It’s not the trash fire that marks this year’s Republican Party effort to pick a presidential candidate, but the race to be the 2016 Democratic Party nominee is anything but dull. While the Republicans knock each other over as to who can get the most votes by playing up racist fears against minorities, Muslims and Mexico, Democrats Hillary Clinton (former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State) and Bernie Sanders (current U.S. Senator from Vermont) are battling it out over which one has better reforms for college tuition, banking and energy policy.
Clinton currently leads Sanders in the delegate count (1,214 pledged delegates to Sanders’ 911, at press time), but he’s by no means out of the race. In fact, Sanders doesn’t have to win the nomination to enact change–his mere presence, and that of the thousands and thousands of people voting for him–are more than enough impetus to pull Clinton even further to the left of the political spectrum, should she be the eventual nominee.
In any case, Hawaii Democrats will get their say in the state party’s Presidential Preference Poll at 1pm on Saturday, Mar. 26 (go to Hawaiidemocrats.org to find your polling place). It’s like a caucus, but uses a secret ballot, and you have to be a registered Democrat to take part (you can register at your polling site).
Doing a full comparison between Clinton and Sanders would fill a book, but here are 20 things I thought might help make the choice a bit clearer.
What many people don’t realize is that on a lot of rather important issues, Clinton and Sanders are advocating the same things. They both want to see equal pay, universal pre-kindergarten and paid family leave. They both oppose the infamous Citizens United court decision and want more SuperPAC disclosure. They both support the DREAM Act for immigration reform and oppose both the Keystone Pipeline and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). In fact, FiveThirtyEight says during the two years when both Clinton and Sanders were in the U.S. Senate, they voted the same way 93 percent of the time.
Sanders, though not trailing by a huge margin, has a tough fight ahead of him. The reason isn’t because the party’s infamous “superdelegates” are already in Clinton’s pocket (in reality, superdelegates can alter their support–as they did in 2008). No, the reason is that Clinton has been winning more primaries and caucuses–and, thus, pledged delegates–than Sanders. It doesn’t mean Sanders has lost, though it does mean he has to start winning races, many of which dole out their delegates proportionally, by pretty substantial margins. Even Sanders’ recent “historic” win in Michigan only netted him seven more delegates than Clinton, according to the Associated Press. His recent wins in Idaho and Utah are encouraging, but only netted him an additional 41 pledged delegates.
Sanders is doing exceptionally well with young Democrats (especially those under 29, according to FiveThirtyEight), while Clinton’s supporters skew a bit older. There are many explanations for this, but some of which might simply be that young people tend to be more radical in their views about everything.
Clinton has major backing in Hawaii from the kinds of interest groups and organizations that historically make up the Democratic Party here. Prominent, powerful Japanese-American leaders support her (like former Hawaii Governor George Ariyoshi, who said “Hillary Clinton has shown time and again she is committed to breaking down the barriers that hold us back and to making a real difference in people’s lives.”) Recently, nearly a hundred prominent Filipino-Americans in Hawaii gave her the nod, including former Hawaii Governor Ben Cayetano.
Also, both U.S. Senators Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz, as well as U.S. Rep. Mark Takai of Honolulu, have endorsed Clinton. “Hillary Clinton’s record of addressing climate change, protecting the environment and promoting clean energy as well her personal connections to Hawaii and the Pacific led to my endorsement of her presidential candidacy,” Sen. Schatz said in a Mar. 17 statement released by the Clinton campaign.
One of only a handful of sitting congressional representatives, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii’s 2nd District (and a major in the Hawaii Army National Guard) endorsed Sanders. In fact, she resigned from her position in the Democratic National Committee when she did so (it wasn’t a popular move there, as you might guess). Her reasoning stemmed from Sanders’ non-interventionist foreign policy. “We need a Commander in Chief who has foresight and good judgment,” she said in her Feb. 28 announcement. “Who understands the need for a foreign policy which is robust in defending the safety and security of the American people. Who will not waste precious lives and money on interventionist wars of regime change. Such counterproductive wars undermine our national security and economic prosperity.” (At press time, South Maui Rep. Kaniela Ing also said he’s backing Sanders.)
Much has been made of Clinton’s distant past as a Republican activist (specifically, she was a “Goldwater Girl” campaigning for right-wing Senator Barry Goldwater) in 1964, but Sanders only became a Democrat last year. Indeed, Sanders has been running as an Independent since 1980s, when his political career began. Though he usually caucuses with the Democrats, Sanders has been an Independent in Congress dating back to his first win in 1990.
Clinton is clearly not a political animal like her husband, former President Bill Clinton. This can be a good thing, but it also means that sometimes Clinton just says stupid things, like when Nancy Reagan died recently. For reasons known only to her, Clinton praised Reagan for drawing attention to AIDS, when, in fact, Reagan and her husband famously ignored the dreadful disease, even as it was killing thousands of Americans.
