Me First: Why Bernie Sanders Voted Against Protecting Our Nation's Children

[Author's note:  H/T to TPV community member Henry A. for drawing attention to this issue]

Would you sacrifice your own personal beliefs for the greater good?  

It's a question that would cause most of us pause in our daily lives. Our beliefs are among the things we hold most dear: they derive from our own upbringing, they come to define who we are as a person, and they dictate how we live our lives on a daily basis. Our beliefs can often be challenged when we witness something that doesn't seem to match our preexisting understanding of the world. When this happens, we often evolve and through experience we are often able to change and alter our views to match the world in which we live. As we age and gain wisdom through experience, our views and beliefs will often change in a way that cause us to see the world different as we once had.  

The aforementioned question rings especially true to those who have chosen to be politicians. As a politician, you are constantly dealing with not only your own personal beliefs, but also the beliefs of those you are representing as well as your political party. It's a high wire balancing act where a politician must pick and choose on which issues they will be uncompromising and on which issues they are willing to evolve to match the people they have been elected to represent. Not only that, but the legislative process if often cumbersome: well-intentioned bills are often flooded with last-minute amendments, or "pork" as it is called, in a way to make even the most slam dunk piece of legislation become controversial. It is up to each politician to decide whether he or she is willing to compromise on certain bills that may not be everything they had originally desired, but that overall will help a select segment of our population that would not have otherwise received some much-needed aid or support.

Bernie Sanders refuses to compromise for the common good.  

It is a trait that has won him admiration from his devout legion of followers. They see him as "principled" in that he sticks to his guns and refuses to vote in favor of certain legislation because it has a single provision that is not to his liking. Watch any debate and you'll hear Sanders be able to specify the exact reason why he has voted against certain pieces of legislation and these reasons often cite one small part of an otherwise comprehensive bill. For Sanders, being a democratic socialist means adhering to a strict ideology that rejects legislation if there is any sort of provision that might do damage to the working class people of this country. Should a bill arise that does this, Sanders will reject it regardless of whether or not the overall bill would benefit even a large segment of the population.  

The problem with this mindset is that it creates a sense of tunnel vision where Bernie Sanders is unable to see the broader benefits of certain pieces of legislation. The most glaring instance of this occurred in 2003 where Sanders voted against the House bill that created the Amber Alert, a nationwide system that alerts the public when a child has been abducted. The bill passed the House with Sanders being among only 14 representatives, along with another ideologue Ron Paul, to vote against the bill. The bill then moved onto the Senate where it was approved by a vote of 98-0 and signed into law by President George W. Bush. Since its inception at the national level in 2006, the Amber Alert system has helped to rescue over 800 children.

So why on Earth would Bernie Sanders oppose something that saves children's lives? 

The reason Bernie Sanders gave for his no vote was the fact that one of the add-ons placed on the bill would restrict the discretion of federal judges in crafting sentences for a range of crimes. Sanders believed that sentencing provisions were a power that should rest with the judiciary and that having Congress involved was essentially an unconstitutional intrusion. However, Richard Tarrant, a Republican who ran against Sanders for senate in 2005 when Sanders' vote became a campaign issue rebuked Sanders' argument by pointing out that Sanders had previously supported mandatory minimums for repeat sex offenders and thus he was wanting "to have it both ways" on restricting sentences. Long story short, Sanders felt this one single add-on was so intrusive that he was willing to vote against the entire bill to make a political stand.  

But what did his stand accomplish?  

The truth is that Bernie's stance on the Amber Alert was simply the latest in a political career filled with "principled" stances that did nothing but serve his own agenda. He has consistently voted against the Brady Bill because he felt the five-day federally mandated waiting period would be too long for Vermont residents. He voted against Ted Kennedy's comprehensive immigration bill because he didn't approve of the guest worker program which he felt would drive down wages for low-income workers. He voted against the second portion of the TARP funding which was used to help bail out the American automotive industry. He voted against President Bill Clinton's health care bill because it would cover 95% of the population rather than 100% through a single-payer system that Sanders was supporting. And he was even one of just 19 members of the House who voted against a bill that required rapists to identify their HIV status to their victims because he was concerned it might potentially force innocent people to undergo testing. 

The problem with all these votes is that they reflect a disturbing pattern in Sanders' legislative history: he has been unable to compromise. These specific votes are a microcosm of Sanders' entire political ideology; if certain legislation doesn't contain 100% of what he deems satisfactory then he doesn't approve the measure. Period. It's why he has gone on record saying he is against all free trade deals, even though it is obvious to even the casual observer that trade isn't all bad. It's why in 26 years in the hallowed halls of Congress, Sanders has co-authored a total of three bills, two of which renamed Post Offices. This strict ideology of "my way or the highway" is a chief reason as to why Sanders has only been endorsed by a total of 6 congressmen during his current presidential run and why he has been ranked as the most partisan member of the Senate. At this point, Sanders has become the political equivalent of a young child who either gets his way or takes his ball and goes home. 

The role of a president is to represent the people, all 320 million of them. To do this you must pass legislation you feel can most benefit the greatest number of people moving forward. Part of it is ideological; there will be bills you will veto on grounds that the bill in question simply isn't appropriate for our country at this time. But an even larger part of being president is the ability to compromise. Bills will reach your desk which riders, pork, amendments, you name it. Certain bills will have items attached that you know you personally don't approve of or even think appropriate. Yet if the bill as a whole is well-intentioned, if it sets up a reachable and attainable goal, then as president you have a moral responsibility to sign it into law, even though there will be parts you personally disagree with.  

Our country today is safer because of the Amber Alert system. It is safer because we make rapists take an HIV test. And is safer because our communities have jobs and opportunities for those involved with the American automotive industry. These are all things that have been improved upon by legislation and these are all things that Bernie Sanders refused to support for ideological reasons. On the flip side, our country is not as safe today because we don't have background checks, we don't have comprehensive immigration reform, and we didn't improve our health care fifteen years ago. These are all things that Bernie Sanders also failed to support for ideological reasons. One of the chief qualifications of being elected president is whether or not you trust a particular to do what's in the best interest of the country. Whether you trust a candidate to put aside certain beliefs for ones that the majority of citizens might have. Whether you trust a candidate to learn from their experiences and evolve on particular subjects and issues. Whether you trust a candidate who is willing to do what's best for the greater good rather than what's best for them individually. That is the only kind of candidate that we, as a nation, should consider for our country's highest office.

And it is why Bernie Sanders is woefully unfit to serve as our next president.



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