Recently I attended a talk at Bates by University of Rochester Professor Dr. Joshua Dubler titled, “Why Not Prison Abolition?” Dubler advocated for the absolute abolition of all prisons in the United States. But his position is not necessarily based on some kind of moral objection to the idea of prisons. Instead, he feels the only way to make incremental prison reform is to take a severe position. Surprisingly, attending this talk has actually helped inform my view on the Democratic Primary race.
This will be my first ever Presidential primary election, and I’m totally conflicted. On one hand, I like Bernie Sanders’ ideological commitment and passion. But I sometimes doubt his ability to implement any of his ambitious agenda. Hillary Clinton is not as exciting of a candidate, but her pragmatic and compromising approach to politics is intriguing.
Maybe also I’ve had trouble because there really isn’t that much of a difference between the two candidates. Despite some of the disagreements that the candidates themselves have raised in recent debates, both Sanders and Clinton are progressives. The New York Times reported that they voted the same way 93% of the time in the two years they were both in the Senate. Sanders certainly falls farther to the left than Clinton, but they agree on almost all of the core issues.
That being said, having a lens into Dubler’s thought process has helped make clear the distinction between the two candidates for me. Any rational person understands that their Commons crush will notice them long before Congress ever passes Bernie’s free college program. Not to mention single payer healthcare. But maybe there is a deeper strategy to the Vermont Senator’s tactics. Maybe he, like Dubler, believes the only way to even make incremental reform is to take the extreme position.
Clinton, on the other hand, has cast herself as the reasonable, and more practical candidate. She said in the last debate, “I want to imagine a country where people’s wages reflect their hard work, where we have healthcare for everyone, and where every child gets to live up to his or her potential.” This sounds almost identical to what we hear Sanders say on a regular basis, but Clinton continues by saying, “and I’m not making promises that I cannot keep.” Clinton claims she wants everything that Bernie advocates for, but adds in a touch of reality. She believes this compromising approach is the best way to get Congress to actually do something.
In a time of unprecedented Congressional gridlock, progressives have a serious dilemma. How do we go about pushing reform? Is it better to take the centrist position? Or is the only way to make small changes to advocate for extreme changes? This is what is at stake in the race for the Democratic nomination.
Which candidate has the better political philosophy? I’m not really sure yet. But I do know that the race is heating up after a virtual tie in Iowa and a big win for Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire. Although it looks like Clinton has the advantage in most of the remaining states, Sanders has been shockingly successful. This is going to come down to the wire. Luckily, I have a couple of months to decide.