With the first chance to vote in the 2016 Democratic primary mere weeks away, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are polling essentially neck and neck. As such, it is crucial for the conscious voter to obtain a deeper level of insight beyond mainstream corporate media sources, which often present a narrow and nuanced message designed to deceive the voter rather than inform.
Below is an analysis of the position and history of the candidates on 4 significant issues. As will be seen, the candidates often differ substantially both from each other, and from the way in which they may be generally perceived. Information is taken directly from the campaign websites of each candidate (www.berniesanders.com, www.hillaryclinton.com), as well as legislation documents, speeches, articles, and other online sources.
Issue #1 – Wall Street
An overwhelming majority of Americans have a negative view of Wall Street and the power of financial institutions, specifically after the Wall Street crash and subsequent bailout. The price tag on said bailout is usually put at $700 billion although many analysts declare the amount to be, in reality, well above $10 trillion. The truly staggering numbers however are those which show the dramatic increase of wealth inequality in the United States since the crash, bailout, and ensuing legislation purportedly designed to regulate Wall Street. In 2007 the top 1% of Americans had 34% of the wealth. By 2014 that number was 40%. Conversely in 2007 the bottom 80% of Americans had 15% of the wealth, but by 2014 they had only %7. Legislation such as the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, designed to increase regulation and consumer protection, particularly with regards to risky proprietary trading and speculative investments, was delayed and revised in the following years to the benefit of the financial institutions. In perhaps the most flagrant example bank lobbyists ‘helped’ draft legislation in 2013 gutting regulations, literally providing entire word-for-word paragraphs of the Swaps Regulatory Improvement Act. Unsurprisingly many economists agree that today we stand on the precipice of another economic collapse. An increasingly deregulated Wall Street has been an accelerating catastrophe since the (Bill) Clinton administration repealed Glass-Steagall in 1999. What will the Democratic candidates of today do about it?
“Too big to fail”
Introduced the ‘Too Big to Fail, Too Big to Exist’ Act designed to break up big banks
• give regulators more authority over complex or risky firms
• make large financial firms demonstrate to regulators they can be managed effectively
• institute a fee based on the size of the financial institution and the risk of contributing to another financial crisis
Taxing the 0.1%
Proposes a financial transaction tax as well as a tax on Wall Street speculation
Proposes a tax on high frequency trading
• Proposed a cap on credit card interest at 15%
• Cosponsored a bill to end bonuses to bank executives who leave to take government jobs
• Proposes to make senior managers lose their bonuses when banks suffer losses that threaten financial health
• Proposes to extend the statute of limitations for prosecuting major financial fraud
• 1999-Fought against the repeal of Glass-Steagall (repeal is generally understood to be the major contributing factor to the financial collapse in 2008)
• 2009-Voted against the Wall Street bailout
• 2009-Introduced the Federal Reserve Transparency Act in the Senate
• Against re-institution of Glass-Steagall
• Voted for the Wall Street bailout
• 2008-Received over $21 million from the finance industry towards her Presidential campaign
• 2013-15 – Gave speeches to such financial institutions as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, etc. for fees ranging from $250,00-$500,000 per speech
• 1999-2015 – 6 of 10 top campaign contributors were financial institutions
• Son-in-Law Marc Mezvinsky is a Goldman Sachs alum and current hedge fund manager at Eaglevate Partners LP
Hillary Clinton is, correctly or incorrectly, known as a great friend to Wall Street. With her history of receiving enormous sums of money from financial institutions, family ties, and previous policy positions it is hard not to see why. Conversely, through words and actions, Bernie Sanders has long been known as a thorn in the side of major financial institutions. His presidential platform is dramatic in scope and aggressive in language. Repeatedly he speaks of the economy being ‘rigged’ and banks that are ‘too big to fail’ being ‘too big to exist’, while articulating provocative policy solutions. Clinton, on the other hand, has rarely ventured into the realm of compelling rhetoric, except for the interestingly vague statement that she would tell Wall Street to “cut it out”. She has proposed a more delicate platform focused on increasing the type and strength of regulatory legislation which financial institutions have already been altering and avoiding following the crash. Despite her stated desire to make the financial system “fairer and more accountable” there seems to be a level of resignation to the idea that financial institutions will be inherently risky and powerful.
Before leaving the subject– an interesting quote comes from William D. Cohan, former banker and current bestselling author and business insider.
