I'm not part of any "establishment."
Now that I've gotten that disclaimer out of the way, I now feel fully prepared to engage in a full on political discussion. I realize what I'm going to say here today will not be popular with my fellow millennials nor will it be popular with the supporters of a particular candidate running for president. As a progressive, secular humanist, and yes, even democratic socialist, one should be able to guess which of the three democratic candidates for president I am openly supporting. It should be obvious, right? Yet as someone who has studied politics in-depth for the past few years, one thing I have learned is that you can take nothing for granted in this business. You cannot assume a person votes the way that they do simply because of a certain belief or ideology they might possess. Voters vote the way they do for a variety of reasons and those reasons vary from state-to-state, from region-to-region, from community-to-community, and even from household-to-household. That is why it is never easy to predict how a person will vote.
And that is why many people would not have pegged someone like myself as a staunch Hillary Clinton supporter.
Shocking, I know. But the truth is that in order to understand politics you have to understand history, something the vast majority of millennials simply fail to grasp. It's not even "ancient history" that millennials need to understand but rather the political climate of the past seven years. That's it. Anyone who has been actively following politics since 2008 knows the kind of political climate that currently exists in Washington, D.C. After the 2010 midterm elections when Republicans took control of the House, we then had the two least productive Congresses in history, which oddly enough happened after we elected a group of politicians to government who openly stated that they hated government. With Republicans taking over control of the Senate in 2014, it has only been President Obama's veto pen that has kept the country from regressing back to pre-2008 economic and social policies.
That current political reality matters and it matters because it's what lies in the aftermath of a transformational president being elected. In 2008, Senator Barack Obama ushered in a new generation of politics in America. With the Great Recession under way, America was desperate for a candidate that would bring "hope and change" to a country that for eight years had been crushed by tax cuts for the rich, two trillion-dollar wars, a flailing auto industry, massive job losses, and staggering unemployment under the Bush/Cheney presidency. When the election night returns came in, it was a resounding victory for Senator Obama who racked up 69.4 million popular votes as well as 365 electoral votes. The American people had spoken and the newly-elected President Obama had a mandate from the American people.
Except Republican leadership didn't get this memo. In fact, rather than showing goodwill and working with the popularly-elected president, senior Republican leadership vowed to do everything in their power to make President Obama a one-term president. And so President Obama was forced to go it at alone. Even then, with a veto-proof Senate and a majority in the House of Representatives, President Obama still had to battle those within his own party who were grotesquely entrenched with their ties to special interests. At a time when affordable health care, a democratic priority since the Truman Administration, should have been a slam dunk, President Obama was forced to scale back his plan. Universal health care was never an option and even the public option was seen as "too radical" by many of those within the president's own party. In the end, it took every single ounce of support to pass the Affordable Care Act, without a single vote from Republicans in the Senate as well as 35 Democrats refusing to support it in the House. It may not have been exactly what President Obama wanted, but he made the hard decisions and was able to compromise and work with those to help achieve what many now see as a central part of his legacy.
That is why you need a pragmatist like Barack Obama in the White House.
Revolutions don't happen overnight. They take time. They take a willingness to examine all points of view and to consider varying opinions. Your charted course is never set in stone. You have to make compromises. You have to give in to your opponent which may cause your closest allies to accuse you of "selling out." Your top cabinet members may disagree with you. Your opponents may deluge the citizenry with misinformation causing a loss in public support for what you are trying to accomplish. You may find that there are certain days where you wonder if it is even worth doing.
For President Barack Obama, his pragmatism has been his guiding light in this harsh, divisive political climate. He plays chess while his opponents play checkers. While having a veto-proof Senate, his administration had a remarkable six-month run passing some of the most progressive legislation this country has ever seen. Without a Democratically-controlled House he still managed to lower unemployment, save the auto industry, capture Osama Bin Laden, and help plant the seed to help raise the minimum wage. Since he lost the Senate in 2014, President Obama has helped to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, placed an executive order to shield 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation, rejected the Keystone XL pipeline, helped to establish worldwide action on climate change, openly supported marriage equality, and negotiated a nuclear deal with Iran. Having an endgame in mind without showing your cards at any point is how you play the game.
And it's why Bernie Sanders can never be president.
Senator Sanders is unquestionably passionate about progressive politics. As a longtime supporter of his, I'm glad that the country is finally getting a chance to see what I've known for years: Bernie Sanders is a leader in this country's progressive movement. Along with Senator Elizabeth Warren, Sanders has been outspoken in his criticism against Wall Street and the big banks and has been a tireless advocate in attempting to end Citizens United and help remove big money out of politics. His fiery speeches have become stuff of legend and he brings decades of political experience beginning at the local level advancing up to the United States senate. His views on things such as universal health care and free college tuition appeal to a wide spectrum of the electorate especially millennials. For a generation that is still learning about the ins and outs of politics, nearly everything Sanders says is appealing and makes perfect sense.
