Undecided With 8 Days To Go

In a normal New Hampshire primary, undecided Democrats get courted and pandered to. But this year everyone just seems annoyed with us.

Tonight, this election cycle starts to get real: Actual voters will caucus in Iowa and we’ll get the first commitments that actually mean something. A week from tomorrow, I’ll be voting in New Hampshire.

And I’m still not sure what I’m going to do.

I know a lot of you will suspect my honesty when I say this — that in itself strikes me as a symptom of the general situation — but I have genuinely not decided whether I’m voting for Clinton or Sanders. I’m not pretending so that I can sneak my pro-Bernie or pro-Hillary propaganda past your defenses. I really don’t know what I’m going to do.

In a nutshell, the dilemma comes down to this:

  • I like the issues that Sanders has been highlighting: single-payer health care, a big public works program to build infrastructure and create jobs, breaking up the big banks, offering tuition-free college, and so on.
  • I see a huge difference between any Democratic candidate and any Republican candidate, and I have much more confidence of a Democratic victory in November if Clinton is the nominee.

I know the objections to both of those points: The Sanders proposals are all things that would never get through Congress anyway, so what difference do they make? And polls show Bernie running well against the most likely Republican nominees — better than Hillary in most cases — so why can’t I just accept that he’d be the better nominee? And besides, isn’t the lesser evil, well, evil?

I’ve considered all that. I really have. Honestly. And I have worries about both candidates.

My worries about Sanders. To me, the Sanders candidacy only makes sense when you think about how it started: Elizabeth Warren finally convinced everybody that she was serious when she said she wasn’t running, so somebody else had to represent the progressive wing of the Party. Otherwise, Clinton would run unchallenged and could take liberal votes for granted. So Bernie stood up to carry the liberal banner, to be the un-Hillary and make sure progressive issues weren’t ignored.

It isn’t clear to me that Bernie has ever had a serious intention of becoming President of the United States.

How can I say that? Well, I’ve listened to his speeches. The typical Sanders speech boils down to a list of statistics that leads to a list of proposals. [1] You know what’s not in there? Who he is.

For example, here’s a bunch of stuff I never knew until a few minutes ago when I looked it up on Wikipedia: His wife’s name is Jane. It’s a second marriage for both of them. They have no children together, but Jane had three children from her first marriage, and Bernie has a son from a non-marital relationship in the late 1960s. Bernie’s older brother lives in England, where he’s involved in politics with the Green Party.

Is that kind of stuff important? Well, if he just wants to take the liberal message to the Democratic Convention, no. In that case, the message is important and the messenger doesn’t matter.

But if we’re talking about actually becoming president, family and other personal information does matter. Americans expect to have a relationship with their president. We don’t vote for a set of policies, we vote for a person.

The President, after all, is going to come into our living rooms the next time something like 9-11 happens. He or she is going to mourn with us, acknowledge that this is really awful, and reassure us that we’ll get through it if we work together. If we have to go to war, the President is going to tell us why. If the economy starts collapsing, the President will tell us not to panic, and will outline all the things the government will do to keep the situation from getting out of hand.

We want to feel like we know that person.

Sanders has told us that he wants to do good things, but he hasn’t told us why. That may seem like a silly question to you, but Americans get suspicious of people who offer to do good things for them for no obvious reason. (Ronald Reagan used to make fun of the guy who says, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.” His audiences loved it.)

Bernie has said that he’s “not particularly religious“. For some people, that’s a deal-breaker right there. But even the people who are OK with it are going to want to know what deep values motivate him and where those values come from. Abstractions won’t do; they’ll want stories. (John McCain wasn’t particularly religious either. But he could point to a family tradition of military service, leading up to his POW story.)

If he doesn’t tell those stories and answer those questions, the Republicans will do it for him. Last week, I talked about the kind of smears we’re likely to see if the opposition starts taking him seriously. I don’t think Bernie has set himself up well to respond.

The way you undo a smear is that you tell a more convincing story about yourself than the one your enemies are telling. You look straight into the camera, straight into America’s living rooms, and say, “You know me. You know what I’m really like.”

When voters were being horrified by videos of Barack Obama’s radical black pastor, Jeremiah Wright, Obama went on TV and told the story of his relationship with Wright, and his lifelong relationship with blackness. When Jimmy Carter tried to scare the country with Ronald Reagan’s extremism, Reagan just said, “There you go again.” With his delivery, with that face and voice Americans had been seeing and hearing for decades, it was devastating.

I have  a hard time picturing Bernie Sanders doing anything like that. He’s not building the kind of personal connection to the voters that could see him through a crisis. His poll numbers may look good now, but in the fall campaign he’ll be vulnerable.

My worries about Clinton. To understand Hillary Clinton, you have to know about two formative political experiences.

The first time Bill was elected governor, he came to office with an ambitious agenda that was quite liberal for Arkansas. And Hillary also was breaking the mold. She dressed more like a college student than a Southern lady — not to mention a governor’s wife — and she kept her own name, Hillary Rodham.

That first term, Bill ran into huge opposition, accomplished very little, and got tossed out of office in the next election. The NYT summarized in 1991:

In his first term, in 1978, he offered a far-ranging package of liberal proposals. Since then, he has painstakingly picked his issues, built his coalitions and chosen his fights. To admirers, that has shown a shrewd ability to use his political capital where it could achieve results. Critics have seen it as timidity in taking on powerful interests.