“The big bankers love Clinton, and by and large they badly want her to be president. Many of the rich and powerful in the financial industry—among them, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman, Tom Nides, a powerful vice chairman at Morgan Stanley, and the heads of JPMorganChase and Bank of America—consider Clinton a pragmatic problem-solver not prone to populist rhetoric. To them, she’s someone who gets the idea that we all benefit if Wall Street and American business thrive. What about her forays into fiery rhetoric? They dismiss it quickly as political maneuvers. None of them think she really means her populism.”
Issue #2- National Defense
In the wake of 9/11 few could have imagined the magnitude of consequence for the United States. From the $3 trillion (or more) spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, to the Patriot Act and NSA spying, to seemingly the endless extension of military involvement in places like Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan, all under the umbrella of the ambiguously defined ‘war on terror’. The culmination seems now to be the frighteningly belligerent Republican position of neoconservative militarism, the expanding removal of Constitutional rights, and anti-Muslim xenophobia. As such, it is extremely important to know where the Democratic candidates stand on various topics surrounding the issue of national security.
• Has stated the desire to take a “hard look” at the Pentagon budget, priorities, and accountability
• Rejects increased defense spending at the cost of cutting domestic social spending
Promises to maintain the “best trained, best equipped, strongest military the world has ever known”
Terrorism and ISIS
Strong advocate that wealthy middle eastern nations such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar should be leading the fight on terrorism in that area. He is quoted as saying – “It has been reported that Qatar will spend $200 billion on the 2022 World Cup, including the construction of an enormous number of facilities to host that event—$200 billion on hosting a soccer event, yet very little to fight against ISIS”. Also believes in addressing the root causes of radicalization and providing humanitarian relief in the area.
Believes America should be “empowering partners to defeat terrorism” including supporting the buildup of the Iraqi military, as well as supporting security in places such as Afghanistan, Libya, and Yemen.
Seeks a move away from unilateral military action and believes going to war should be the last resort not the first
Supported Iraq war, Libyan intervention, Syrian intervention, and escalation of Afghanistan war. Also supports increased drone strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere.
Supports the 2-State solution in Israel/Palestine. Also strongly condemns Hamas rocket attacks as well as the “disproportionate and completely unacceptable” Israeli attacks
Seeks to protect and further arm Israel. Has stated that “If anyone challenges Israel’s security they challenge America’s security”
Promotes a policy of focusing on diplomatic solutions. “The test of a great and powerful nation is not how many wars it can engage in but how it can resolve international conflicts in a peaceful manner”
Has at different times spoken of “holding China accountable”, “going toe to toe with Putin”, and has advocated for “crippling sanctions against Iran”. Also supports drone strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere as well as an increased military presence around Iran.
Seeks to abolish torture
As of 2015 seeks to abolish torture. In 2007 was quoted as saying she sought to abolish torture with the caveat that “In the event we were ever confronted with having to interrogate a detainee with knowledge of an imminent threat to millions of Americans, then the decision to depart from standard international practices must be made by the president”
• Former Chairman and current member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee
• Voted against the first Gulf War
• Supported use of force to stop the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans
• Supported use of force in Afghanistan (after clear evidence the Taliban regime supported Al-Qaeda who attacked on 9/11)
• Voted against the Iraq war
• Called on both President Bush and President Obama to withdraw troops from Iraq
• Voted against the Patriot Act
• Voted against the renewal of the Patriot Act
• Voted against the USA Freedom Act (a reform of the Patriot Act) saying it didn’t go far enough in reform
• Supports ending the bulk data collection of phone records and internet history saying “we must not trade away our Constitutional rights and civil liberties for the illusion of security”
• Voted for the Iraq war
• Supported intervention in Libya
• Supported intervention in Syria
• Supported expansion of drone strikes
• Supported escalation of Afghanistan war (2009)
• Advocated in favor of leaving a residual troop force in Iraq after withdrawal
• Voted for the Patriot Act
• Voted for the renewal of the Patriot Act
• Supports the USA Freedom Act
It is hard to imagine a bigger discrepancy between the two candidates on this topic. While Bernie Sanders did show willingness to support military action in exceptional circumstances he has consistently been anti-war and pro-diplomacy in both words and policy actions. Conversely, Hillary Clinton has persistently lived up to her reputation among both detractors and supporters as a ‘hawk’, steadily supporting war and the escalation of force in the neoconservative Bush/Cheney model. With impending opportunities for conflict or diplomacy in places like Iran and North Korea, not to mention Russia and China, it is important to decide just how antagonistic America should be.
