Why I'm Feeling The Bern

Dear Supporters of Hillary Clinton,
Out of respect for what my mom has always taught me, I wanted to take this moment to not just profess my support of Bernie Sanders for President, but explain in detail why I feel Hillary Cinton is not the candidate that the Democratic Party needs. Even as a first time voter it is abundantly clear to me that we are at a crossroads in this country. The 2016 election will be historic, one studied and discussed for years to come. We have an opportunity to seize the progressive momentum that has been stirred up in the Democratic Party during this campaign and push forward a liberal agenda that many in this country are starving for. We cannot afford to tread water with our next President. We cannot afford to reign in this upswing of revolutionary feeling, or stem this progressive tide that is overtaking a large part of our country. The only way to truly combat the unprecedented obstruction from across the isle in the Republican Party is to fight fire with “Bern”.
When looking at the 2016 Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton, inspires for many memories of the 90’s and the Clinton administration. They see in Hillary Clinton a person they consider to be the most qualified candidate in history, and our countries best bet for our first female president. When people like my Mom and Grandparents talk of Hillary Clinton, they recall fondly how she, in true feminist form, redefined the role of the First Lady with her intelligence and political savvy. How she defied convention and went after her own political career. But for many, a Hillary Clinton presidency is so attractive because of the bonus they believe it brings, Bill Clinton and the economic boom of the 90’s that his administration conjures up. Unfortunately, economic prosperity so readily associated with the Clinton administration is a mirage. Not only did we suffer in the immediate, but many, (specifically those in the African American community), continue to suffer to this very day as a result of the policies instituted by the Clinton administration.
A large component of the mirage of economic prosperity associated with the Clinton Administration of the 90’s is mass incarceration. Bill Clinton took the Reagan era “War on Drugs” and exacerbated its’ negative impact well past the original movement instituted by the Republicans. It was under the Clinton administration that the 100:1 sentencing disproportion between crack and powdered cocaine was established. This sentencing guideline targeted African American drug offenders. It created a racially bias discrepancy in sentencing that resulted in disproportionate incarceration of people of color. As such, by the end of the Clinton administration, 80-90% of imprisoned drug offenders in America were African American. This was a direct consequence of Clinton’s crime policies.
Another devastating result of the mass incarceration of African American people, was the development of a class of ‘invisible ‘poor’. President Bill Clinton has been credited with reducing the nation’s unemployment rate to 4.0 % during his administration. Yet the true jobless rate for young black men without degrees was actually 42% by the end of the Clinton administration. They became the ‘Invisible Poor’ and their fate has affected generations, condemning them to poverty and all its’ trappings to this day.
It wasn’t just mass incarceration that populated the class of ‘Invisible Poor’, there was also Bill Clinton’s Welfare Reform. Fast forwarding to Hillary Clinton’s campaign against Barack Obama in 2008, she actually called the legislation a “success”. Yet, the truth is that The Clinton Administrations’ Welfare Reform legislation not only put in place a 5-year limit on welfare, but also excluded undocumented immigrants from licensed professions, and decimated welfare funding by over $50 million dollars. Following the passing of that legislation, extreme poverty in our country doubled. The Clinton administrations’ policies kept millions of formerly incarcerated people locked in perpetual poverty. By the end of the Clinton administration half of Black men in America had a criminal record, and therefore were faced with systematic under-employment, housing and educational discrimination reminiscent of that pre Civil Rights era known as “Jim Crow”.
Now, before you cry foul and ask how I can attribute Bill Clinton’s presidency to Hillary, let us revisit the beginning of this letter. Hillary Clinton was no ordinary First Lady; she was in fact widely considered an active and highly influential member of the Bill Clinton administration. After playing a significant role in getting her husband elected, Hillary became an active lobbyist for the administration, wielding considerable political power. Her role in the presidency was so significant some have argued that Hillary Clinton was practically an official partner in the Clinton administration. Even removed from her husband’s presidency though, Hillary’s record with people of color and the poor is still shaky. In 1996, Hillary Clinton characterized young black children as “Super Predators” while speaking in support of President Clinton’s crime bill. In a 2002 interview with the Gettysburg Times Hillary Rodham Clinton characterized those transitioning off of welfare as “substituting dependence for dignity”. She further stated that those who had moved off of welfare were “no longer deadbeats”. Then during her 2008 campaign against then Senator Barack Obama, many people, including myself, feel that her campaign had more than a few instances of racial subtext. Case in point would be her infamous “3 AM” ad, which had many who watched it feeling extremely uncomfortable. When speaking about the Ad New York Times reporter Orlando Patterson wrote in 2008, “I have spent my life studying the pictures and symbols of racism and slavery, and when I saw the Clinton ad’s central image — innocent sleeping children and a mother in the middle of the night at risk of mortal danger — it brought to my mind scenes from the past. I couldn’t help but think of D. W. Griffith’s ‘Birth of a Nation,’ the racist movie epic that helped revive the Ku Klux Klan, with its portrayal of black men lurking in the bushes around white society. The danger implicit in the phone ad — as I see it — is that the person answering the phone might be a black man, someone who could not be trusted to protect us from this threat.”