Hillary learned a lesson too: For Bill’s comeback campaign, she became a Clinton. They won.

But that was Arkansas, not Washington. So when Bill was elected president in 1992, he again came in with a sweeping liberal agenda, and Hillary was right in the middle of it: She would lead the effort to achieve Harry Truman’s dream of national health care.

It was a re-run on a larger scale: huge opposition, massive legislative defeat, and a backlash at the polls. The midterm elections of 1994 were a Republican sweep that ended decades of Democratic control of the House. Hillary was blamed for the disaster, and for the rest of his presidency, Bill Clinton could only accomplish anything — or even keep the government open — by making deals with Newt Gingrich. Once again, he had to pick his issues and choose his fights.

If I had that history, I’d probably be cautious too. So it’s no wonder that Hillary doesn’t cut loose and propose idealistic stuff any more.

But there’s a problem with constraining your imagination to what is currently possible: Once you do that, the range of possibility can only shrink. As David Atkins wrote in Washington Monthly:

Politics isn’t just the art of the possible today. It’s also about shaping the realm of the possible tomorrow. When the opposition is willing to compromise, pushing the envelope might come at the expense of real gains in the moment. But when the opposition is intransigent, advocating for the impossible might just be the most productive thing a president can do to lay the groundwork for gains in the future.

Maybe this year you can only afford to vacation within driving distance of home, so fantasizing about Paris is completely impractical. But if you don’t maintain a Paris fantasy at all, the year when it’s finally just barely possible, you might not notice.

The Republicans never make that mistake. Their primary campaigns are always full of ideas like abolishing the EPA, replacing the income tax with a flat tax, privatizing Medicare, banning Muslims from coming into the country, ending abortion, and all sorts of other things that I doubt the next Republican president could make happen. The conservative imagination stays fertile, and if circumstances unexpectedly give them their chance, their plans will be ready to go.

Which way from here? So that’s where I am: I like Bernie’s issues, and I like him in the messenger role, carrying the progressive flag to the convention, reminding the public that Clinton and Obama aren’t the far left wing of American politics, and making sure Hillary knows that her left flank can’t be taken for granted. But the thought of him as the nominee sets me worrying about the Trump administration. [2]

So who am I voting for in eight days? I’m still not sure, and whatever I’m thinking right now might flip after I see what happens tonight in Iowa.

No man’s land. That indecision puts me in a strange position as I peruse my Facebook news feed or wander the blogosphere. Sanders and Clinton themselves are doing a fairly good job controlling their rhetoric, but that’s not true of their supporters. On social media, things go ad hominem in a hurry: If you defend Sanders, you don’t grasp how the world works, but if you criticize him, you’re part of the evil Clinton establishment. If you try to stand in the middle and keep both sides honest, you’re both clueless and corrupt.

So on behalf of all the Democrats who are still undecided and really can see it both ways, I’ll put this plea out there: Between now and the time the nomination is decided, please work on imagining that some people might honestly and intelligently size up the situation differently than you do. Not everybody who disagrees is evil or stupid.

More similar than different. This rancor is a bit ridiculous, because what we’re mainly arguing about is whether you accomplish more by moving step-by-step or by thinking big. As Rebecca (@Geaux_RC) commented last week on my post “Smearing Bernie, a preview“:

[Clinton and Sanders] agree on the following:

Climate change is real and should be addressed. Women deserve to have control over their bodies. The wealthy should pay more than they currently are in taxes. Voting rights need to be protected and expanded, not undermined and limited. Education is an important priority and should be funded appropriately. The minimum wage needs to be raised. Health care is a fundamental human right. The criminal justice system needs reform.

The Republican candidates disagree with all of that. (OK, Rand Paul supports some kind of criminal justice reform. Any other examples?)

So Bernie wants a $15 federal minimum wage while Hillary wants $12, with state and local action to increase that wage in places with a higher cost of living. (Republicans argue about whether the current $7.25 is too high, while some are against the principle of any government-set minimum wage.)

Bernie calls for a $1 trillion infrastructure program, while Hillary’s is only $275 billion.

Bernie wants public colleges and universities to be tuition-free. Hillary wants community colleges to be tuition-free, and has a more complicated plan for making other higher education affordable.

I could go on, but trust me, the pattern is true across the board: Bernie’s proposals are simpler and bigger, while Hillary’s are wonkier and more cautious. But I can’t find an issue where they have fundamentally different goals.

Conversely, compare either of them to Republican candidates: Bernie and Hillary want the rich to pay higher taxes, while the Republicans want the rich to pay lower taxes. Bernie and Hillary want the government to do more about global warming, while the Republicans want to undo the things President Obama has done. Bernie and Hillary want to protect a woman’s right to choose an abortion, while the Republicans want to chip away at it or eliminate it entirely. And so on.

Given all that, can’t we all figure out some way to get along until the Convention? And then march united into the fall elections? I know it will be frustrating to watch your candidate lose, whichever one it is. And eating your words and voting for other one in November; that’s going to be a challenge. But none of it is going to be as frustrating or as challenging as listening to the Ted Cruz inaugural address.

[1] I’m putting this in a footnote because it’s an aside that interrupts the flow of what I’m saying, but would it kill the guy to tell a story once in a while? Not everybody thinks in statistics. All the way back to Lincoln, the great American politicians have been storytellers.

