Monday, January 18, 2016

Reflections on the Democratic Candidates: Bernie Sanders

After yesterday's Democratic debate, I decided to go ahead and get my thoughts down regarding the Democratic candidates. Unlike the Republicans, whose surface opinions I largely disagree with, if I were to list my common ground with the Democratic candidates this series would basically never end. Instead, I'm going to try and be critical of the candidates and point out my concerns.

Let's start with my preferred candidate: Bernie Sanders


This is the first time I've ever encountered a presidential candidate I've been passionate about, though I admit it's also the first time I've ever paid this much attention to the primary season. I actually registered as a Democrat specifically to vote for Sanders in the primary; I consider myself to be an Independent otherwise. Sanders is himself technically an Independent, and that appealed to me as much as his willingness to play the Democrats' game to become their candidate in order to avoid splitting the liberal ticket in the general election.

That said, I have a few concerns with Bernie, starting with the fact that he's seeking some radical changes that, frankly, will likely never reach the floor in Congress, much less end up becoming law. I like those radical changes, but I know enough about politics to know that they won't come to pass simply by getting Bernie into the White House.

For instance, campaign finance reform is possible, but overturning a Supreme Court decision is no easy matter, especially since it's only been six years since the Citizens United decision, and the 5-4 decision on the relevant points in that case would still hold today since the five members of the majority opinion are still on the bench.

Another example: I like Bernie's "Medicaid for all" approach to health care, especially since Medicaid just seems to be considerably more efficient than private health insurance. Government bureaucracy is a frustrating beast, but against all odds health insurance companies put the government to shame in terms of bureaucratic waste. Plus, it would be nice to avoid the conflict of interest, since private health insurance companies by necessity have to find a way to remain profitable.

That said, in the Democratic debate Clinton made it pretty clear that Democrats may be pretty unwilling to replace the Affordable Care Act that they fought so hard for. Is it realistic to plan on a major health reform change when even the liberals are hesitant to back you?

These concerns are pretty consistent across all of Bernie's radical plans: can he actually do any of these things given our political system? I'm still in favor of Bernie since I'd personally rather try and fail, making the ideas a part of the national conversation, than to not try at all. It would be frustrating, however, to watch someone fighting for progress for four years without making much headway.

Next, there's the problem of presidential experience, which is more of a point for Hillary than it is a point against Bernie. I'd contend that the only way to get presidential experience is to actually be the president. No other job in the country can truly compare: not a senator, not a business executive, and not a state governor. Until you've sat in that desk in the Oval Office making decisions that effect the world, you can't say you've had presidential experience. That said, as the First Lady for 8 years and being married to someone who did in fact sit at that desk, Hillary Clinton does have more going for her in terms of presidential experience than Bernie does. As such, she's more prepared to hit the ground running in those first 100 days.

Finally, we've got to be realistic about Bernie's age. Bernie is 74 years old, and would be 75 at the time of inauguration. That would make him the oldest president we've ever elected, beating out Ronald Reagan (the current oldest president) by six years. Bernie seems pretty energetic, but there's a very real possibility that, if elected president, he might die in office, leaving us with a vice president who will likely be a very different person. Or, worse, Bernie may end up spending lots of time in hospitals and recovering from the afflictions that tend to come rapidly and unexpectedly as you get to that age, severely impacting the amount of time he can spend on the job. It's morbid to think about, but necessary.

Again, even weighing all of these concerns, I still come out in favor of Bernie. Realistically, though, he may be a decade too early and a decade too old to accomplish what his followers would like him to accomplish.

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