Assessing the Candidates: Bernie’s Revolution vs. Hillary’s Reformation
Besides their policy positions on a number of issues such as health care, regulating Wall Street, and gun control, Secretary Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders share many similar positions in the Democratic Party. During their overlapping period in Congress, they voted together 93 percent of the time. Other than differences in the intensity with which voters feel about the policy differences between Hillary and Bernie (and ignoring their personal characteristics on which they may differentially appeal to voters), the major factors voters seem to use to assess them are their diagnosis of what needs to be done and their ability to accomplish their programs.
Both Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders agree on a key issue facing the U.S.: wealth and income inequality. They differ, however, in their understanding of the causes of this inequality and propose different solutions for it. Hillary relies on reforming the current system while Bernie presumes the need for revolutionary remedies.
Hillary sees the issue of wealth and income inequality as originating from the recession in 2008 because most of her proposals are aimed at issues that precipitated the recession. Her reluctance to focus on causes prior to 2008 may be because they highlight actions taken by President Bill Clinton in accord with the Democratic Leadership Council wing of the Democratic Party. Most especially, Progressives now attribute significant unemployment and wage stagnation to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Moreover, her explanations do not identify people as causes, but are rooted in inanimate relationships. For example, before the Affordable Care Act (“ObamaCare”), Hillary ascribed the ever-escalating cost of healthcare to an increasing number of uninsured. As these people needed care and could not pay, the costs for them were covered by doctors and hospitals. She does not say why the uninsured number was increasing. She is refusing to acknowledge the change in how power has become distributed in the US. By definition, being a reformist requires you to accept the existing distribution of power.
By definition, being a reformist requires you to accept the existing distribution of power.
Bernie, unencumbered by previous DLC wing of the Democratic Party’s positions, sees the current inequality as a redistribution of money from the middle-class to the wealthy upper 1%. This redistribution of wealth, beginning in the 1970s, was enabled by a redistribution of power. Bernie holds that the recession of 2008 and especially the Citizens United decision has exacerbated this spiral of inequality.
Bernie identifies the loss of more than 60,000 factories and 4.9 million manufacturing jobs as the result of disastrous trade policies like NAFTA. Corporations have benefitted from shutting down plants in this country and moving to China and other low-wage countries. He argues that we need to develop trade and tax policies that benefit corporations creating jobs here and not abroad.
Sanders, in contrast to Clinton, explains the redistribution of power and wage inequality of workers, in part, as the result of corporate opposition to unions. Because corporate power has reduced collective bargaining middle class workers wages have been adversely affected. Sanders believes that legislation enabling a majority of workers to easily establish a union would help rebalance the power workers have lost.
As a result of Hillary’s inability to address the long-term wage and wealth inequality and provide an explanation for it, she ends up having to address many discrete “issues” as though they are unrelated. Consider the issues she has promised to address if elected in the table below.
Bernie’s messaging is more coherent and effective than Hillary’s because he has a clearer explanation of what has happened over time to wage stagnation and its many consequences. By describing a clear cause and effect, he proposes a single, though dramatic, solution: power redistribution.
Secretary Clinton’s message lacks coherence and is less effective than Senator Sanders’s because it presents no overriding explanation to connect her issues. She has claimed to be the progressive who likes to get things done, implying that Senator Sanders will be unable to accomplish his proposals. However, Secretary Clinton’s menu of issues raises questions about her ability to effectively accomplish her proposals.
Hillary claims that Bernie’s focus on income inequality addresses a single issue and refuses to acknowledge the number of issues Bernie’s revolution against corporate power would remedy. She does not acknowledge that Bernie’s proposals for addressing income inequality would redistribute power and successfully attack many of the problems on her list.
The question is would her modest proposals be more or less likely to advance the well-being of the middle class. Either one of them will face problems getting their agenda done. Her proposals are more likely to succeed because they wouldn’t disrupt the “system”. Bernie’s proposals are more difficult to accomplish, but more likely to work if accomplished. Hillary’s are more likely to succeed, but less likely to work.
On the basis of her resume, Hillary claims that she has more experience to achieve the progressive reforms that she proposes. She has been the First Lady of Arkansas, First Lady of the U.S., U.S. Senator from New York for two terms and U.S. Secretary of State for four years. Based on a near-unanimous consensus from those who worked with her in these positions, she knows how the system works and can identify the levers of power.
Bernie, in contrast, is advocating a revolution to redistribute power. His resume includes mayor of Burlington, U.S. Congressman for Vermont, and U.S. Senator from Vermont. He is admired for his authenticity since he has had the same message for 50 years. It is not clear from his experience that he is likely to foment a revolution. So far, the only measurements as a revolutionary leader are the huge crowds he draws while campaigning for the Democratic nomination for President. If Bernie is saying that the crowds mean that he has a revolutionary movement, then the fact that Trump’s larger, reactionary crowd suggests that Bernie may be out-numbered.
If you believe that Hillary’s reform proposal will be sufficient to address income inequality and the other issues that she has identified, then it seems that a vote for Hillary is more than justified. In contrast, if you think a revolution is needed, then Hillary is not the person you need to vote for. Unfortunately Bernie may not be either. There is scant evidence that he can bring one about.