably would surprise people who have not seen her in person – especially after 30 years of anti-Clinton propaganda has effectively painted her as “dishonest” and “untrustworthy”. But “authentic” and “genuine” are labels that would not surprise anyone who has met her personally.
On the other hand, I would bet that 95% of Sanders’ supporters had never heard of him prior to six months ago. Sanders has effectively created his own mythos – “He marched with Martin Luther King” (no he didn’t – he attended the March on Washington along with 200,000 other people). He fought for civil rights because he was arrested for protesting for desegregating housing at his own University of Chicago campus.
In fact, Hillary Clinton was the braver of the two and the more committed to civil rights, women’s rights, minority rights, rights of children and the vulnerable, who worked for the Children’s Defense Fund. As a 24-year old law student, Clinton went on her own, undercover to Alabama to expose the fact that the Nixon administration was not enforcing the legal ban on granting tax-exempt status to so-called segregation academies – some 200 private academies that sprang up in the South to cater to white families after a 1969 Supreme Court decision forced public schools to integrate.
Sanders has focused his assault on Clinton around campaign finance, accusing her of being unable, therefore, to stand up against Big Fossil, Big Pharma and Big Banks.
But on the issue of gun violence prevention – the biggest differentiator from an otherwise parallel progressive agenda – Sanders can be shown to kowtowing to the gun lobby which was the biggest reason for his first defeat, but his ultimate victory in being elected to Congress.
You see, campaign finance works two ways: big donors may well buy access to make their positions known to an elected official (much like a bribe), but Big Money also can be spent against you – much like extortion: do things our way or we will bury you with negative advertising.
Also, Sanders represents Vermont, a relatively tiny, non-diverse state, certainly without the complexities and diversities of a New York State.
Clinton is close to Wall Street? Of course, Wall Street is a significant constituency in New York City, which prides itself as the financial capital of the world, and which accounts for about 13% of the state’s economy.
Clinton’s closeness to Corporate America is a benefit, not a disadvantage (let’s not forget that Google and Apple are now the most valuable companies in history), because I have seen over the past dozen years at the Clinton Global Initiative how fomenting partnerships between government, private enterprises and non-governmental organizations has changed corporate culture, has actually shifted how they conduct business in such a way as to be a positive for the communities they work in and sell to and made a positive impact on 430 million people in more than 180 countries, including the US.
Indeed, relationships work two ways – I don’t think you have sold your soul if you have gotten Goldman Sachs to create a new financing mechanism to save coral reefs, or Proctor & Gamble to devise and distribute millions of packets that can purify water so that millions of children do not die from waterborne illnesses, and getting Walmart, Coca Cola, Chevron, Monsanto, the World Bank Group and others to invest in sustainable development. That’s not selling out. That’s converting the very entities that have the power and the means to make real change.
On the other hand, Sanders railing against Big Business and Big Banks, while it may work well with progressives, has opened the way to attacks (you are already hearing) as a Communist.
Yet, when it came down to “how would you break up the banks?” Sanders apparently did not have an actual plan. On the other hand, Dodd-Frank has proved to be an effective framework, and as Clinton has pointed out, it is more important to regulate things like credit default swaps and the non-banks, like the mortgage companies (CountryWide), which really were the ones that crashed the economy using Bush’s laissez-faire attitude.
Did she shift her stance since leaving her cabinet position on Keystone XXL and TPP? Perhaps. So what? That just shows she is sensitive and responsive to constituents, not to mention she has the independence she did not have while serving the Obama administration. The fact is she has consistently pushed for climate action and the transition of our economy and society to one based on clean, renewable energy. Moreover, trade agreements are not completely evil and the problem with TPP really lies in the “settlement court” – but the issue is far too complex to fit on a bumper sticker.
Imagine if Sanders had been the Senator from New York (the state where he was born but left), where Wall Street is such a significant constituency rather than Vermont, where the NRA is probably the most powerful lobbying entity. When you think about it, Sanders’ positions – on income inequality, climate action – don’t actually contradict or challenge Vermonters, but on the one controversial area where he might truly have stood up for a noble purpose and against entrenched interests – gun violence prevention – he took the path of least resistance which was the NRA position.