The problem is that none of it is practical.
By watching the debates and speeches, one thing becomes clear: Senator Sanders has not really thought through his "revolution." When questioned about how a divided government will approve of his radical, progressive agenda Sanders simply implies that Congress will adhere to the will of the people. Um, newsflash: This is the same Congress that just told the 90% of Americans that want mandatory background checks to go and stick it where the sun don't shine. President Obama had to fight his own party to pass health insurance reform and now all of a sudden Senator Sanders thinks that as a political independent he will be welcomed with open arms by a Republican-controlled House and a (hopefully) Democratically-controlled Senate. The odds are more likely that Donald Trump actually shoots someone on Fifth Avenue than Senator Sanders willfully having Congress enact his entire agenda.
It's not simply the health care issue where Senator Sanders seemed to have strayed from reality. He also has grandiose ideas regarding breaking up the big banks which is something that he has wanted to accomplish for a long time. However, the ramification from this idea seems to be something that Sanders hasn't fully conceived. For example, to break up the big banks sounds good and well but what happens to the customers of those banks that rely on them for their savings accounts? What about small businesses that rely on those banks for loans? What about homeowners who pay a mortgage through the bank? Are all these accounts then shifted toward community banks? If so, which ones? What if this new bank is far away from someone's home or business?
The same issues arise with Senator Sanders' plan for free college tuition. Again, it sounds great but how does it play out? Does it apply to both public and private universities? What about religious schools? How will colleges and universities offset the lost revenue from their entire student populations? Will people that work in financial aid offices be laid off across the country? Will college athletes be paid since everyone on campus is essentially on scholarship? How will colleges and universities prepare for a massive influx in applications now knowing that a student's financial situation is no longer a factor in his or her decision to apply to college? And, here's a zinger that Senator Sanders may have not considered: Is it really beneficial to make college free for the children of somebody like Donald Trump?
There also exists the fact that certain systems we already have in place are much better than the alternative. Senator Sanders has made the idea of universal health care a central theme to his campaign. However, those that have actually studied his plan have found that it actually hurts women and then even if somehow implemented, it would not likely withstand the inevitable legal challenges that it would face. In addition, Sanders seems intent on this monomaniacal quest to completely overhaul the Affordable Care Act rather than build upon its successes. To do that, not only would he erase the 17 million Americans who now have improved health insurance but we would also then implement a system where middle-class Americans would be taxed in order to pay for it. At a time where the uninsured rate is at a record low, it makes zero sense to scrap the entire system and start anew yet Sanders is insistent that this is the only option we as a country have to improve our health care system.
In addition, part of being a pragmatist is being able to critically reflect on the decisions you have made. Senator Sanders has made it no secret that he takes great pride in his vote against the Iraq War in 2003. However, Sanders has also been criticized for some of his votes, including twice having voted against anti-gun legislation that would have helped to stem the tide of guns being sold on the black market, most recently in 2005. Whereas Sanders has used Hillary Clinton's admittance that her Iraq vote was a mistake as an indicator that she lacks proper judgment, he recently found himself in an awkward position: He either had to go on record supporting anti-gun legislation or he had to admit that he also has previously erred in judgment on a particular issue. It was not until this past week that Sanders finally admitted that he would support new legislation to amend the 2005 bill. However, this new-found support comes at a time when this legislation would never pass the Republican-controlled House making Sanders' stance a purely symbolic one and he has yet to admit that he regrets any of his previous votes that might have actually made an impact at the time the votes were cast.
And it is that idea of being purely symbolic that truly represents Senator Bernie Sanders' campaign. That's what his campaign is: A symbolic wishlist of things he would like to accomplish. The problem is that when you overshoot the moon, you're left feeling disappointed. A Bernie Sanders presidency would not accomplish anything he is currently proposing to do. Our system is based on incremental change rather than revolution. That may not sit well with many progressives who want instant change but as we have seen with President Obama even the most obvious reforms will encounter resistance from both political parties. The next president needs to be grounded in practicality and be aware that an ambitious agenda is good but a realistic agenda is even better. Until this country again has a Democratically-controlled House and Senate, it makes zero sense to elect someone who will completely alienate one, if not both, major political parties right off the bat. When that happens, we get a four-year stalemate that will potentially undo all the wheels that President Barack Obama has set in motion.
As a country, that is something we simply cannot afford.
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