[2] One more concern: Sanders’ I-have-never-run-a-negative-ad high principles. Particularly against Trump or Cruz, I think the Democrats’ fall campaign needs to be scorched earth.

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  • Tammer  On February 1, 2016 at 9:51 am

    You say Hillary’s survived the scandals of the past, yet they so easily return to the press with a single tweet by Trump. Trump v. Clinton is a race on favorability (there’s no logic or debate on policy when dealing with Trump) – and I fear greatly that people would prefer the authoritarian comedian over the wonk in those moments of public immediacy. Bernie’s few moments of openness (talking about parents during Iowa town hall, jokes about the white house being “public housing”) have gone over well.

  • suesista  On February 1, 2016 at 9:59 am

    I’ve thought of myself as progressive for 50 years. A diehard Democrat, even when I was frustrated by or despairing of the party. Sanders caught my attention some years ago with his frequent appearances on TV and his impassioned denunciations of inequality and unfairness. But it wore thin, because he seemed so rote, so repetitive, so single-minded, unable to deviate from his memorized message. He bombarded me with percentages and fractions, and never spoke of persons or tried to put a human face on his descriptions. The old Cold War-speak began to grate–the oligarchy, the capitalists, the elite, the billionaires, the corporations, the workers, the class war. A very dry menu, in my opinion. Still, I agreed with him in principle.
    But I’m going with Hillary Clinton. She seems much more approachable, grounded, realistic, curious, prepared, competent and importantly, likeable. I have no concerns at all about ‘trust.’
    I’d love to see a great candidate who could realistically inspire a more progressive agenda, and bring some of the ideals so many of us would like to see, but I think Sanders is not that candidate. So—good message, poor messenger. And this has only solidified as I have watched “Bernie’s army” over the past months, and the readiness to fall into conspiracy theories, demonizing the Democratic party, the repetition of RW anti-Clinton propaganda, the vilifying of people who don’t FeelTheBern as being corporate shills, corrupt sell-outs, and, perhaps their most deadly insult—“not real progressives.” Hey, I’m a Democrat—it’s complicated!!

  • Roger Green  On February 1, 2016 at 10:22 am

    I think the primary is for passion. the general election’s about nuts and bolts.

    • weeklysift  On February 2, 2016 at 8:09 am

      I believe a modified version, which is that the later in the process you go, the more strategically you need to think. So being in an early-primary state makes me more inclined to vote for Bernie than if I were in a later state.

  • Eileen Wilkinson  On February 1, 2016 at 10:30 am

    If you don’t know who Bernie is, you’re looking in the wrong places. Jane Sanders has been interviewed several times on CNN, MSNBC, etc. Bernie was featured last week in People magazine. I have known about his family for many months. He is humble, but supporters have posted stories on Facebook about the quiet good deeds he has done, like buying a homeless man new boots, for instance. Bernie has also espoused the same principles his whole life, and has worked with Republicans to finally increase funding for Veteran’s Services. Bottom line: I trust him to mean what he says. I am a Bernie supporter, but I do not post hateful rhetoric about Hillary, and I don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories. The majority of Bernie supporters follow his lead in not participating on attacks on Hillary, but only drawing policy comparisons and pointing out that Hillary receives large contributions from Wall Street and large corporations. Bernie seriously wants to get corporate money out of politics. We’ve seen what has resulted from Congress being influenced by corporate lobbyists. We need the government to respond to the electorate, not big money!

  • mfennvt  On February 1, 2016 at 10:35 am

    I’m voting for Bernie. Clinton’s corporate ties and hawkish stance are too much for me. As is her support for the TPP.

    That said, I think whoever the Democratic nominee is in the fall, it’s going to be about voter turnout. If the Democrats come out to vote, we can’t lose, whoever the candidate is. The majority of this country really doesn’t want Trump or Cruz. I have to believe that.

  • DeborahRHoffman@aol.com  On February 1, 2016 at 10:41 am

    Dear Mr. Muder: Like you, I’m an undecided liberal Democrat, although as a New York resident, I have a few more weeks to make up my mind. I believe that in seeking to correct the malign influence of big donors on our politics, Mr. Sanders is addressing the major destructive issue in our political system. And I like Mr. Sanders’ positions on improving the lives of ordinary working people. We see unemployed/underemployed people, especially young people, threatening political stability in other countries, and we have to understand that giving everyone reason to hope for a decent life is essential to maintaining our own democracy. That’s a matter of long-term pragmatism, not just an issue of fairness. But I have to give Mrs. Clinton an essential edge when it comes to foreign affairs. Given the complexity of so many troubling situations in other countries, her experience as Secretary of State and existing relationships with world leaders would quickly put her in the position of being an effective diplomat on the world stage. Yes, strengthening our country is of primary importance, but I believe our next president must have mastered both domestic and foreign policy from Inauguration Day on. And she does know how to work the levers of power, which will be essential on both fronts. I’m not convinced that the polls offer meaningful information about which Democrat would be more likely to win in November, so the issue of electability is not one I consider. And I have deep reservations about both Mr. Sanders and Mrs. Clinton, some of which you mentioned. So my decision feels like a coin toss, although I’ll continue to educate myself about both. Thank you for your columns, which I find helpful in sorting through my own questions.

