As the primaries chug along and Clinton and Sanders supporters snipe at each other, I thought I’d contribute to the debate by sharing my perspective as a former Clinton supporter who now supports Sanders. It wasn’t an easy conversion. Like many, I was all about Hillary 2016. I donated to her campaign, and during Pride week, I wore my neon yellow Yaaaasss Hillary shirt.
So what happened? What changed?
Well, before I start, I have to point out that even though I am a Sanders supporter, I still think Hillary Clinton is a fantastic choice for president, and is obviously qualified for the job. Her record of service is admirable, and she’s got the smarts.
But Bernie Sanders represents something new, something different. As Robert Reich so astutely pointed out “[Hillary Clinton is] the most qualified candidate for president of the political system we now have. But Bernie Sanders is the most qualified candidate to create the political system we should have.”
In a cracked political system that favors the rich, whittles down elections to two-party contests, and requires its candidates to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign funds, Clinton is the establishment. She stands for a lot of issues that I find important – women’s rights, LGBT rights, gun control, diplomacy – but she wants to use the political system we have now in place to exact these changes. And I just don’t think that’s feasible.
Bernie Sanders is looking to shift the conversation – change the paradigm. He doesn’t believe that “working within the system” works anymore. He doesn’t believe that incremental compromises to appease heavy-pocketed donors is the way to run politics. Clinton, a proud fighter in the battle to get universal healthcare, realized once she was in the senate, that getting big bucks is key to winning elections, so she became one of the biggest recipients of campaign donations from insurance companies. Senator Clinton was a different person than First Lady Hillary Clinton – the former was a crafty, calculated politician who measured every step she took; meanwhile, the First Lady was proudly out of step, and out of place in staid Washington. Because she wasn’t running her own campaign, though, she was free from the need to appease to raise money.
I also believe that Sanders’ vision of economic and income equality is key in how we move forward. It isn’t everything, and Sanders’ ability to reduce everything to income inequality is a sore point – racial and gender bias intersect with income inequality to net a wholly different kind of discrimination and oppression, once that is unique from the kind of income inequality that falls on many Americans today. Not better, not worse, just different. Sanders recognizes these differences, but shunts them aside, in favor of mobilizing young voters – most who are yoked with student loan debt. Sanders push toward free education will undoubtedly work toward evening out some of the inequities in society, though he needs to focus on intersectionality when discussing income inequality.
Because Clinton is such a skilled politician, it’s hard to figure out her world view – it shifts according to what demographic she’s trying to woo. At times, she’s progressive, denouncing military intervention; at other times, she’s a hawk, outdoing her peers in enthusiasm for military intervention. Her evolution on LGBT rights mirrored the country’s, and she finally embraced marriage equality when it was no longer seen as a liability. Though she acknowledges income inequality, and has done some amazing work for the Children’s Defense Fund, her husband’s administration’s so-called “welfare reform” essentially bolstered the cradle-to-prison pipeline. And I’m glad that she regrets her vote to authorize the War in Iraq – unfortunately, her regret comes years later, when the War in Iraq is recognized as one of the most tragic blunders of the United States.
So I’d like to see Sanders as president. He’s not perfect – Clinton’s much stronger when it comes to foreign policy and feminism – but Sanders also surrounds himself with smart people. What he doesn’t know, he’ll surely appoint someone who does.
Clinton has served her country for over 40 years and did an incredible job. If she loses this candidacy, it will probably be the end of her political career. But she has done herself proud. And in another year, Clinton would be my first choice for president. But just like back in 2008, as qualified as she is, there is a candidate who is even more qualified.