Monday, February 29, 2016

Bernie or Hillary?

Tomorrow, voters will go to the polls in ten states to settle the Super Tuesday contests. For the Democrats in Massachusetts, the question is Bernie or Hillary.

I’ve been debating it myself, with many more questions than answers. In the end, I couldn't think of a better way to think about them than by listing what I like, and maybe more importantly, what I don't like. As with everything I generate, it's pretty light fare but not untrue to my thinking, however superficial that may be.

Here they are, the both of them, to the best of my reckoning. Warts first.

His negatives ... He’s ridiculous. An unreconstructed Leftist from the 1970s, his language of class struggle and Democratic Socialism is laughable. His Vermont zip code doesn’t hide the Brooklyn in this guy. His policy proposals are unworkable and largely unwanted, way too costly in terms of dollars, and simply impossible in terms of politics. He’s every symptom this country has been trying to undo for the past 40 years. He’s also a scold and a curmudgeon. He wags his finger at his audience. And he’d be a terrible president.

But, and it’s not a small but, here are his positives …

He’s on to something. He’s an accurate barometer of the Left’s worry about what’s broken in America. The boldness of his claims is refreshing, and his questions are the right ones even if his answers miss the mark by a mile. The issues of the wealth divide have simply overwhelmed us, and the rules we agreed to to get us here have left us in a bad place indeed with no obvious road out. The conundrum has us by the tail, and an incremental policy approach to this non-incremental problem will yield no meaningful answers either in the short run or in the long run. There are whiffs of Robert Kennedy is his thesis. “Why not?” Kennedy famously asked, and we are the better for asking it too, now, in this context, in this challenging time.  

Her negatives ... What can you say against Hillary? Well, she’s a Clinton for one. That’s a small way of saying a big thing. 
Just take her Goldman speeches.  Honestly, the content of those speeches is a minor concern of little to no consequence. That the Clintons are closely tied to Wall Street is hardly news and hardly interesting.  Indeed, it was one of Bill’s great innovations as a Democrat (if anyone remembers as far back as 1991) that he could be less hostile to moneyed interests in this country.  It’s partly how he convinced the South to vote for him, and from it, how he won in 1992 and coasted to re-election in 1996 and then helped extend Democratic presidents in 16 of the last 24 years. It also bears remembering that a Democrat has won the popular vote in 5 of the last 6 presidential elections, again, one of Bill’s gifts.

This issue about the speeches is that they are a lingering issue. Like everything with the Clintons, there’s always a lingering issue. 

In short, Hillary suffers from the disease that plagues her generation, an unmanageable narcissism, one to which Baby Boomers seem blind.

That is of course a very soft critique of a very qualified person running for a very important job. Nevertheless it weighs heavily on this voter. I have no appetite for the Hillary Show. Having lived through the Bill Show, I’m not buying a ticket.

But let’s also talk about her positives of which there are many. Eminently qualified and highly experienced at the highest levels of government - First Lady, US Senator, Secretary of State. She has grappled with the challenges of the US government both as an appointed and elected official.

As First Lady, she fought for health care reforms that ultimately failed in the Republican Revolution of 1994 and the first of the now continuous government shutdowns that Newt Gingrich ushered in.  She and her husband opted for a plan that was the precursor to the Massachusetts efforts to achieve universal coverage, a model that ultimately paved the way for Obamacare. It was based on the GOP proposals on how to deal with health care reform. In doing all of this, she elevated the role of the First Spouse in American politics, and before there was a credible female option for president, she made a woman an integral part of policy development in the executive branch.

Then, she ran and won the New York seat that RFK had held in the US Senate, much on the same principle that Bobby applied, that NY loves an outsider, both literal and figuratively.  She then was appointed to Secretary of State under Barack Obama, perhaps as a way of derailing the Clintons as outsiders. Keep your friends close. Keep your enemies closer. Regardless, she served well.

Smart, determined, capable, she has a lot to say for herself.  

But she’s not going to get my vote tomorrow. For all of Bernie’s negatives, he has that one positive that she does not. He is not a placeholder for continuity, nor does he proffer that the system that got us here will be able to get us out of here. He is absolutely right about that. He looks like a madman, but he’s the only one speaking a language that mimics sanity in a political system and structure careening wildly to the extremes. That he could even have a place on the stage at this point in the proceedings convinces me that we’re in deeper than we know. 

I fully expect Hillary Clinton to be the Democrats’ nominee for November’s contest, and she will have my vote then. But the opportunity to shout my discontentment in the tiny way that votes shout cannot be passed up, discontentment about her, discontentment about our choices on the Democratic side, discontentment about the challenges in front of us, and discontentment over the language used to understand them and how to deal with them. 

It's Bernie on Tuesday for this voter.