    • jh  On February 1, 2016 at 2:04 pm

      I think of it in just one dimension because either Bernie or Hillary would be better than the republican candidates. Which candidate can survive the republican attack machine? As for getting their agenda, as proposed right now, implemented, the problem is with the people in congress and senate who are elected.

      The former President Clinton did attempt to provide universal healthcare. He failed. A key part of the failure was the republican attack machine and the lack of votes.

      Sometimes, going from point A to point B slowly and cautiously is the only way to go. (just keep the overall war goals in mind with each battle.) With a split of nearly 50/50, this country is highly divided and I don’t see it becoming less so with either a republican or democratic president. (Actually- I suspect if republican wins, he’ll get his way far more easily than a democrat. The republicans have historically behaved like brats and children more often than the democrats… and their deluded voting bloc appreciates their childishness.)

  • Alfredo Louro  On February 1, 2016 at 10:46 am

    I think you know who to vote for. You just need the courage to do it.

    • weeklysift  On February 2, 2016 at 8:14 am

      Think about how that logic mirrors on the Republican side. They’ve thrown away easily winnable Senate seats by going with true-believer candidates like Christine O’Donnell and Todd Akin.

  • Marick Payton  On February 1, 2016 at 10:47 am

    It is not mean spirited to point out that they Clintons are completely in bed with the ruling plutocracy, as detailed here: http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2016/01/30/clinton-system-donor-machine-2016-election/ nor that Hillary has made decisions to sell armaments to dictators following big contributions.

  • James Sasek (@jamessasek)  On February 1, 2016 at 11:17 am

    Same! Except I vote tonight. I would say there are three areas of difference I don’t think you discussed that are worth mentioning:
    1) Campaign Finance Reform: The way they’re raising money is significant.
    2) Big Banks. Hillary seems much more in their pockets. See #1
    3) Foreign Policy: I think Hillary is hawkish. More in line with Bush than Obama and Bernie is more dovish than Obama has been.

    I’ve been debating internally about the difference between pragmatism and defeatism.

  • felix  On February 1, 2016 at 11:43 am

    I’m bothered that so much attention is spent on Hillary vs Bernie vs circus clowns when the bigger problem is Congress, which is going to be a Republican blockade to any Democratic president. There’s zero coverage anywhere on any congressional races.

    • weeklysift  On February 2, 2016 at 8:16 am

      You’re right. My own state of NH has one of the Senate seats the Democrats have to take if they’re going to flip the Senate and give the next Dem president a chance to get his/her people appointed.

  • Sechumanist  On February 1, 2016 at 11:45 am

    The only reason for hesitation re voting for Sanders is not understanding the real condition of the country (or liking it the way it is) and thinking that Clinton’s center-right history will fix it.

    This should help.


  • Kelly Schoenhofen  On February 1, 2016 at 12:32 pm

    > Bernie calls for a $1 trillion infrastructure program, while Hillary’s is only $275 million.

    You mean $275 billion.

    • weeklysift  On February 2, 2016 at 8:18 am

      Fixed it. No matter how many times I go through a piece, I never get all the typos out. Thanks.

      • Kelly Schoenhofen  On February 2, 2016 at 10:12 am

        We only correct you because:
        1) we read what you say very closely
        2) and we care 😉

      • weeklysift  On February 2, 2016 at 1:24 pm

        What’s worse than having mistake pointed out immediately is coming back to a post months later and finding the mistake then. Both have happened, so I’ve come to appreciate having my mistakes pointed out quickly.

  • Wendy  On February 1, 2016 at 1:25 pm

    I was a Vermonter for 26 years of my adult life. Bernie spoke at one of my graduations. He has been an important and effective politician in and for Vermont. I have known about him since before he was mayor of Burlington. I watched him on VT and national TV news and on CSPAN for decades. He has been in the public eye for a long time. Vermonters know him well. I was surprised to hear you don’t feel like you know Bernie as a person. But….I have also been surprised how little national news attention he got at the beginning of his run for president. Makes me sad that politics is so….political! What people learn about the world is carefully manipulated and controlled on the major networks. Do you follow Bernie on FB? That’s a start. I love his passion and mind for statistics, but he also is a genuinely nice guy.

  • EFCL  On February 1, 2016 at 1:48 pm

    Surely Hillary’s infrastructure plan is $275 BILLION. $275 MILLION is “only” one not-so-big bridge project, which won’t affect national employment statitistics at all.

  • Nancy  On February 1, 2016 at 2:45 pm

    I don’t agree that the only or major difference between Sanders and Clinton is a matter of degree in terms of the programs they support. I have followed Sanders for a number of years, and whenever I heard a statement of his, my thought was, “Why can’t he run for president?” Sanders has been a progressive for all of his time in office. He is not owned by big money. I see Clinton as a person who is much too tied to banks, corporations such as Monsanto, etc. I have been a Democrat for all my life (I’m almost 61), and this is the first time that I will not vote my party if they put Clinton forth. I will vote for Jill Stein or some other independent candidate and protest the corporatization of American politics.

    • Anonymous  On February 3, 2016 at 11:59 am

      Rather than just voting third party to protest the corporatization of American politics, I suggest that you work for campaign finance reform. The way that we fund elections plays a huge role in that corporatization. Corporations use lobbyists and campaign contributions to get elected officials to write the rules so that corporations benefit. Breaking that connection between corporate lobbyists and campaign contributions will go much further toward ending the corporatization of American politics than voting third party would.