Today when you turn on the TV and hear pundits and politicians discussing African American men, the use of coded language like “thug” to marginalize them, and desensitize the American public to the violence and unfair treatment Black people are subjected to, has been amped up to new heights since the election of our first African American President. The “Black Lives Matter” movement has openly challenged this language and the often violent oppression that has resulted from such thinking. This explains why Hillary Clinton’s past racial commentary has been a big topic in this campaign, particularly her “super predator” comment of 1996. It is true that people’s views can change over time. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, she may have made a mistake when making that particular comment. Yet, until this past week she had never come out with an apology statement specifically addressing the situation, and expressing a desire to make amends. But this was not before a young black woman paid the $500 fee to attend one of Hillary Clinton’s private fundraising events where she attempted to get Hillary to address her former “super predator” comment. The crowd did not accept the young woman at all. It quickly quieted her, dismissing her as rude. Hillary was equally negating, snappy, and visibly annoyed with the young woman who was then removed forcibly by security. In contrast, early on in his own campaign, Senator Sanders was faced with a similar situation, but handled it quite differently. Two young black women interrupted him at a speech he was giving. Instead of dismissing them, Bernie shook their hands, stood off to the side of the podium and let the women speak. He did not disregard them; he listened to them, and he heard what they had to say.
Unfortunately Hillary Clinton’s dismissiveness of young black protestors is not all that surprising when you consider her political roots. In an NPR interview Hillary Clinton professed her feelings of pride when speaking about being a Goldwater girl in the 1964, (Barry Goldwater a Senator from Arizona who voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964). She would later in her young adulthood begin her transition to the Democratic party, but still retained self professed roots in the conservative movement introduced to her as a young girl by her father. Now compare this to Bernie Sanders who helped lead a 15 day sit-in actively protesting discriminatory housing practices by the University of Chicago in the 1960’s. Senator Sanders attended the March on Washington in 1963 and was an active endorser and supporter of Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaigns.
In more recent times Hillary Clinton opposed LGBT civil rights such as Marriage Equality until just three years ago in 2013. Whereas Bernie Sanders has been a lifetime supporter and defender of LGBT rights. At a time when racial tensions are as high in this country as they have been since the 1960’s, and civil and women’s rights are being threatened we renewed fervor, we cannot afford to skip over anything when we are vetting our candidates, and these moments in Hillary Clinton’s political past stick out like a sore thumb.
Racial gaffes and political ideology are not the only troubling issues in Hillary Clinton’s political past. She also has a long troubled history concerning labor and regulations. An example of her anti-labor history would be her time spent on the board of Wal-Mart, There she did not once defend worker organizing in order to combat their abysmal working conditions. On the anti-regulation front Hillary said at the second Democratic Debate in November that she will not reinstate the Glass-Steagall Legislation that was repealed in 1999. Originally put into law in 1933 Glass Steagall separated the banks, preventing commercial banks from dealing with tradable assets, and investment banks from owning these commercial banks. Hillary Clinton has said she will not reinstate the legislation even though many economists point to its’ repeal by the Clinton administration, as a huge contributor to the 2008 financial collapse.
Equally troubling is Hillary Clinton’s history of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from some of the largest, most powerful, Wall Street firms, for speeches she gave to them. She claims not to see any conflict of interest, yet refuses to release the transcripts of these speeches to prove it. Many leaders of these Wall Street firms are now contributors to her presidential campaign. In fact her top twenty campaign donors include; Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Lehman Brothers and, Morgan Stanley.
In addition to her big money Wall Street donors, Hillary has some other friends at Exxon Mobile. The oil company has donated over a million dollars to the Clinton Foundation and helped fund her 2006 re-election to the Senate. In 2005 Hillary was one of 11 Democrats and 14 Republicans to vote against legislation that banned the use of MTBE. MTBE is a chemical that has contributed to clean water crises in Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut. Who might you ask was a large manufacturer of this harmful chemical? You guessed it! Clinton Foundation and campaign supporter Exxon Mobile.
