Well, after two caucuses and a primary, we had a very close race among the two remaining democratic candidates: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. One would think so, anyway. For, after virtually tying in Iowa, winning big in New Hampshire and only losing by six points in Nevada, Sanders trailed by only one delegate (52 to 51). Of course, this didn’t take into account the hundreds of super delegates already pledged to Clinton. While these party insiders are free to change their minds, it is doubtful they will, and they are not obliged to follow the will of the voters. This, perhaps, is the price Sanders must pay for being an outsider so long.
Clinton’s other big advantage over Sanders is her so called “firewall” of African American voters. Indeed, in the recent South Carolina Primary (which Clinton won handily) she outpaced Sanders in this demographic by a rate of about 9 to 1. Examining each candidate’s record, however, it is difficult to see why this is the case. Perhaps, it is because many African Americans don’t yet know much about Mr. Sanders.
Bernie Sanders cut his teeth in politics by being involved in the Civil Rights Movement while a student at the University of Chicago. He was a chief organizer for CORE–Congress of Racial Equality. According to Tim Murphy of Mother Jones, “CORE organized a 15-day sit-in at the administration building, which Sanders helped lead.” This was to protest the unfair denial of equal housing to African American students by the university..Sanders was also involved in picketing a local Howard Johnson’s for restaurant for refusing to serve Blacks in North Carolina, and was arrested and fined for protesting school segregation. Most famously, he attended the March on Washington in 1963 and was present for Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech.
Mrs. Clinton (then Ms. Rodham), by contrast, was a young republican. Early on in her political career, she worked for the likes of Eugene McCarthy and Barry Goldwater, the latter of whom actually voted against the Civil Rights Bill of 1964. Yes, Mrs. Clinton did eventually convert to the democratic party, and did earn her liberal stripes by helping troubled African American youth in South Carolina, and exposing racial prejudice in schools in Alabama. Her initial instinct, however, was to be on the wrong side of history. Perhaps we can forgive her for this misstep, being that she was very young at the time and was strongly influenced by her republican father and a conservative leaning teacher at her high school. However, this pattern of doing the wrong thing first, then backtracking is one that would repeat itself throughout her political career.
In the early 1990s, when Bill Clinton was running for president, he decided he needed to be tougher on crime than his republican adversaries. It was a strategy that worked, and when he became president he pushed through a couple of pieces of legislation that have had a devastating effect on the African American community. The first was the Crime Bill of 1994. The second was the Welfare Reform Act.These laws slashed federal housing and greatly increased spending on prisons; did away with benefits, and replaced them with much tougher, often racially biased, laws. Human rights advocate and legal scholar Michelle Alexander recently wrote, “When [Bill] Clinton left office in 2001, the United States had the highest rate of incarceration in the world…African Americans constituted 80 to 90 percent of all drug offenders sent to prison, even though they were no more likely than whites to use or sell illegal drugs”
Mrs. Clinton herself, in defending the proposals, referred to African American gang members as “super predators” and spoke of having to “bring them to heel.” One wonders how this statement would have gone over had it been made by a republican first lady.
While Senator Sanders did vote for the Crime Bill, which was part of an omnibus package, he did not vote for welfare reform. Whatsmore, he was not the author of this legislation. Had he been, it is likely that these extremely tough reforms would never have taken place. While the Clintons now are trying to walk back this legislation, it is another instance of Mrs. Clinton making the wrong choice initially, then having to apologize later.
Another “mistake” made by Mrs. Clinton was her vote to give authority to George W. Bush for military use in Iraq. While Mrs. Clinton was far from the only democrat to cross party lines and give the 43rd president wide leeway in administering what has been called the greatest military blunder in our nation’s history, she probably was the most prominent one to do so. And, being from New York, and being the former First Lady, she probably had as much influence as anyone in condoning these actions. Imagine, for a moment, if she had had the courage to stand up to the Bush Administration, to push back, to say “no,” to their war based on faulty intelligence. Would she have been able to stop it? Would other political leaders have rallied around her? Would she have sparked a debate that would have engulfed the nation? It’s possible. When Bobby Kennedy spoke out against the War in Vietnam, the tide began to change. Soon Martin Luther King followed suit, and when Walter Cronkite condemned it, President Johnson believed he had lost the country.
Clinton could have done something similar. Instead, she chose to go along with the crowd. It was left to Sanders and a few others to try to prevent the Bush juggernaut. And he did his best, giving a prophetic speech on the Senate floor, wondering about the cost of such an enterprise, who would rule Iraq, and what role the U.S. would play. You can watch a video of Sanders’ speech here:
As it was, our military did topple a horrible dictator in Saddam Hussein, but the cost of doing so was monolithic: over 4000 of our brave soldiers dead, tens of thousands more wounded, hundreds of thousands civilians killed, and over two trillion dollars spent. And, in return, we did not get the flowering democracy that was promised; but instead a fractured, unstable country–home to an enemy able to strike us without warning, and that seems immune to our methods of warfare. In fact, not only did we destabilize Iraq, we helped destabilize the entire region. While the Middle East was far from perfect before the Iraq War; it is, unfortunately, worse now. Civil wars rage in Syria, Libya and Iraq. Iran has gained power, sending terrorists into foreign countries, and Russia is bombing the Syrian rebels we’re supporting. It’s a real mess. And while Clinton is certainly versed in foreign policy, probably better than almost anyone else in the country or world; we cannot, as of now, call her policies (and the policies of the Obama administration) a success. This may, and hopefully will, change over time. Revolutions are, almost by definition, messy and bloody. But Sanders makes a strong point when he talks about “unintended consequences” when using our military for regime change.
Another area in which Mrs. Clinton seemed to have been wrongheaded at first was in the area of banking. During the economic collapse of 2008 she voted for bailing out the so called “big banks.” Now, she says she would let them fail. It was her husband, of course, who signed the legislation repealing Glass Steagall–a law which prevented banks from intermingling commercial banking with riskier investment banking. It had in place since the Great Depression, and many experts believe its repeal not only lead to the creation of the big banks but, in part, to the financial crisis of 2008. Clinton is now touting her plan to regulate Wall Street, calling it the toughest plan out there (though it does not reinstate Glass Steagall). But can we really trust that this is the case? After receiving so much money from Citigroup, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs and others; while refusing to release the transcripts of her speeches; can we trust that she will truly follow through with her plans? And, if so, why is Wall Street investing so much in her?
All three of these errors, lapses in judgement, or whatever you want to call them, had tremendous consequences. Millions of lives were made much worse (or ended) because of the wrong decisions made by Mrs. Clinton and others. No, she did not act alone. And, yes, she has done much to advance the cause of women, children, minorities and Americans in general. Her very presence in the highest levels of our government says something about our country, something of which we can be proud. We are centuries ahead of much of the rest of the world in terms of gender equality. We are not all the way there, but we’re close, and (with a few backslides) we’re trending in the right direction. I do wish that there was a female presidential candidate whom I could truly believe in. I do wish to cast my vote for one some day. It is long past time. And were Elizabeth Warren running instead of Bernie, I’d probably be supporting her. It is not that I believe she would be more qualified than Mrs.Clinton, it’s that I would trust her more to look out for the hopes and aspirations of average Americans. I feel the same way about Mr. Sanders. All the knowledge and experience in the world is not enough to guide you if you have no clear set of principles. It’s like trying to steer a ship with no rudder. Clearly, Mr. Sanders has a strong set of principles . As for Mrs. Clinton, I’m just not sure. And when you’re asking people to entrust you with the most powerful position in the world, that’s just not good enough.