      • Larry Benjamin  On February 3, 2016 at 6:24 pm

        If you’d asked me 9 months ago whether corporate interests and big money would affect the election, I would have said “of course.” But now we have two leading candidates, Sanders and Trump, who aren’t corporate funded and don’t even have Super PACs. Citizens United is irrelevant as far as they’re concerned. And the people who sunk their money into Jeb’s campaign might as well have set it on fire for all the good it did them.

      • Anonymous  On February 3, 2016 at 9:52 pm

        And then there’s what happens after the election. When the lobbyists show up to talk to the folks in congress about every bill that affects the corporations that hire them – to try to convince congress to pass a bill that is good for the corporation, whether or not it’s good for the voters that elected congress. At that point, lobbyists don’t have to rely on the strength of their arguments, they have campaign contribution on their side. So this bill gets changed a bit to be better for the corporations, and then that bill gets changed a bit to be better for the corporations, and then another.

        And voters could elect someone different during the next election cycle, but the lobbyists are still there.

        Breaking that connection between corporate lobbyists and campaign contributions will go much further toward ending the corporatization of American politics than voting third party.

  • Rebecca (@Geaux_RC)  On February 1, 2016 at 4:14 pm

    I was quoted! Woo!

    In non-frivolous commentary, Sanders’ ability to connect with voters will is probably better than it appears because so many of his publicized events are huge. When you get him one-on-one, he’s quite likable. (Rachel Maddow seems able to “draw him out” so to speak, probably because he actually likes her in contrast to other journalists.) His demeanor comes off as gruff or professorial at other times, which is what seems to get the most coverage, and that could be an issue for trying to attract different segments of the population. I think the #FeeltheBern crowd finds his rhetoric and style refreshing, but there are probably voters who will feel like they’re being lectured at or condescended to. I think if he were running against Cruz or Trump, his even his “grumpy grandpa” style will be miles ahead in likability. I don’t know why Rubio gets so much love, he’s competent when he’s on script, but holy tomatoes, get him off his talking points and he looks like a kid who wandered into the middle of an elite debating match. He’s less odious than Trump or Cruz though, so he’d probably play better against Sanders. (There’s a campaign slogan – “I’m less odious than those other guys!”)

    I think the thing that continues to bother me about Sanders isn’t that I disagree with his ideas (I don’t) or that it’s not worth dreaming big (it is) or that he’ll lose in a landslide (hard to say, depends on the GOP nominee). What continues to concern me is his “revolution” doesn’t work unless you get huge shifts in local, state, and federal elections – for multiple cycles. He’s said it has to be more than the president, but I’m not seeing a happy marriage between President Sanders and the Democratic Party. Like it or not, the Democrats are in a better position to advocate and implement progressive policies than any other part in the US. Sander is not fundraising for down-ballot candidates. Maybe he will if he gets the nomination? Will he campaign for or with candidates who take Superpac money? What happens when big donors from corporations start giving money to his campaign in the general election? Will his base of support erode if they perceive him as a “sell out” too? (Because there are progressives who happen to work for Wall Street and can afford to donate $200+ dollars, and that’ll show up in his contributions data as “Wall Street.”) Whether it’s Clinton or Sanders, they’re both going to be constrained by the GOP House and possibly the Senate. Clinton might be stymied for 4 years, but she’s a been a Democrat since the late 1960s. She seems more likely to help down ticket, if not in name than with connections and donor support. (She’s raising money for down-ballot candidates even now.)

    Change doesn’t happen in huge, sweeping waves in the US anyway. I see a lot of commentary that it’s the corporations buying politicians and elections and if we could just get rid of them, then we could really get to work on fixing things. Even if Sanders could wave a magic wand and get rid of corporations meddling in politics, the federal system in the US is not designed to advance change at a rapid pace. Checks and balances, separation of powers, and good grief, the amendment process is extremely cumbersome. Washington and his buddies were worried about “factionalism” in the new republic and created a system of government that was meant to counter that (also, to protect property). There are multiple interests that all clamor to influence government policies, and it’s not just businesses – it’s a whole slate of interest groups (some of which champion progressive ideals and some of which champion conservative ideas). I am skeptical that “millions of people” will rise up and sustain the kind of challenge necessary to reform federal politics, plus state governments too. And that’s not because I’ve given up and embraced the dream of mediocre incrementalism – big, important things can and do happen to advance progressive policies. It just takes a lot of work and a lot of time.

    Looking at change and the process of change almost entirely through the lens of economic inequality runs the risk of missing the other things that hurt people too – primarily women and minorities. Yes, more money can help buffer against institutional racism or sexism, but it won’t undo it. You need to change policies to erode those things, and then it becomes an issue of setting priorities. Saying you’re going to break up the big banks and implement single-payer health care with the help of millions of people doesn’t feel like a game plan for change to me. Given the constraints of American government and politics (even discounting corporate influences), it feels like the sales pitch of someone who hasn’t thought about whether they can deliver – and what happens if they can’t.

    All of that sounds more like “Vote against something rather than for something,” so maybe that could help you make up your mind? What are the reasons to vote for Sanders? What are the reasons to vote for Clinton? And then do the opposite – the reasons to vote against for each. Maybe whichever list seems most persuasive can help you make up your mind.