Also relevant to note is that long before the comprehensive intrusiveness of the Patriot Act was exposed by Edward Snowden Bernie Sanders stood openly against it. Hillary Clinton supported it then and she supports it in its current incarnation. At a time when most, if not all, Republican presidential candidates are expressing a desire to accelerate the discussion on internet censorship it is also crucial to decide what type of a defender of free speech and privacy the President should be.
Issue #3- Women’s Issues
When Barack Obama was elected as the first African-American President of the United States it was rightly seen as an historic moment for equality in America. Similarly, the election of the first female President would be a comparatively consequential moment. However it is important for the politically conscious individual to be able to separate history from policy and ability. A Vice President Sarah Palin would have been significant, but perhaps principally because of her historic ineptness and monumental lack of qualification (an extreme example to be sure, as Hillary Clinton is certainly no Sarah Palin). So while it is absolutely understandable that “President Hillary Clinton” would be in and of itself a positive occurrence for women, it is also crucial to understand her positions on relevant women’s issues, and the contrast to those of her opponent. There is a reasoning that as a woman these are issues which Clinton “wins” by default. A closer examination shows not only that Bernie Sanders has a long and recognized history as a champion of gender equality, but that Clinton and Sanders do differ on the issues in ways that are both substantive and rhetorical.
• Advocates for pay equality for women. Supports and has voted for the Paycheck Fairness Act
• Proposes increasing minimum wage to $15/hr (Women make up 2/3 of all minimum wage workers)
• Also advocates for pay equality for women. Co-sponsored and supports the Paycheck Fairness Act
• Proposes increasing minimum wage to $12/hr
• Supports the expansion of funding for Planned Parenthood as well as other initiatives which support women’s health, access to contraception, and availability of abortions.
• Will only nominate Supreme Court judges that support Roe v. Wade (3 Supreme Court justices are currently over 80 years old, and another is 78). This is hugely important to pro-choice advocates especially considering Whole Women’s Heath v. Cole, which is currently being contested in the Supreme Court.
• Against allowing employers who provide health care from denying coverage of birth control
• Is against defunding Planned Parenthood
• Supports and respects Roe v. Wade
• Against allowing employers who provide health care from denying coverage of birth control
• Believes abortions should be “safe, legal, and rare”
• Cosponsored and supports the FAMILY Act which would provide 12 weeks of paid leave each year to workers for the birth/adoption of a child, or a family or personal medical emergency
• Cosponsored and supports the Healthy Families Act which would guarantee 7 days of paid sick leave per year for employees
• Introduced the Guaranteed Paid Vacation Act, which would require employers to provide 10 days of paid vacation per year
• Will “substantially” increase funding to the WIC program that provides nutrition assistance to low-income pregnant women and mothers, as well as infants
• Intends to make high quality childcare and pre-k available to all regardless of income
• Says she will ‘fight for paid family leave’ but is against the plan laid out in the FAMILY Act and has not specified an alternative beyond stating “I don’t think, politically, we could get it now.”
• Intends to make investing in child care a ‘national priority’
Believes “much more has to be done” to stop domestic violence through the expansion of services provided through the Violence Against Women Act and the Family Violence Prevention And Services Act
• States she will put forward “bold plans” to prevent violence against women
• Believes in making women’s rights a cornerstone of foreign policy
Social Security (There are 2x more elderly women in poverty than men)
• Will fight to expand Social Security benefits by an average of $65 per month
• Will increase cost of living adjustments to reflect rising medical and prescription drug costs
Committed to defending Social Security from Republican attacks and “enhancing it to meet new realities”
It is clear that both Sanders and Clinton are infinitely stronger on the topic of women’s issues than any of their Republican counterparts, whose opinions range from respectfully misogynistic to overtly hostile. But there are two major differences between Sanders and Clinton which jump out.
First, where Sanders has repeatedly expressed concrete policy ideas, places of expansion and innovation, and points to increase funding, Clinton has routinely been vague, almost as though the fact that she is a woman is supposed to encourage voters to subconsciously read in positivity to the obscure. A few examples; Where Sanders has cosponsored the FAMILY Act which lays out a plan to provide workers with 12 weeks of paid family leave, Clinton has said she will fight for paid family leave while opposing the FAMILY Act and saying “I don’t think, politically, we could get it now.”. Where Sanders has stated he will expand the funding for Planned Parenthood, Clinton has stated she will fight Republicans in their attempt to defund it. Where Sanders has expressed a desire to expand Social Security benefits by $65/month while increasing cost of living adjustments, Clinton has said she will defend it against Republicans and “enhance” it to “meet new realities” (which almost sounds like a position designed to leave the door open to decreased or reallocated funding). It is hard to deny that on many of the issues Sanders has been much more coherent and straight forward.
