Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders is something of an anomaly in the presidential race of 2016. An Independent senator from Vermont, and self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist, Sanders has a unique political career defined by progressiveness on nearly every issue. Widely seen as being against the general political establishment, Sanders has been an outspoken critic of Wall Street, campaign finance, and income inequality. If elected president, Sanders would drastically change the political process in the United States, from public opinion, to actual policies.
Whether you’re Feeling the Bern, or want it to rain and completely disagree with every single one of his policy proposals, Sanders’ political persona is admirable. Obama and Joe Biden both have praised Sanders for the direction he is taking politics in, and even his opponent Hilary Clinton admitted in the most recent debate that she admires how he energizes voters. Sanders’ passion and charisma coincide with his strongly egalitarian personality and views. Opposing DOMA in the 1990’s and supporting LGBT rights, refusing to accept Super-PAC donations, and referring to himself as a socialist of some sort are all very risky political moves. But this is what makes Bernie Sanders appealing. Every politician claims they are different from the rest, but Sanders is arguably the most distinguished politician in Congress ever. When regular establishment Democrats such as Clinton reflect on their voting records they can’t truly say they were progressive in ideology when they went with the majority in being against gay marriage, or supporting the Iraq War. Although it is common knowledge that representatives in a democracy need to represent their constituents to a degree, Sanders has held unpopular ideas in the face of major opposition because of his commitment to equality.
Trust and consistency are obvious characteristics needed to be president. While Clinton still leads Sanders in the polls, Clinton has about a 50% average unfavorable rating, most likely due to her email controversy which caused a sharp decline in trust by the public. Interestingly, Sanders’ favorability rating is higher than his unfavorable rating, as opposed to Clinton’s. In terms of where this lays with progressives, those who prefer Sanders over Clinton do so because of quite a few policy differences but mainly because of Clinton’s ties with corporate America. We see this in the second Democratic Debate on Friday night where Sanders and Clinton sparred over Wall Street donations and financial regulation. This is an area of major concern in the Clinton campaign, and potentially for the public at large. As Ezra Klein notes:
“Clinton’s problem is that many financial reformers don’t trust Clinton to implement that plan — they look at the donations she’s taken from the financial industry, and the number of Wall Street veterans she’s appointed to key roles, and they worry that her plan, for all its strengths, is a campaign document that will be ignored or watered-down if she wins the presidency.”
While Sanders’ plan for reforming Wall Street may need some improvements, consistency in views appears to play a pivotal role in determining the right course of action during crises. Some may argue the ability to adapt is of importance, which is certainly right but in what is expected to be a Republican dominated Congress for 2016, there needs to be no doubt in terms of tough financial regulation. When Citigroup, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley are some of Clinton’s top donors, it’s hard to believe that Clinton will be as tough as Sanders. We have seen the conservative influence on a Clinton in the past; during the 90’s high tide of deregulation, tough on crime policies, and Welfare Reform. One can assume that the next Clinton in Office will also succumb to conservative pressure, as Bill Clinton said in an interview regarding deregulation:
“What happened? The American people gave the Congress to a group of very conservative Republicans. When they passed bills with the veto proof majority with a lot of Democrats voting for it, that I couldn’t stop, all of a sudden we turn out to be maniacal deregulators…”
As Sanders’ populist rhetoric resonates with many, Clinton is now currently under fire for defending her Wall Street donations by saying she helped Wall Street after 9/11. What many experts have seen as Sanders’ weakness now appears to be finally working in his favor; refusing large donations from corporations and Wall Street. Despite what some believe, being progressive in ideology and not just in name does actually matter. President Lyndon B. Johnson passed civil rights legislation which effectively turned his party against him, but like Sanders he put principle over politics. Sanders’ record is demonstrative of principle over politics, and that’s what’s needed during the next economic downturn.