Besides being irascible, dogged, and right most of the time, what do these two gentlemen have in common? You may not like the answer.
Yesterday I announced I will pragmatically vote not for Bernie Sanders but, instead, for Hillary Clinton, a politician who, for all her flaws, is, I believe, best suited to move the United States in a positive direction as President. Within hours, I had a half dozen comments to the piece--which is half a dozen more than I usually get for an essay. It seems there are many who read this blog who are proudly, defiantly feeling the Bern, and felt the need to take me to task for my business-as-usual choice. Never mind that the Sanders agenda is packed with items that cannot be legislated without the complete cooperation of a Congress dominated by Republicans who can't even agree on how to advance their own agenda, let alone the proudly socialist programs a President Sanders would put before them. Even in the unlikely event of a complete turnover of both houses of Congress to Democratic, most of these programs would be dead on arrival. They're all worthwhile, we should absolutely be working toward them, but expecting anything but total gridlock between Congress and a President Sanders is about as realistic as a Jedi marrying a galactic senator. (And yes, I know that happened in Episode II, but it didn't exactly end well, did it?)
At the heart of the comments was an insistence that a vote for Sanders is a vote against the status quo, against corporate involvement in national politics, two-faced politicians, and everything that has infuriated the progressive wing of the Democratic party since 1968. These well-intentioned people want to make a statement with their vote, send a message to Washington, turn the tide against the moneyed interests that slow down and defeat progress. I hear what they're saying, I know where they're coming from, and I share their frustration. As I've said more than once, I'm no Friend of Hillary (or of Bill, for that matter). The pacifistic, socialistic idealist in me would much rather have someone of principles leading this country.
Except this country refuses to be led by principled persons. It chews them up, spits them out, sometimes martyrs them. And as for their followers: unfortunately, far too often, their insistence on making statements with their ballots plays right into the hands of the people they least want in office.
For all those who think the country will be better for them casting their vote for Bernie Sanders, I offer up the example of Ralph Nader.
The election of 2000 was an apocalyptic moment for this nation. I remember it painfully well. Many people I love and respect insisted all through the election that there was no real difference between George W. Bush and Al Gore, that the only real alternative to business as usual was Ralph Nader, and that voting for him would send a statement to Washington that could not be ignored. He wasn't going to win--I don't think any of them had illusions about that--and at least in Oregon, even a substantial Nader vote would not hurt Gore's numbers too badly.
In Florida, though, they threw the election into recounts that went on for weeks, until a biased Supreme Court put an abrupt stop to them, handing the Presidency to George W. Bush.
Thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghani lives, trillions of military dollars, and the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and sixteen years of climate change denial later, is there anyone out there who can honestly say the country wouldn't have been better off with Al Gore in the White House? Or do you still think he would've been the same President as Bush?
In 2000, Nader supporters insisted that a vote for Nader was a vote for Nader. In retrospect, it's painfully obvious how horribly wrong they were.
I'm not immune to the temptation of statement voting. I've voted for candidates who had no chance of winning--John Anderson in 1980, Jesse Jackson in 1984--because I wanted to send messages. Anderson's campaign may have sealed the deal for the Reagan era. Jackson gave fantastic speeches, but never really came close to winning the nomination. In 2000, though, I voted my conscience, rather than my ideals: I was terrified of what would happen if Bush won, rightly so, so as much as I admired Ralph Nader and agreed with his platform, I filled in the bubble by Al Gore.
The stakes in 2016 are, if anything, higher than they were in 2000. For all his blunders, Bush strove consistently to discourage intolerance, to insist that his post-9/11 military campaign was against terrorists, not Muslims. Of the thirteen candidates still contending for the GOP nomination in 2016, not one is making that distinction; if anything, they are one-upping each other in how brutally they intend to bomb the Muslim world into submission. Of the thirteen, there are just three with a realistic shot at winning the nomination: Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio. Politically, Cruz and Rubio are nearly carbon copies of each other, each vying to outdo the other on reactionary conservative policy. All three are pushing economic agendas that will again demolish the economy, immigration policies that will turn hard-working potential citizens into pariahs, foreign policies that take the mistakes of the Bush administration and dial them up to an 11; and if gifted with two Republican chambers of Congress--as could happen if a large GOP turnout puts them in office--the victor stands an excellent chance of being able to implement his radical agenda.
Running against Hillary Clinton, none of these windbags can win. If the Democratic nominee is Bernie Sanders, though--a self-avowed socialist with an agenda that will turn out conservatives in huge numbers to vote against him and for whomever is on the GOP side of the ballot--and coupled with the long running tendency of this nation to prefer changing parties in the White House every eight years or so, we could very well see a President Cruz, Rubio, or (shudder) Trump.
And before you insist there's no way that could happen, I'll remind you that it did happen, just sixteen years ago.
So please, my fellow Americans, when you cast your ballot in the months ahead, don't use it to make a statement. Use it to vote for a President--one who can win and, upon taking office, has at least a chance at governing.