At this point it is a cliché to point out the brokenness of the American political system. In the past eight years, we have seen the least productive Congressional sessions in our country’s history, and have watched as even the most routine political acts are turned into controversial sideshows. What we need is not ideology, dogmatism, or a “political revolution”. We need a functioning, effective democracy.
And it is for that reason that this Tuesday, April 26th, I will be voting for Senator Bernie Sanders in the Pennsylvania Democratic Primary.
Let me explain.
Though I cannot in good conscience throw my lot in with today’s Republican party, I consider myself a conservative in my political philosophy. I am a registered Democrat (rather than an Independent) only because in a city as blue as Philadelphia where our Democratic primaries are the decisive ones, I’d have no say in my city’s politics if I weren’t.
Nevertheless, I do not agree with the idealistic and utopian vision that much progressive politics entails. I loathe the cynical identity politics of the Democratic party. I think the bigger the federal government is, the more frayed our communal bonds become. Further, politics must also have a moral foundation. Now, both Democrats and Republicans would agree with that, but there is a difference between ideology and morality.
A moral vision is willing to acknowledge the messiness of reality and take baby steps forward. It does not try and break the system when it doesn’t get what it wants. It strives for the greater good when reality prevents ultimate good from happening. It is willingness to try different means to achieve our shared ends. Too often, Right and Left want the same things, they just disagree how best to get there.
Bernie Sanders has offered a way to get us there. But it won’t ever happen.
Not only do I doubt that his numbers add up at all, but his ideas only work if they are put in place exactly as he has proposed, and in their totality.
Most candidates offer their campaign agenda as a series of mostly mutually-exclusive ideas voters can use to see how their brain works, what they value, and how seriously they think through issues. Sanders, instead, has offered a house of cards (a really attractive one, I admit) that falls down if even one card does not become law.
Next time you watch him at a debate, listen for some question about how his proposals would actually and realistically get passed. He always appeals to the notion of a “political revolution”. He says that these dramatic plans will get passed not because of him, but because of voters pressuring their representatives. Correctly, I think, he puts it back on us.
But the Revolution shows no signs of coming, nor are Americans beating down the doors of their legislators.
So why am I voting for him, and why should you? Not for his policies, but for who he is. He is a man with moral vision, convictions, ideas, and intelligence. And in addition to that, contrary to popular belief, he is a responsible and reasonable pragmatist.
I say this because he has had a fruitful three-decade career in Congress. In 25 years, nearly 30% of all the bills he has co-sponsored were primarily sponsored by a Republican. And this doesn’t include his mastery of legislative amendments. He has gotten more of his amendments passed during GOP-led Congressional sessions than any other member.
All that to say: he has been able to do the difficult task of being productive while not compromising his strong ideological convictions. No one can say he is wishy-washy on any issue, and yet few would doubt his ability to work with others.
This doesn’t mean he gets everything he wants. For the sake of his moral vision, he is willing to work with whomever will listen to make whatever baby steps that move toward our common moral goals.
He is a passionate ideologue who is a practical moderate. That’s attractive to me.
I used to be a huge critic of Sanders on foreign policy. But as I have learned to trust his flexibility in the face of reality, I have grown in my confidence that he would gather the right people around him. And, as much as I have hated his myopic reliance on his Iraq vote, you can’t deny his foreign policy judgment was right on.
In fact, most of his legislative action has been on National Security, while the least of it has been on economic and financial issues. Again, it seems he is willing to deal with reality as it is rather than just what he is comfortable with.
Though I have primarily offered pragmatic and political reasons to support Senator Sanders, I want to say I also agree with him on many of the most pressing moral issues in this campaign, especially prison reform, racial injustice, unnecessary foreign involvement, and the Israel/Palestinian conflict.
This is why I am voting for Senator Sanders. Even though his agenda will never become a reality, I believe a President Sanders would work with Congress effectively to get helpful things done for our country. The Political Revolution may not come, but political sanity just might.
(These are my own opinions and not the opinions of the company I work for or the church I attend.)
[image credit: The Huffington Post]