He could afford to vote against the Iraq War – the vote was 77-23 – he’s never had to be in a position to make the life-or-death decision that tips the balance. He can bask now in the glory of saying “I told you so.” In fact, after 30 years in Congress, he has been great on articulating the problem but what has he actually accomplished, and why would he be more successful as President with a Republican opposition that has honed its techniques for obstruction?
But Sanders’ use of the 2002 Iraq War Resolution as the “disqualifier” for Clinton to become president is a total fabrication – that resolution was not to go to war, because it required that all diplomatic avenues be exhausted. As we know now, Bush came out with his three-day deadline, telling the international inspectors they had better get out before the bombing started.
On the other hand, Clinton comes with the best foreign policy experience – from mistakes and failures as well as her successes, most notably reversing the poisoned relations from the Bush/Cheney administration. Sanders’ entire foreign policy depends on “forging coalitions” well, Clinton is correct when she says she’s actually done it.
But Sanders doesn’t speak much about his votes that nixed comprehensive immigration reform in 2007, or his support for the Minutemen and other militias, vigilantes who patrolled the Mexico border. He also voted for the Crime Bill of 1994, which he now uses against Hillary Clinton (she was First Lady, not in Congress at the time).
And I find it hard to comprehend what his foreign policy would be about, beyond “no regime change” and “building coalitions”. Indeed, his remaking of the domestic economy – infrastructure development which is expected to also mitigate income-inequality – is based on cutting back on military spending. But the Republicans control the purse strings and have shown their willingness to shut down government, and destroy the nation’s “full faith and credit” to achieve their end.
What would he have done differently about Libya, faced with the impending genocide by Qaddafi? The fact is, the US aided a coalition and did not lose a single soldier. As Clinton pointed out, the people were hungry for democracy, held democratic elections, and then kicked out the Americans from helping control order, leaving a vacuum for ISIS to fill. It is yet another example of realizing that the US no longer can snap fingers and get sovereign countries to obey its will.
Sanders has now started touting how those who are skeptical of his ability to accomplish anything that has become the sugary candy of his campaign – free tuition at public colleges, universal healthcare (practically free), affordable housing, breaking up the banks, and most of all, overturning Citizens United and reshaping campaign finance – is that they don’t dream big enough, they don’t aspire high enough.
But a dose of reality is in order. Sanders keeps saying how he was on the committee that wrote the Affordable Care Act, yet he attacks it as being woefully inadequate, not to mention the mistake in the language that opened the way for a Supreme Court challenge of the law. He’s been in Congress for more than 25 years, yet he has very little to show for it. And if he thinks he is going to out-Obama Obama as President, when the Republicans have honed their skill in neutering the Presidency, that is really pie-in-the-sky.
With New York State becoming critical to Sanders ability to lay any sort of claim on the Democratic nomination, Sanders has become nastier and more personal in his attacks on Clinton – basically jeopardizing his image as a “good guy,” “non-politician.”
His attacks on her for taking high speaking fees from Goldman Sachs (“Those speeches must have been written in Shakespearean prose,” he loves to mock, when in actuality, Goldman Sachs saw a benefit to having such a high-level person on the program, much as they pay a SuperBowl winner, and it is notable that a woman can command such a fee compared to the SuperBowl winner) is not a straight line to being “bought” by that company, or having something to do with the $5 billion that Goldman Sachs will pay (with about $1 billion in write-offs).
Attacking her credibility, her judgment (Iraq War), her integrity (Goldman Sachs) are indications of how desperate he is, and also just how political. That has to pierce the mythos. He was doing better when he sounded like Don Quixote, fighting the good fight.
When it comes down to it, they are very close in terms of what they stand for, who they would advocate for, but Clinton, I believe, can be more successful in accomplishing her goals. “Fighting for Us” to me is more potent than “A Future to Believe In.”
Brooklyn Brawl: Democrats Clinton & Sanders Debate Qualifications, Credibility
Brooklyn Brawl: Democrats Clinton & Sanders Debate Gun Violence & Criminal Justice
Brooklyn Brawl: Democrats Clinton & Sanders Debate Climate Change, Energy & Environment
Brooklyn Brawl: Democrats Clinton & Sanders Debate National Security & Foreign Policy
Brooklyn Brawl: Democrats Clinton & Sanders Debate US-Israel Relations
Brooklyn Brawl: Democrats Clinton & Sanders Debate Universal Health Care, Social Security, Supreme Court & Women’s Reproductive Rights
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