I’m a Hillary supporter but I do like Bernie too. Bernie inspires the idealism of the young and has an agenda that would challenge powerful financial and political interests. But does Bernie have the political and tactical skills to maneuver through the Republican majorities in Congress and fight the same conservative opposition that Obama has faced these past 8 years? Hillary’s shown herself to be a capable legislator in her time in the Senate and she is a tough political fighter with years of experience fighting conservative attacks. But her proposals are much more modest than Sanders, more in line with Obama’s policies. Does she have the imagination to articulate a vision that can inspire people the way Sanders is capable of? When I look at the great progressive politicians of the past, like FDR, Bella Abzug, Paul Wellstone, Ted Kennedy, among others, they inspired people with their ideas and they had the political toughness and savy to convert those ideas to meaningful legislation.
Bernie’s campaign reminds me of Jessie Jackson’s Presidential campaign in 1988. That was the first year that I was old enough to vote in a Presidential elections. In the Democratic primaries, I first was thinking of supporting Gary Hart. When Hart got caught up in a scandal, I put my allegiance in Jessie Jackson’s candidacy. The policies that Jessie Jackson fought for in his 1988 campaign are very similar to the progressive policies that Bernie Sanders hopes to implement if he becomes President. All these years later, I still think Jackson would’ve been a better candidate than Michael Dukakis.
I think there are two major differences between Jackson’s campaign in 1988 and Sanders’s campaign today. The first thing is that in 1988, the Democrats controlled Congress, while today the Republicans have the majorities in Congress. The second difference is that Jackson is a tough political fighter. I still think that Jackson would’ve done a better job of fighting the Bush attack ads of Lee Atwater than Dukakis did. Dukakis did not know how to fight back against the Republican attack ads and he was creamed. Sanders is a good man of great integrity, but is he a tough enough political fighter to withstand the Republican attacks?
Since the Republicans took the majority in the House of Representatives in 2010, they’ve effectively blocked Obama initiatives on The Dream Act, immigration reform, raising the minimum wage, dealing with climate change, enacting sensible gun control, a jobs bill, protections for LGBT individuals against job discrimination, DACA. They’ve spent the past 6 years trying to repeal Obamacare. Because of gerrymandering, the Republicans will probably keep their majority in the House after the 2016 elections. One of the major considerations that I have in choosing a Democratic nominee is this: which Democratic candidate is a good enough political strategist to effectively fight the Tea Party Republican congressmen, work with the Democratic and Republican congressional leaders, and build coalitions in Congress to get some things done?
Another campaign that is comparable to this year’s Democratic primaries is the 1968 campaign, where Eugene McCarthy was fighting Robert F. Kennedy to be the Democratic nominee for President. Like Sanders, both McCarthy and Kennedy were able to inspire the idealism of the young. RFK inspired idealism among the youth of his time, but he was also a tough political fighter. He had a reputation as being “ruthless”, dating back to his days fighting Jimmy Hoffa and corrupt labor practices in the 1950s. Gene McCarthy didn’t have that toughness. McCarthy’s cool intellectual style of campaigning was no match for the more powerful political establishment. The quality that I like best about Hillary is her toughness. Whoever is the Democratic candidate is going to need that toughness to fight the Republican attacks that are sure to come.
I have a great love of history and look to the lessons of history to help me to understand the events of today. Among the other Presidential campaigns that progressives can investigate and learn about is the five presidential campaigns of Socialist Eugene Debs in the early 20th century, the 1924 third party presidential campaign of progressive Republican Robert La Follette, the presidential campaigns of Socialist Norman Thomas, the 1972 campaign of Democrat Shirley Chisholm, and the 2000 campaign of Ralph Nader. Though these individuals didn’t win the Presidency, they built support within their political parties for their ideas, and many of their progressive proposals were eventually converted into legislation by mainstream Presidents.
A video of the 1988 primary campaign of Jessie Jackson
A video of the 1968 primary campaign of Robert F. Kennedy
A C-Span video on socialist Presidential candidate Eugene Debs
A video of Shirley Chisholm describing her 1972 run for the Presidency