    Good luck! And no pressure next week – you’re only helping decide the fate of our country. 🙂

    • weeklysift  On February 2, 2016 at 8:39 am

      I should quote more commenters. Rubio drives me nuts: How can you run a “new ideas” campaign without a single new idea? Shouldn’t he at least propose a gimmick of some sort, like Fiorina’s “zero-based budgeting”? Even a new buzzword or two would at least show some minimal respect for our intelligence. But no: His new idea is that we need new ideas.

      • Rebecca (@Geaux_RC)  On February 2, 2016 at 7:34 pm

        Agreed, I have an extremely hard time taking anyone seriously if they talk about what a great candidate he is.

  • Robert C. Wortman  On February 1, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    Apply the questions you put forward about Sanders to Clinton! You are either being dishonest or cynical. What are Mrs. Clinton’s personal qualities like as opposed to Bernie Sanders? You are comparing a political whore to a hard working stiff who has given over his entire public life to fighting for the common man. He has never served on the board of Walmart, nor has he set a course to acquire power for powers sake. Ask yourself about her achievements as Secretary of State, even as opposed to those of Secretary Kerry. Flying for the sake of running up air miles does not constitute an achievement, and it was Hillary Clinton who bears responsibility for Victoria Nuland, the Queen of neo-conservatism.

    • weeklysift  On February 2, 2016 at 1:22 pm

      In regard to “whore”, I refer you to my article on Slurs. As for Secretary Clinton’s character, two events stand out for me: (1) When she graduated from Yale Law School, somewhere near the top of her class, into a legal world that was just beginning to realize it needed gender diversity, she could have grabbed the big bucks. Instead she took a job with the Children’s Defense Fund. (2) After her close loss to Obama in 2008, a lot of her supporters were bitter, and I think most people expected her to give Obama only half-hearted support, hoping the job would still be open in 2012. Instead, she and Bill went all-out for him. And as Secretary of State, she didn’t try to upstage the President or maneuver to benefit from his failures. I admire somebody who can put her ego aside like that.

  • Guest  On February 1, 2016 at 4:59 pm

    Thanks for another provocative post. The main concern about Sanders as presented here seems to be the idea that he is not building a personal connection with voters, and that concern seems unjustified. Going back several months, the view of the blog seems to be one of a Hillary supporter slowly warming up to Bernie, so it’s plausible that Bernie has not made that special voter connection with you (yet?), but I don’t think that can generalize. And you don’t have to look at the polls showing Sanders trouncing Trump, look at the grassroots support and network that’s surpassing even what Obama put together. You don’t set individual contributions and attendance records without connecting with voters. You can argue if it’s enough to take on the Clinton machine or whatever the republicans throw their way, but it’s there and it’s growing.

    As for Clinton, you may be underestimating the concerns about her. Yes, I think the vast majority of Clinton and Sanders supporting Democrats will fall in line for the general election either way, myself included, but the undecided independents and new voters can’t likewise be taken for granted. There’s probably a lot of independents, and some republicans, who would vote Sanders just to shake up the political/financial corruption, but would balk at Clinton. With Obama in 2008, Clinton has shown herself vulnerable to a charismatic outsider, which makes Trump vs Clinton a very worrisome scenario.

    Looking forward to how it all plays out for you! And thanks again for sharing with us.

    • weeklysift  On February 2, 2016 at 8:27 am

      Actually, my trajectory runs in the other direction. Sometime last summer, I realized I wasn’t giving Hillary a fair hearing, so I made myself read her books. I was charmed, and since then I’ve been puzzled by the level of hatred against her.

      • Guest  On February 2, 2016 at 11:42 am

        That’s funny, I started reading the blog right when you reviewed her books, so my misinterpretation of your trajectory makes perfect sense. I’ve only read you in your charmed phase!

        I don’t want to justify hatred. Some of the anti-Bernie-supporters outrage is manufactured for reasons Glenn Greenwald describes (https://theintercept.com/2016/01/31/the-bernie-bros-narrative-a-cheap-false-campaign-tactic-masquerading-as-journalism-and-social-activism/).
        Judging a candidate on his or her worst behaved anonymous online supporters will leave all candidates condemned. But I also think it might be worth it to the Democrats to use such hateful comments as a reminder of how much work we have to do against sexism. Given Bernie’s consistent track record on civil rights and women’s rights, I think the hatred is better seen as a reflection of us, of our culture.

        And that touches on another trend, that you can even find traces of here in these comment sections. A lot of the attacks and critiques against Sanders from Clinton supports or the undecided having nothing to do with his policies. Sometimes these are even dispelled with a quick caveat, “I agree with and support Bernie’s policies and track record, BUT…” At some point the left strays from policies at its own risk. On an issue by issues basis most of the progressive agenda enjoys broad public support, even as legislation is set by the same big-money powers that directly fund Clinton and the rest of the Washington establishment. (http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=9354310)

      • weeklysift  On February 3, 2016 at 8:23 am

        I have a draft of a post that never quite gets finished, about low-information voters. Those of us who discuss politics all the time often project our own level of awareness onto the non-voters, and imagine that IF they say they support some policy and IF they come out to vote, then they will vote for the candidate who supports that policy.

        I don’t think it works that way. They may come out and vote for the guy who’s going to “make America great again”, because they know somebody needs to do that.

