Bernie v. Hillary

CULTURE.bernie-sanders-objects

<> on January 29, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Their differences aren’t a battle between good and evil

by Mark Russell

OK, here’s the thing with the Democratic primary: everyone imagines they are supporting the one candidate who can save us from the abyss and feel aggrieved and belittled by the other side. I am personally a Bernie Sanders supporter, but the truth is that this is not a battle between good and evil so much as an awkward contest between two animals who evolved in entirely different ecosystems.

Hillary Clinton is like a grizzled hunter in the Amazon. Every day is a battle for survival. She has suffered every venom and poison imaginable and from her time as being the wife of a Democratic governor in a red state to being Secretary of State to the most besieged administration in modern history, she has lived her entire life in a rainforest filled with things determined to kill her. Her political survival instincts have adapted accordingly.

Bernie Sanders is like a wallaby. He hails from the benign ecosystem known as Vermont, where he lacks any natural predators. He will be the beloved senator from Vermont for as long as he cares to be. So he hops around wherever he wants, unafraid that anyone might use his words to crucify him. Propose a $15 minimum wage? Just have a friendly chat with anyone who disagrees. Call yourself a “socialist?” Sure, why not? We’re all friends here. On the other side of the world, though, if Hillary Clinton channels her inner Eleanor Roosevelt, the Republicans call it a seance. Write a few State Department emails from your personal server? Suddenly there’s a major Congressional investigation, even though nobody cared when previous Secretaries of State did exactly the same thing.

Bernie’s instincts have evolved so he feels no danger in exposing his head to say what he thinks, however far afield it may be from current political reality. Hillary’s instincts, on the other hand, have adapted in a harsher environment, where extreme cautiousness and distrust are rewarded.

Likewise, the two candidates’ strengths and weaknesses are a direct consequence of their respective environments. Three decades of jungle warfare against Republicans has left Hillary battle-tested and well-versed in the dark arts of political campaigning. She will, I have no doubt, annihilate whoever emerges from the Republican Convention and be drinking out of their skull by November. But at the same time, this experience has made her reticent to take strong positions, to say things that could be later used against her. She tends to “evolve” rather than stand on principle. Bernie has no such qualms and, from the very beginning, has taken principled stands on the Iraq War, universal health insurance, gay marriage, etc., which while controversial at the time, have since been borne out by history. He is the forward-thinking visionary that Hillary is not, but he also seems naively unprepared for the shitwave of dirty tricks and false accusations that will come his way if and when he has to run a national campaign against a Donald Trump or a Ted Cruz.

I’m not telling you who to vote for in the Democratic primary. Thanks to decades of self-selecting news coverage, extreme right-wing radio, and the derangement induced by the reality that the white male vote is no longer enough to carry national elections, the GOP field has been reduced to an incoherent fever dream of xenophobia and obsolescence. Either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders would be infinitely preferable to anyone in that mental ward. This primary is not a choice between good and evil, as some Democrats have made it out to be, but rather the choice between different types of leaders, the visionary versus the tactician, whose approach to politics has largely been forged by differences in environment rather than character. §

Mark Russell is the author of God Is Disappointed in You and Apocrypha Now. He also writes the comic book series Prez and The Flintstones for DC Comics. He lives and works in Portland, Oregon.

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