The primary elections for California will be June 7, 2016, so the time is coming for citizens associated with the Democratic Party to choose between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Many Democratic voters in California are still undecided, so it is becoming increasingly important to question our values and the values we wish to be represented in our government.
What kind of society is just and fair? What society provides a maximally benefits all citizens? Have we achieved this society, and if not, which candidate can lead us closer to said society?
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders represent very different visions for America. I hope to demonstrate that Bernie Sanders is the only candidate who can drastically advance equality of opportunity in America because of both his policy stances and his grassroots method of generating public support for change.
Let us first investigate the values we hold as Democratic voters. In particular, let us consider the original proposition (OP) developed by philosopher John Rawls. Rawls presents a scenario where we have the power to craft a society from scratch, in which we will enter without knowledge of our ethnicity, social status, gender or religion. Since, in reality, we have no control over the environmental (i.e., inherited wealth, culture, religion) and genetic (i.e., gender, race) characteristics we are born with, Rawls’ hypothetical is actually a sound way to think about an ideal society.
Rawls argues that because people are “ignorant” of what position they will occupy, it will always be best to maximize outcomes for the least well-off members of society in order to provide an equal playing field for all entering into society. For example, by this rationale, a marginalized group such as people born into poverty would require quality public education and healthcare systems in order to provide an equality of opportunity equivalent to those who inherited wealth.
The United States is far from the equality of opportunity that Rawls’ moral experiment requires of us. Income inequality in America is the highest it has been since 1928, with the top 1 percent receiving 22.5 percent of pre-tax income and the bottom 90 percent receiving 49.6 percent. Inequalities persist heavily along racial, gender and ethnic lines as well. The median household income of white families is $27,000 higher than that of black households. Housing laws de facto segregate neighborhoods and schools by income and race with 90 percent of intensely segregated, black and Latino schools also containing a student body that is predominantly economically disadvantaged. Such schools often have less experienced teachers, fewer resources and advanced placement courses, and lower test scores. Finally, despite the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the uninsured rate is still 11.4 percent (or 36 million citizens) due to a variety of factors, including the refusal of certain states to expand Medicare sufficiently and a high cost of insurance despite assistance.
These problems in the United States have persisted for decades without real meaningful change towards equality; change will only come from a dramatic policy agenda. Sanders and Clinton differ on a litany of issues, but mostly in degree than in kind. Both Sanders and Clinton want to expand healthcare, but Sanders proposes a single payer system, while Clinton wishes to stick with the ACA; Sanders wants to eliminate corporate donations, while Clinton wishes only that donations are disclosed; Sanders wishes to make public colleges tuition free by taxing Wall Street speculation, while Clinton wishes to provide more student grants.
If we were to refer back again to Rawls’ thought experiment, we would find that the candidate of choice is Sanders. Clinton’s policy proposals provide temporary fixes that do not adequately address inequality for the worst-off populations; only Sanders’ plan provides the dramatic, uncompromising stances that will create a more egalitarian society.
Moreover, the kind of change supported by both candidates will only come from a campaign that mobilizes the public and refuses to compromise in the face of moneyed interests. Robert Reich describes Obama and Clinton as “deal-maker[s]-in-chief[s]” in that their method of creating change is to satisfy a multiplicity of interests, including moneyed and lobbying interests, often to the detriment of the public welfare as a whole.
For example, Obama initially advocated and supported a single-payer health system, but to accommodate vested interests, transitioned to the current health plan, which promises the pharmaceutical industry lucrative business and prevents Medicare from negotiating lower drug prices. Clinton, likewise, has embraced her status as a dealmaker and negotiator as proof that she “gets things done” even if these “things” are not in the best interest of the public.
Sanders’ method of social change is radically different and the only effective way to create a meaningful departure from the status quo. Rather than negotiating watered down legislation, Bernie’s method of change is to mobilize the public to demand change and punish politicians who stand in the way – what he calls a “political revolution.”
His reliance on grassroots methods of organizing rather than corporate donations allows Sanders to advocate for change without being beholden to special interests. Instead, he has created a movement that has energized traditionally politically inactive sectors of the population, such as the young and poor.
Bernie is not alone in history in using this method to create political change. Teddy Roosevelt nurtured public demand for change to pass progressive income tax, limit campaign donations, regulate food and drugs, and prevent monopolistic collusion. Likewise, the validation Bernie’s campaign receives through public mandate is the only real way to create change on issues entrenched in conflicting interests, such as gun control legislation and healthcare.
It’s precisely because Sanders’ policies are dramatic that his movement is gaining momentum and strength. And it’s precisely due to the growing public demand for what Sanders represents that he will be able to create change where others have failed in gridlock.
If you buy into Sanders’ vision, I encourage you to vote for him in the upcoming primaries. If you are skeptical he will be able to accomplish his goals, I encourage you to read Robert Reich’s response to Sanders skeptics. There is a movement of change coming. If you believe in it, don’t stand in the way. Feel the Bern.
Contact Neil Chaudhary at neilaman ‘at’ stanford.edu