        There’s a joke from the 1964 Goldwater campaign. (Damn, I’m old.) The Goldwater volunteer asks a woman why she’s voting for Johnson, and she says, “Because Goldwater wants to get rid of TV.” And the volunteer explains, “No, he wants to get rid of the TVA.” “Well,” she says, “I’m not taking any chances.”

  • Kate Rohde  On February 1, 2016 at 7:22 pm

    I identify with much of what you say here and I was initially a Bernie supporter and am still donating to him but have moved to undecided — partly for the reasons you site about Bernie but also because the gender issue has become more cogent as the campaign progresses. The male progressive attacks on Hilary have been so sexist in tone and often in content (see above where even on your blog a comment uses “whore” — would he have used “nigger” ?) Hilary has a long history of support for women and children’s issues despite the fact that they bring little public notice. She has spoken out around the world on sex trafficking and slavery. She has talked about campus rape and title 9. She has a long history of working for poor children and the Clintons brought needed reform to foster care. She has fought for women’s health care and children’s health care and helped get things passed for them. And I believe that our country would benefit greatly from having more women in politics and a Democratic woman President would have great value in changing the role of women in this still so chauvinistic country. I also think she is a much stronger candidate now, and I wish there had been more debates.

  • Xan  On February 1, 2016 at 7:30 pm

    For me it came down to- am I willing to wait another cycle for a woman president. And the answer was no. I’m old, I’ve only got 3 to 5 presidential cycles left. We’ve got this chance now. Let’s take it.

  • Abby Hafer  On February 1, 2016 at 9:25 pm

    If Bernie decides to start telling stories, he has gold to work with. He comes from a family of Holocaust survivors, who drilled it in to him that the Nazis came to power through political victory. Being in politics as a progressive comes, for him, as an imperative that ideological, historical, and wrapped up in family loyalty. Done right, this could be a personal story that would be almost unsmearable–even the GOP would have a hard time getting away with smearing a person who is in politics because his family survived the Holocaust. I know that they managed to get away with called Max Cleland unpatriotic, but well-aimed outrage at anyone daring to impugn the motives of a son of Holocaust survivors might well be Kryptonite for the GOP.

  • Bert Bowe  On February 1, 2016 at 11:25 pm

    Verywell stated. (Note that Hillary wants$275B in spending, not $275M). Keep up the goodwork!

    Pittsboro (Chapel Hill), NC

    Bert Bowe

  • Bobby Lee  On February 2, 2016 at 3:34 am

    I don’t worry at all about Clinton’s domestic agenda. As you pointed out, the differences are only a matter of degree – she and Sanders have the same ultimate goals. As a pacifist, I worry more about foreign policy. Which candidate is more committed to avoiding war, even if public opinion is against them? I’ve noticed that John Kerry has had more diplomatic successes than Clinton did as Secretary of State. Can she successfully negotiate with foreign leaders to avoid military conflict? Would Sanders do any better? Like you, I’m still on the fence.

    • weeklysift  On February 2, 2016 at 8:30 am

      Kerry’s success with Iran was set up by Clinton’s success negotiating the sanctions that brought Iran to the table. I don’t think she’s been getting enough credit for that.

  • Larry Benjamin  On February 2, 2016 at 6:26 am

    What you’re responding to is that Sanders isn’t a “celebrity” candidate. He is all about the issues; it doesn’t matter who his wife is. And as far as what “motivates” him, I don’t think there’s any danger of his suddenly abandoning the principles he’s supported for decades, just because he hasn’t explained his basis for them. Whether this is admiration for Eugene Debs or the Jewish doctrine of Tikkun Olam or anything else is irrelevant – Sanders has been, if nothing else, remarkably consistent throughout his career.

    • weeklysift  On February 2, 2016 at 8:34 am

      I think you’re underestimating the creativity of the attack-dogs on the other side. The “principles he’s supported for decades” can be made to sound very scary, if he has the wrong reasons for holding them.

  • Sarah  On February 2, 2016 at 9:25 am

    Every time I have this discussion with my husband, he says, “Hillary voted for the Iraq war. Bernie didn’t. I’m voting for Bernie.”

    • weeklysift  On February 2, 2016 at 10:50 am

      I may or may not vote with him, but I can’t argue with his rationale: It’s based on true facts about an important event.

  • Janet strong  On February 2, 2016 at 1:50 pm

    I have also been on the fence, until last night. listened to Bernie’s speech last night when he told his folks it was a “virtual tie” with Clinton. Well, it wasn’t the whole speech because NPR eventually stopped broadcasting it. BUT, he didn’t do what I thought he should have done early in his speech, which was thank his people for all they did and would do in the future. His lack of that simple gratitude tells me a lot.

  • WX Wall  On February 2, 2016 at 4:27 pm

    I actually think Bernie’s “big” ideas are easier to pass than Hillary’s “small” ideas. The reason is passability is not about big or small. it’s about simple or complex. Bernie’s ideas, while big, are simple. Hillary’s, while accomplishing less than Bernie’s, are complex.