Though Clinton apologized for her comments a few days after she spoke (“While the Reagans were strong advocates for stem cell research and finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, I misspoke about their record on H.I.V. and AIDS,” she said. “For that, I’m sorry.”), this kind of thing has happened before. In fact, 20 years ago she favorably referenced a now-discredited theory about urban crime that was little more than racism directed against African-Americans. “They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super-predators,’ “Clinton said in a 1996 speech about crime. “No conscience, no empathy, we can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”
But she apparently doesn’t feel that way today. Challenged on that statement at a campaign event a few weeks ago by a young African-American activist, Clinton refused to apologize. But when The Washington Post asked her for a comment on the event and her old assertion, she issued a statement saying she regretted using those words. “Looking back, I shouldn’t have used those words, and I wouldn’t use them today,” Clinton told the paper.
Of course, Sanders can be racially insensitive, too. During a recent Democratic debate in Flint, Michigan, Sanders seemed to say that whites can have racial “blind spots” because they “don’t know what it’s like to be living in a ghetto. You don’t know what it’s like to be poor.” To equate being African-American with living in poverty is of course outrageous. Sanders attempted to apologize, but even that was problematic. “What I meant to say, is when you talk about ghettos, traditionally what you’re talking about is African-American communities,” he said.
That being said, Sanders advocates a great deal more checks on police powers than Clinton. “We must demilitarize our police forces so they don’t look and act like invading armies,” Sanders says on his campaign website. “We need new rules on the allowable use of force.” But both candidates support police body cameras and oppose private prisons.
Hillary Clinton’s favorite movies are The Wizard of Oz, Casablanca and Out of Africa. I wasn’t able to find out Sanders’ favorite movies, though I did learn that in 1999, Sanders played the role of Rabbi Manny Shevitz in the movie My X-Girlfriend’s Wedding Reception (look it up!).
Clinton is generally more hawkish than Sanders. On Afghanistan, for instance, Sanders wants a complete pull-out of U.S. troops while Clinton would keep a few thousand troops in the war (she also famously supported the Iraq War, at least initially).
But Sanders is not a dove. In fact, he’s not even a true “socialist,” which is his preferred way of explaining his ideology. A Feb. 8 Daily Beast story outlined Sanders’ love for the ruinously expensive and most likely useless F-35 fighter jet, and quoted numerous actual socialist publications that despise him. “He behaves more like a technofascist disguised as a liberal, who backs all of President Obama’s nasty little wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen,” Thomas Naylor wrote in the leftist journal Counterpunch. “Since he always ‘supports the troops,’ Sanders never opposes any defense spending bill. He stands behind all military contractors who bring much-needed jobs to Vermont.”
Sanders opposes the use of coal for energy, and at first, Clinton did too–even to the point of boasting that her plan would “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” But then West Virginia Democrats howled in protest, and Clinton issued a statement a few days later saying that “coal will remain part of the energy mix for years to come.”
Sanders wants to bring back the U.S. Banking Act of 1933. Popularly known as the Glass-Steagall Act, it prevented big banks from acting as investment firms and was dumped in 1999. Clinton, who has long been derided for her cozy ties to Wall Street (in 2015, she infamously and incredibly invoked the 9/11 terrorist attacks during a debate when needled by Sanders over the contributions she’s taken from big banks and investment firms) opposes this, saying Glass-Steagall wouldn’t have prevented the financial meltdown of 2007-2008.
This isn’t to say that Clinton just wants to let Wall Street run wild. She has called for more regulation and taxation of Wall Street firms–moderate moves, to be sure, especially considering that Sanders has called for the outright breaking up of the big financial institutions.
On Social Security, Clinton wants to protect it, while Sanders wants to expand it.
Then there’s marijuana. Sanders has said
he’s fine with letting the states decide whether to legalize it (basically, what’s going on right now) he believes in “removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act”* while Clinton rejects straight legalization in favor of lessening the criminal penalties associated with it. Neither candidate has advocated complete legalization at the federal level.
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are competing on Mar. 26 for Hawaii’s 24 pledged delegates. But the state also has 10 superdelegates, some of which have already picked a candidate. The history of the party’s superdelegates only goes back to the 1980s or so. Party leaders like them because it grants them a great deal of authority over nominee selection. But their ultimate commitment is never absolute–especially this early in the campaign.
Here’s a list of Hawaii’s superdelegates, as well as who’ve they’ve endorsed (or if they’re still uncommitted):
• Tulsi Gabbard (Sanders)
• Mazie Hirono (Clinton)
• Brian Schatz (Clinton)
• Mark Takai (Clinton)
• David Ige (Uncommitted)
• Shan Tsutsui (Clinton)
• Jadine Nielsen (Clinton)
• Stephanie Ohigashi (Uncommitted)
• Doug Pyle (Uncommitted)
• Russell Okata (Uncommitted)
Cover caricatures: DonkeyHotey
Cover design: Darris Hurst
* In researching this story I relied on an earlier assessment of Sanders’ marijuana policy proposals and missed his January announcement on removing it from the Controlled Substances Act.