By PETER THOMAS
It has been four weeks since the New York Times endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. In those four weeks, the rift within the Democratic Party between those who support Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders has only widened. Certainly, Senator Sanders’s recent successes – barely losing to Clinton in Iowa and defeating her in New Hampshire – speaks to the popularity of the Sanders campaign. Yet that popularity, as both former-Secretary Clinton and political analysts from CNN and The Huffington Post have pointed out, neither enhances Sanders’s viability in the general election nor reveals dramatic differences between his and Clinton’s policies.
In the past Democratic debates, both candidates have both declared themselves in “vigorous agreement” and “together” on issues ranging from mass incarceration to economic policy, including the necessity of divorcing the American political system from unaccountable campaign funding. It is true that Clinton has been repeatedly accused of nefarious financial activities and “coziness with Wall Street.” And her and the Clinton Foundation’s fiscal history have been somewhat lacking in transparency.
Still, the prospective candidate has repeatedly stated her intentions to increase the monetary transparency of her campaign incredibly clearly. Clinton’s website describes campaign finance reform as “an issue [she] will fight for as president” and her ardent desire to “end the flow of secret, unaccountable money that is distorting our elections…and drowning out the voices of too many everyday Americans.” Yet, as in the case of many of Clinton’s positions, Sander’s demagoguery and inflammatory rhetoric have undermined the clarity and reason with which Clinton addresses the same issues.
Though he has framed his candidacy as the ultimate anti-establishment campaign, Sanders has maintained a record of upholding so-called establishment politics.
The issue of campaign-finance corruption, however, reveals the critical difference between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. “I am not a single issue candidate,” Clinton explained at the PBS debate on February 11, “and I do not believe we live in a single issue country.” What threatens American democracy today is not purely economic. It is international, it is legal and it is social. The presidential race cannot simply address the economy; it must also address the nation’s foreign challenges, which pose a threat not only to Americans but also to people abroad, its laws, which disadvantage minorities, and its society, which continues to discriminate against women, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, the LGBTQIA+ community and others.
In many of these areas, Sanders and Clinton are again in accord. Both candidates seek to combat racially-motivated violence, to address climate change and to strengthen social programs. Yet, in the sphere of foreign policy, a marked distinction emerges between Clinton and Sanders. During her four-year tenure as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton gleaned vital experience in the international sector, not only regimenting international energies behind climate change and humanitarian initiatives, but also developing a fundamental and nuanced understanding of America’s real position in the world. In an interview with Politico, Senator Harry Reid, sometimes an incisive critic of Clinton, conceded that “nearly every foreign policy victory of President Obama’s second term has Secretary Clinton’s fingerprints on it.” Indeed, the landmark nuclear deal with Iran and normalization of relations with Cuba were endeavors realized during Clinton’s tenure.
In stark contrast, Sanders has almost no experience with international issues. During the latest Democratic debate, when asked to choose an American leader whose foreign policy he admired, Sanders named Franklin Delano Roosevelt, only to launch into a two-minute history lesson on the domestic successes of the New Deal. Beyond Sanders’s unilateral campaign and Clinton’s multifaceted one, if anything separates the two candidates, it is the Senator’s conspicuous and concerning lack of foreign policy experience in an era in which experienced and focused international leadership is essential to the office of American President.
On the issue of endorsements, the notion that The New York Times’s support of Hillary Clinton is “mistaken” is itself mistaken. The Times is well within its rights to endorse the candidate of its choice, be it Clinton, Sanders or a plush donkey, each of whom far outpaces any Republican. But given Clinton’s record of experience both as a Senator and a Secretary of State, and the commendations she has received from the Human Rights Campaign, Planned Parenthood and even Sanders’s co-Senator, Patrick Leahy, the Times and many Americans deem the former-Secretary the most capable candidate for president.
It is true that Bernie Sanders is a true liberal who has established a successful 26-year political career in Washington. Nonetheless, his accomplishments in the Washington legislature have been legislative, and the policies he seeks to generate and promulgate are better suited to the office of a Senator or Representative than to that of an executive. It is, after all, the Constitutional obligation of Presidents to enforce the laws created by Congress, not to create them themselves.
While congressional obstruction has forced President Obama to make liberal use of the President’s executive order privilege, it is not the prerogative of every President to supersede the legislature without attempting to forge even a semblance of compromise. Sanders’s proposed infrastructure-renewal plan, paid family and medical leave program and social security expansion platform would all have to be inaugurated through laws – laws that Sanders, as a Senator, could more appropriately and effective promote and pass by seeking another term as a Senator.