    Take health care. When Bernie says “Medicare for all”, every American understands that. Sure, there are details about who pays how much for what, etc. But intrinsically, everyone has a friend or family member on Medicare, understands how the program works, and understands what “Medicare for all” means.OTOH, no layperson (and most lawmakers, I’d argue) had no clue what Obamacare would look like. It was a mishmash of medicaid expansion, healthcare exchanges, subsidies, insurance regulations, etc. etc. there was no simple concept that people could understand. Naturally, the Republicans could demonize Obamacare in a way that they never could have done with Medicare for All. IMHO, Medicare for All would have been *easier* to pass than the ACA (remember, the ACA passed only with Dem votes), because it’s far harder to mislead the public on what it entails.

    Similarly, the outrage about Wall St. in 2007/2008, translated, in Obama’s hands, into a complicated set of regulations, Dodd-Frank. Whether or not they’re working, no one but economists and hardcore political wonks know. All the public knows is that the big banks are still in business, and no one went to jail. If you ask a layperson “What does Dodd-Frank do to Wall St?” They can’t tell you. If Hillary proposes a bunch of incremental, wonky, complicated changes to Dodd-Frank that have no over-arching story, then they won’t have nearly as much public support, and will be much more susceptible to Republican smears, than Bernie’s simple (but “big”) plan of breaking up the banks and jailing banksters.

    I’d go so far as to argue that Bernie *does* tell compelling stories, only his stories are his proposals, which are simple, and encompass his hopes for this country in a way that’s easy for people to understand and feel inspired by. Hillary, with her wonky, incremental, complicated proposals, can’t really say anything with them, and therefore relies on her personal history for the stories that might inspire voters.

    • Larry Benjamin  On February 2, 2016 at 9:12 pm

      The problem with Bernie’s “simple proposals” is that it would also be very simple for a Republican opponent to say “communism,” and many people would fall for it. A wonky, incremental proposal, on the other hand, is much harder to counter because it can’t be reduced to a sound bite.

      Obama pushed the ACA because he thought, mistakenly, that the Republicans would support what was essentially a conservative plan – first proposed by the Heritage Institute, supported by Richard Nixon, and implemented in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney. He underestimated the level of animus he would face, but at least it passed. If Obama had instead pushed “Medicare for all,” it would have gone nowhere as the Republicans would have characterized it as socialized medicine. They say the same thing about the ACA, that it’s a “government takeover of health care” which only appeals to people who already buy into that nonsense. The problem with single-payer is that it is, in fact, “socialized medicine” which many people will oppose on principle without thinking.

      The other problem with Bernie’s “simple proposals” is that he has not explained how he plans to implement them in the face of what will surely be a Republican House. I like Bernie (if there’s anything I disagree with in his platform, I haven’t heard it yet) but he has about zero chance of enacting any of his wonderful plans.

  • John  On February 3, 2016 at 12:04 am

    Bernie will have my vote until he is not an option.

    Sure, the campaign against him will seem like it was designed by McCarthy, but I believe that the only candidate they could favorably match against Bernie would be Rubio (due to the “pretty boy” factor.) Bernie can also pull some sane right-wingers across the aisle. When it comes down to it, even with the cries of “Socialism!” I don’t see Bernie on the receiving end of the pure, vile hatred spewed by seemingly every right-winger out there.

    Bernie also has a better chance at getting things done than Hillary. Hen it comes down to it, do you truly see any republicans in congress working with her, knowing the backlash they will receive? I fear a Hillary presidency would be 4-8 years of the Benghazi inquiry: Republicans saying and doing everything to prove to their voters they hate her more than the next guy.

    It’s sad what the radical right is doing to this country.

    • weeklysift  On February 3, 2016 at 8:09 am

      After Bill Clinton left office, a lot of people thought the vitriol of that era had been something personal between Republicans and the Clintons. That’s part of why Obama’s call for a new tone in Washington seemed so credible. Then Obama took office, and the same crap started: not just Benghazi, but Fast & Furious, “czars”, Birtherism, the supposed extreme expense of his family’s vacations, death panels, “unconstitutional” executive orders, and on and on.

      Whoever the Democrats elect will face 4-8 years of vilification. That’s just a given. The question is whether it will stick with the public and how well the Democrat will work around it.

  • Xavier AM  On February 3, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    So, did the Iowa results change your thinking at all?

    • John  On February 4, 2016 at 3:35 am

      If I may offer my humble opinion:

      My opinion has not changed. We have to keep ANY of these dangerous right wing radicals packed into Bozo’s clown car away from the presidency. Today’s general story arc in regard to history may compare to Reconstruction. We have seen what damage undoing progress can do. Why in hell should we potentially wait a century for those against progress to be dragged into the rights we have today?

    • weeklysift  On February 4, 2016 at 8:08 am

      Yes. The fact that Hillary won (very narrowly), makes it somewhat easier for me to vote for Bernie. I’ll explain next Monday.

  • Meredith Garmon  On February 5, 2016 at 3:11 pm

    I understand being undecided: both candidates do want to get to the same place, and it’s an open question which would be more effective in getting there. Fine. But I don’t need Sanders to tell personal stories. I love that he doesn’t do that. Yes, in general, I love stories, but I get all the stories I need from novels, short stories, and the Moth podcast. Personal stories from people running for office just feel manipulative. I don’t need a storyteller-in-chief, and I don’t need a pastor-in-chief either. I can tell that Sanders is sincere and authentic in what he believes in. His advocacy is uncalculating, and that’s what I want in any elected leader. I can SEE his heart — any narrative structure designed to show it to me would be a superfluous contrivance. I don’t need no stinkin’ personal stories.


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