The second issue is the place where position meets operation, or, if you prefer, where perception meets reality.
Take the topic of women’s reproductive rights. In this area Bernie Sanders has, through his words as well as actions, been a progressive among progressives. Over the years he has used his position in Congress and the Senate to co-sponsor the Women’s Health Protection Act, to vote to allow interstate travel for abortions, vote to increase access and funding for family planning, vote against defining life as beginning at conception, among many other examples. In stating that, as President, he would only support new Supreme Court Justices that support Roe v. Wade he has openly articulated a level of strength on the issue of abortion which is above and beyond most progressives. On the other hand Hillary Clinton, who, it should be noted, like Bernie Sanders has a lifetime perfect score of ‘100’ from NARAL Pro-Choice America, has taken a decidedly different approach. She has long been a purveyor of the position that abortions should be “safe, legal, and rare”. As per her Methodist faith she believes the potential for life begins at conception which leads her to “respect those who believe there are no circumstances under which any abortion should ever be made available” and call to find “common ground” with pro-lifers. Contrasting with Sanders’ hard-line approach to women’s reproductive rights Clinton has endeavored to “create conditions where women have other choices”. The conciliatory ‘other choices’ and ‘common ground’ approach by Clinton and others has led to various states passing laws such as those requiring women to wait 72 hours before receiving an abortion (including in cases of rape or incest), to endure mandatory counselling discouraging abortion, or laws requiring parental consent for minors (again, including in cases of rape/incest), among other procedural and bureaucratic hurdles. Hillary Clinton is pro-choice, this is a documented fact and is not up for debate here. Unfortunately over 40 years after Roe v. Wade the issue of abortion and women’s reproductive rights do, extraordinarily, appear to be up for debate in the United States. Clinton and Sanders are both pro-choice candidates. It is simply up for voters to decide how firm they would like their advocate for women’s reproductive rights to be.
A second and less complex topic where perception and reality do not necessarily agree is that of violence against women, which both candidates are seen as strong advocates against. Bernie Sanders has expressed this through concrete policy platforms while Hillary Clinton has promised to bring ‘bold plans’ to prevent violence against women. More intriguing however is that Clinton has also expressed the desire to make women’s rights a pillar of her international policy. This second point seems strange and slightly contradictory when you consider that her charitable foundation (the Clinton Foundation) has received tens of millions of dollars from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, countries with some of the worst records of violence against women and women’s rights abuses on earth. It seems as though the ability to influence or compel change in places like these would be greatly hindered by having received such enormous sums of money from them. And of course as Secretary of State Clinton facilitated billions of dollars of arms sales to these countries, supporting and strengthening the regimes who perpetrate, endorse, and condone this violence against women and suppression of women’s rights. As in other issues, a contradiction between Hillary Clinton’s words on the campaign trail and actions in her actual life is a recurring theme.
Issue #4 – Campaign Funding and Money In Politics
Why is it that policy enacted by politicians seems to so often go against both the consensus and the interests of the majority of voters? Many believe that the root cause is the enormous amount of money poured into the political process by a relatively small number of groups and individuals. People, and especially young people, are increasingly feeling disheartened and disengaged with the political process. The belief is that politicians, regardless of political affiliation, are ‘bought’ and therefore voting doesn’t really matter.
The examples are numerous and often obvious. The Republican administration of George W. Bush, which spent trillions of dollars on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, was rightly known as an exemplification of the pro-war, military-industrial complex. However, far from de-escalating the situation, the Democratic Obama administration expanded American military involvement into Libya, Syria, Somalia, Pakistan, and Yemen, among other places, while increasing military spending to historic levels. The reasoning of course is that George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and the members of Congress and Senate operating at the time of their presidencies were all being lobbied by the same lobbyists, and funded by the same military contractors. Similarly when looking at the stock market crash of 2008 it is easy to direct attention to the (W.) Bush presidency, known as a time of financial deregulation, with less supervision of Wall Street and specifically the derivatives market. But it was the administration of Democrat Bill Clinton which repealed the Glass-Steagall Act in order to remove market barriers for banks, and exempted credit default swaps from regulation through the Commodity Futures Modernization Act. The lobbyists and financial industry funders were not concerned whether an individual was Democrat or Republican, only that they got their deregulation.