This pattern of questionable donor bedfellows is not just an issue with Hillary Clinton, it’s an epidemic in politics. It leads to a lot of double speak and flip-flopping. Establishment Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, have a habit when it comes to the subject of Free Trade of saying one thing when running for President, but governing in a different way. For instance, while serving as Secretary of State, Hillary heaped praise on the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) even listing it as the one of the Crowning Diplomatic achievements of her time as SOS in her book Hard Choices. Recently though on the campaign trail, Hillary has conveniently changed her tune, now speaking out against the deal. Compare this to Senator Bernie Sanders the candidate with consistent Free-Trade opposition that many Democratic voters have been starving for. As I said, this isn’t merely a Hillary Clinton problem; this steadfast flip-flop on Free Trade has been a problem for years in the Democratic Party. This year we have an opportunity to finally send a message to the party that we are done turning a blind eye to Free Trade flip flopping by nominating Senator Sanders who has a consistent record of opposition.
To be fair, Economy, Free Trade, Race Relations aren’t what pundits are mentioning most when suggesting Hillary Clinton is qualified to be President. What they herald her for is her Foreign Affairs experience. If you listen to the daily news cycle, you probably think that Hillary Clinton is foreign policy savant. Yet Hillary Clinton, in the past 10 years, has seemingly become the face of military aggression for the Democratic Party. Not only did she vote for the war in Iraq, but she also supported escalation in Afghanistan. She was for intervention in Libya, which led to the country’s infrastructure falling to shambles, and it becoming a terrorist hotbed. Hillary even plotted with the CIA to arm Syrian rebels. Many who support Hillary Clinton tout her superior knowledge of Foreign Affairs, and her time as Secretary of State as being chief reasons why she would make a great President. But Hillary Clinton does not actually have many accomplishments as SOS to put forward. In fact, in the short time that he has served as Secretary of State, John Kerry has produced far more diplomatic wins than Hillary did as SOS, (re-opening ties with Cuba, getting chemical weapons out of Syria and the Iranian nuclear deal). When you look at Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, it seems clear that she was either unwilling or unable to take on any major diplomatic challenges that would leave a true mark. For the most part, Hillary Clinton simply kept the status quo, or just toed the line. This does not constitute an approach that can succeed in the current political climate and will in the long run set the country back in our effort to push forth-progressive ideals.
Looking forward towards a general election, it is important to note that Hillary Clinton is currently saddled with a 53% unfavorable rating nationwide. Her net favorability rating is -13% compared to +24% for Senator Sanders. Even if Hillary were to be elected, according to some, she would face similar if not more Congressional obstruction than President Obama when trying to pass legislation. Yet Hillary Clinton and her team, along with the help of the DNC, (Democratic National Committee), are pushing forth the idea that a candidate with an agenda centered on the fight for universal healthcare, social and economic equality, and campaign finance reform, is unrealistic and unelectable. They have down played the efficacy of the revolution that Bernie Sanders’ candidacy has inspired. We need a progressive leader of the Democratic Party who has been a steadfast Progressive and defender of Progressive ideology. We cannot allow our fear of an uphill battle compromise our ideals any longer. Where would we be if in the 1950’s and 60’s those who didn’t believe a revolution possible had caused Martin Luther King Jr to dim his message? If those who thought revolution was too radical to be accomplished had been able to keep him from rising to a leadership position in the Civil Rights movement. If a revolution could be easily pictured or completed, the need for a revolution would not exist in the first place.
The reality is that while Hillary Clinton has various pros, and I don’t believe her to be an inherently evil person, she represents what the Democratic party has become as a result of increased corporate interests and a hunger for complete control of the party and its inner workings by it’s leaders. That’s not all that far off from what we look down on Republicans for. Our party is now overwhelmingly controlled by a small group of millionaires and billionaires who wield power over millions. We have rigged our nomination process so that the establishment can hand pick candidates, and we continue to move increasingly to the right every year. Hillary Clinton is not entirely responsible for this, but she represents a great deal of it. I am mindful of the fact that Bernie Sanders did in fact vote for the 1994 Crime Bill, but he did not vote for Welfare Reform in 1996 along with deregulation and the war in Iraq. Hillary supported all of these, and they have all been unmitigated disasters for our country. Hillary Clinton’s political choices illustrate that she is not far enough to the left to be the progressive leader our party needs.
This year we have an important choice to make. Do we go with what feels comfortable and familiar, or do we attach ourselves to the seeds of revolution? The choice for me is clear; it’s time for a revolution. It’s time for Bernie Sanders. Make no mistake; the choice that we make will have lasting ramifications felt not only within the Democratic Party, but also by the country, for generations to come.
Sincerely #FeelingTheBern,
Skyler Nash