One of the members of The Post-Star editorial board can recall hearing Bernie Sanders speak 20 or 25 years ago in Lake Placid to a crowd much smaller than the ones he is drawing these days.
At that time, Sanders was a forceful voice for the overlooked and dispossessed in American society — an outspoken advocate for the less privileged who were struggling to get by and a critic of the privileged who were doing little to help. He still is all that. Sanders’ message has been consistent over decades, but while he dwelled on the fringe of left-wing politics 20 years ago, he is now closer to its core.
American society has moved to the left socially, as exemplified by the acceptance of gay marriage and other LGBT rights. The country has also suffered through a financial collapse largely caused by the corporate banking interests Sanders has long criticized. We have endured an unjustified war in Iraq that sowed public skepticism about the uses of the military and trustworthiness of our political leaders. Changing with the times, the country — or at least, the Democratic Party — has moved closer to positions that Bernie Sanders has long promoted.
Hillary Clinton, meanwhile — the former senator from New York who initially supported the Iraq War and, for four years, was secretary of state under President Barack Obama — is a solid member of the U.S. political establishment. As a former first lady, she is both a symbol and an embodiment of American political tradition and power.
But Hillary Clinton deserves to be considered on her own formidable record. It is unfair to categorize her as Bill Clinton’s wife, or as, potentially, the first woman to receive a major party’s nomination for president. Through hard work and tenacity, she has risen above pigeonholing.
In Clinton’s defense on the Iraq War, many Democrats supported the invasion launched by President George Bush. Clinton was a senator from New York at the time, and on Sept. 12 she had stood in the rubble at Ground Zero. After that, she worked hard — against the Bush administration — on behalf of the World Trade Center’s first responders.
Clinton is a pragmatist, who was known during her time in the Senate for working with Republican senators to get things done, such as providing military health benefits to reservists and members of the National Guard. As first lady, she helped create and led the effort to push through Congress the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides health coverage to millions of children in low-income families. As secretary of state, she pushed for and enforced tough sanctions on Iran, which brought that country to the negotiating table. She has been a strong and consistent advocate for women’s rights internationally.
Bernie Sanders, in contrast, stands for lofty principles — universal health care, free higher education — but has little to show for them. Even if we agreed that universal health care would be better than Obamacare, we do not believe Sanders or anyone else could get that legislation passed. Obamacare is a partial measure — a compromise — but it has helped millions of people and saved many lives. We endorse Hillary Clinton’s support for it.
Likewise, we are skeptical of Sanders’ ability to pay for expensive programs such as free college education. He would have to work with Congress, like any president, and would be blocked from extracting the needed billions out of, for example, the Department of Defense.
Clinton has demonstrated more of the negotiating and compromising skills a president needs than Sanders has. Clinton’s eight years in the Senate trenches should serve her better than, for example, Barack Obama’s three years did.
Clinton also has experience as secretary of state working with both Republican and Democratic political leaders in fashioning and carrying out the country’s foreign policy. Her work in promoting the interests of the U.S. around the world will be an invaluable help as president.
Much of the country — Republican, Democratic and other — is hungering this year for a break from our recent political past. The ideal candidate might have spent much of their career outside politics, while still demonstrating the maturity and statesmanship necessary for the job. But Colin Powell isn’t running.
We have to pick from the candidates we have, and weigh their merits against each other. On the Democratic side, we have Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. We respect Sanders’ long advocacy for the less privileged. But Clinton is the more experienced and accomplished candidate, and she will make a better president.