This problem reached a critical mass in 2010 with the Citizens United Supreme Court case. The outcome of the case was effectively that corporations and the wealthiest individuals in America would be permitted to spend unlimited amounts of money on the political process through Super PACs. A Washington Post poll showed that 80% of Americans disagreed with the Supreme Court in this case. And it isn’t hard to see why. Just for example, during the 2016 election cycle the Koch brothers have acknowledged that they will use their network to spend nearly $1 billion dollars on the political process.
It seems as though the issue of money in politics has to be, at this point in time, the starting point of any political discussion. While corporate interests may occasionally align with an individual’s viewpoint on certain topics, the issue is simply a difference of being dictated to versus being involved in the discussion. It is really no longer hyperbole to ask whether or not America is still a democracy (“of the people, for the people, by the people”?). So where do Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton stand?
• Would overturn Citizens United by fighting to pass a Constitutional amendment (which he has sponsored and championed in the Senate)
• Would only appoint Supreme Court judges who will make it a priority to overturn Citizens United
• Would insist on complete transparency surrounding campaign funding through new legislation, and increased action by pre-existing oversight bodies.
• Pledges to fight for a public system of campaign financing that amplifies small donations. Cosponsored the Fair Elections Now Act which addresses this
• Will push for a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United
• Will increase transparency surrounding campaign financing by pushing new legislation requiring outside groups to disclose ‘significant political spending’
• Will establish a small-donor matching system of campaign financing to incentivize small donors. It is unclear if she supports the Fair Elections Now Act
On the surface both candidates appear committed to addressing the issue of money in the political process, though the platform of Bernie Sanders does appear to have more depth of policy such as the Fair Elections Now Act, and the desired use of both a Constitutional amendment and/or the appointment of Supreme Court judges to overturn Citizens United. Where Clinton and Sanders dramatically differ however is once again the place where position meets operation, a conflict in perception and reality. Both candidates express a desire to overturn Citizens United and thus eliminate the Super PACs they have spawned, and both candidates advocate for a reform of campaign financing which would incentivize small donations. However the reality of the fundamental difference between the candidates can be seen through these recent statistics on campaign financing during this Democratic primary election cycle.
- Super PAC Contributions
- Hillary Clinton- $97 million
- Bernie Sanders- $0
- Donations Under $200
- Hillary Clinton- 17%
- Bernie Sanders- 77%
Where Bernie Sanders has refused to accept any Super PAC money, and has built a grass roots campaign of an enormous number of small donations (over 2 million people thus far), the Hillary Clinton campaign machine continues to hum along fueled by large individual donations and an enormous amount of Super PAC money.
With the current belligerence, often crossing the border into hatred (pun intended), of the Republican presidential candidates it is easy to self-identify as a Democrat. More and more people are becoming increasingly aware of the depth of the problems in issues such as America’s expensive interventionist military approach, the power of Wall Street, and the acutely un-democratic way in which the political process is funded. Unfortunately simply voting Democrat does not in any way guarantee that these types of problems will be addressed. As previously noted, the Obama administration’s tendency to be overtly militaristic, both in spending and action, and the (Bill) Clinton administration’s removal of Wall Street regulation and oversight stand as brief examples.
Over the past few years Hillary Clinton has shown some confusion in defining her political ideology, at times characterizing herself as a progressive while at others calling herself a moderate. A brief overview of her positions and actions show that at best Clinton can be defined as a moderate among Republicans, but that she is certainly no progressive. On women’s issues she is conciliatory, on military issues neoconservative, and among politicians there has been perhaps no greater friend to Wall Street or greater beneficiary of the current system of campaign contributions. Conversely it is no exaggeration to say that for decade after decade Bernie Sanders has built a political career on being a progressive among progressives. Whether talking about the Iraq war, the Patriot Act, Glass-Steagall, abortion accessibility, Citizens United, or a myriad of other issues, Sanders has continuously taken positions, often unpopular at the time, which have shown him to be categorically and conclusively progressive.
When Barack Obama ran for President in 2008 on the message of ‘change’ his was the type of change operating within the ingrained order of the system. Hillary Clinton, firmly entrenched as the establishment candidate, is happy to take up this mantle. Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, is saying things which are essentially unheard of at this level of politics. His change is a dramatic and fundamental change to the structure of the political system, and most vitally, who it is designed to benefit.
Despite the near unassailable might of the political system in its current incarnation there is definitively a choice to make in this election. For the disheartened, the cynical, and the disenfranchised, the chance for an authentic change is finally here.