I like Bernie Sanders. I respect his passion for fighting income inequality and I think his candidacy has raised the profile of this incredibly important policy issue.
But I can’t vote for him.
That has little to do with Sanders himself.
Where I fundamentally disagree with Sanders is in his view of American politics. He believes that the greatest impediment to reform in this country is billionaires subverting our democracy. I think the greatest obstacle to reform is the Republican Party. The risk of a Republican winning the White House in November — particularly the current front-runner, Donald Trump — is simply too great to take a chance on a 74-year-old socialist who has never been exposed to the harshness of a general election campaign.
In just the past ten days, Trump won the South Carolina primary and the Nevada caucus, and this was after he called waterboarding “minimal torture,” got in a fight with the Pope, endorsed war crimes, repeated his desire to deport millions of undocumented immigrants, and said that he’d like to punch protesters in the face at a campaign event in Nevada. On Super Tuesday he will likely put a stranglehold on the Republican nomination fight. As the Globe editorial board said this week, “Trump’s campaign has revived some of the ugliest traditions in American politics” and “his nomination by one of the nation’s major parties would be an international embarrassment.”
While the chances of Trump winning a general election are exceedingly slim, no American should discount the possibility that this could happen — and the disaster that would ensue if he were to become president.
But even if Trump were somehow to fail, any Republican winning the White House would have catastrophic consequences. For example, Marco Rubio, the alleged moderate in the Republican field, has pledged to reverse executive orders protecting LGBT Americans from discrimination. He opposes abortion, even in cases of rape and incest (the other moderate Republican, John Kasich, is perhaps the most antiabortion-rights governor in the country). Rubio’s tax plan would cost trillions of dollars and, when combined with his call for more military spending and a balanced budget amendment (though unlikely to pass), would decimate the social safety net in this country. A Republican president with a Republican Congress would cripple Obamacare (if not repeal it). The REINS Act would likely become law, which would require Congress to approve any regulation with an economic effect greater than $100 million, or, to put it more succinctly, annihilate the regulatory state. No effort would be taken to deal with climate change. Military spending would go up; antipoverty spending would go down; and tax cuts would cripple the federal government. In short, Americans could kiss the welfare state goodbye. If you think income inequality is bad now — you ain’t seen nothing.
Due to the shredding of basic democratic norms by the United States Senate, the next president will appoint a replacement for the recently deceased Antonin Scalia. For a Republican to do so would maintain the conservative lean on the Court — and, of course, that person might have the opportunity to replace liberal members of the Court like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. Let’s be clear about what that could mean: an end to legal abortion, potentially greater restrictions on voting rights, labor rights, affirmative action, and the government’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases. Considering the partisan lengths that conservative judges were willing to go to block the signature initiative (Obamacare) of the current Democratic president, it is, from a progressive perspective, almost too frightening to consider the potential consequences of a conservative majority on the Court for years to come.
Every four years, partisans on both sides say it’s the “Most Important Election Ever.” This time, it’s true.
Hillary Clinton may not be a perfect candidate, but there is no candidate more capable of mobilizing the key voting blocs in the Democratic Party — black, Hispanic, and female voters. It’s not to say that Bernie Sanders could not prevail against Trump in a general election. Perhaps he could, but Sanders does not have the same ability to energize Democratic partisans the way that Clinton does — and he is a far less known entity. As an avowed socialist with a paper trail of politically fraught statements, and with very little foreign policy acumen, he’d be ripe for Republican negative ads.
We live today in an age of extraordinary political polarization. The differences between a Clinton presidency and a Sanders presidency are about a thousand times smaller than the chasm of differences between a Democratic president and a Republican president. When you throw in the prospects of a Trump presidency and of a man so completely unqualified and so lacking in the temperament and experience to be president, it only raises the stakes further.
Sanders talks a lot about a political revolution, but, if he’s the Democratic nominee, he might get one that looks very different — and Democrats can’t take that chance. Not this year.Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.