The Progressive Cynic’s Case for Bernie Sanders: Part #1

© Josh Sager – January 2016

I support Bernie Sanders for president and will not only vote for him on Election Day, but will do everything in my power to help him win the Democratic nomination and mobilize his revolution for the general election. In my opinion, he is the single best candidate in the 2016 field and would have the most success in passing progressive policies of any candidate.


That said, I will vote for Hillary Clinton if she gets the nomination and will not choose to stay home or vote for a third-party. While I have some serious problems with Hillary’s record, it is undeniable that she is incomparably better than any of the Republicans who she may run against. Any Bernie supporter who snubs Hillary in the general and risks the ascension of Trump, Cruz, or Rubio to the presidency is working against progressivism in the long term and is arguably putting the nation at risk—the modern GOP is borderline fascist and cannot be allowed uncontested control over the federal government (Executive, Legislative and Judicial).

While politics is competitive, thus the following section is going to bring up some seriously uncomfortable truths about Hillary Clinton, you must keep in mind that whatever I say about Clinton can be said ten times about the Republicans.

The Progressive Cynic’s Case for Bernie Sanders:

While there are dozens of reasons why Americans support, Bernie Sanders, I have limited my case to ten simple and substantive arguments. These deal with real issues of efficacy and policy, not with personal characteristics that could lead people to support Bernie (ex. his history of flying cattle-class rather than first-class or in a private jet). This is simply because I am policy and results focused, thus see these identity-issues as amusing and interesting, but largely irrelevant.

  • Bernie is a populist who has absolutely refused to participate in the corruption that has become legal and ubiquitous in Washington.

Washington is hopelessly corrupt and virtually every politician runs their campaign using corporate and big-money donations. In the post-Citizens United world, big-money has flooded the political scene and super-PACs spend unlimited amounts of opaque money to support their respective candidate.

Bernie Sanders is a welcome outlier to this corrupt culture. He has refused to accept corporate donations and has not formed a super-PAC. The Sanders campaign runs almost entirely on small personal donations—often just $10-$50—and, in December 2015, it broke the Obama campaign’s record for small donors (2 million individual donors). Conversely, the Clinton campaign has relied very heavily on large (>$500) donations and bundled contributions from wealthy individuals. The following is a graph made by The Washington Post, using FEC filings from 2015 Q3.

On a personal level, Bernie has refused to profiteer off of his office or accept the back-ended bribes that come in the form of “consulting” fees and paid speeches. These paid opportunities are very dangerous, as they allow big-money to give large amounts of money to politicians, while avoiding accusations of bribery. It allows corporations to control politicians because they can offer or withhold millions of dollars in income depending upon whether a politician serves them while in office (cater to corporations = millions of dollars after you leave office; oppose corporations = no big-money speaking fees).

Just to put this into perspective: In 2014, Bernie made several paid speeches, netting him just under $2,000 in personal income, which he immediately donated to a local Vermont nonprofit (NKCA) aimed at providing nutrition and education programs to low income children. Conversely, during 2014, Hillary Clinton made at least $11 million in personal income from speaking engagements, an indeterminate amount of which may have been donated to the Clinton Foundation. Since 2001 Hillary Clinton has made approximately $125 million in income from these speaking engagements, the majority of which has come from big banks, big PHARMA, and tech companies (although the numerical majority have been to universities).

Just to drive this disparity between Hillary and Bernie home, the following table was created by the Daily Kos using FEC data. It displays the top ten lifetime non-individual donors for both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.


Other than Emily’s List, all of the top Hillary donors are big banks, lobbying/legal firms or telecom giants. Conversely, all but one of Benrie’s top donors are unions. Additionally if you look at the amounts being donated, you will notice that Bernie’s top donors have only give a fraction of what Hillary’s top donors have (in fact, Bernie’s top four donors have given a combined sum just slightly larger than Hillary’s 8th largest donor, Lehman Brothers).

Hillary is by no means an outlier and her acceptance of paid speaking engagements is not a disqualifier for her in my eyes. The majority of Washington plays the corrupt game of money in politics, thus it is basically impossible to be a purist on this issue—that said, if I am given a choice between a progressive populist and a person who has taken millions in personal income and campaign cash from big business, I am biased towards the populist.

  • Bernie has consistently been on the right side of history on issues of civil rights—he supported desegregation, gay equality, women’s rights, and [protections for the undocumented.

Bernie Sanders is one of the few politicians who has a virtually perfect record on civil rights issues. He has a 100% rating from the ACLU (as opposed to Hillary’s 75% rating) and has been at the forefront of civil rights fights since the beginning of his career.

On women’s rights, Sanders has a 100% rating from both NARAL and Planned Parenthood, earned through consistently supporting abortion rights, pay equity, and other woman’ rights issues. Additionally, the League of Women Voters has given Bernie an 89% rating based upon his positions, which is identical to the rating that they gave Hillary. In his platform, Sanders has promised to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, apply a pro-choice litmus test for any SCOTUS nominee he would nominate, mandate 12 weeks of paid family leave as part of worker’s compensation, and expand funding to women’s health providers.

While Clinton and Sanders have largely identical records on women’ rights, I would argue that Sanders is somewhat better, as he supports a greater minimum wage increase, which disproportionately benefit low-income women, particularly single mothers.


On African American rights, Bernie Sanders not only marched with MLK but was arrested in 1962 while protesting segregation at the University of Chicago. While in office, he has earned a 100% rating from the NAACP and has consistently voted against discriminatory policies. His plans to improve racial equity are extremely comprehensive and cover the trifecta of criminal injustice, legal disenfranchisement, and economic neglect (it is far too long to quickly summarize, but I suggest you check it out by following the link).

Sanders opposed the racially discriminatory welfare reforms and tough on crime laws pushed by Republicans and centrist Democrats during the Clinton/Bush years. He opposes the drug war, calls for the abolishment of private prisons and supports sentencing reform. On voting rights, Sanders, strongly opposes voter disenfranchisement laws and has promised to reform the election system if elected. He will eliminate felony voting laws, repair the Voting Rights Act, and enact a system where all Americans over the age of 18 are automatically registered to vote.

While Clinton is supported by a majority of the African American community, her policy history is inferior to Sanders’s in many key regards. She joined her husband in supporting tough on crime laws (ex. 3-strikes) and welfare reforms (ex. new requirements for entry) that had discriminatory impacts on the African American community and had terrible results. She has evolved on these issues and now promises to repeal these laws, but that does not change the fact that she bears some culpability for the passage of such a discriminatory regime.

On LGBT rights, Bernie was decades ahead of the curve. While running for governor of Vermont in the 70s, Bernie ran on a platform that included “abolish[ing] all laws dealing with abortion, drugs, sexual behavior (adultery, homosexuality, etc.)” and, while mayor of Burlington, VT, he passed an ordinance banning housing discrimination based upon sexual orientation.

In 1996, when the Clinton administration and huge bipartisan majorities in the legislature passed the Defense of Marriage Act (which defined marriage as between a man and a woman), Bernie Sanders voted against it. In 2000, he was a major supporter of Vermont’s civil unions law, which advanced LGBT equality by giving more rights to LGBT couples while not calling it marriage (so as to avoid DOMA). Most recently, Sanders lauded the SCOTUS decisions to end DOMA and has continued his vocal support for full gay equality.

Clinton may support gay rights now, but she only “evolved” on this issue in 2013. Before her evolution (which occurred months after public opinion flipped on the issue), she helped advocate for DOMA and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and, as recently as her 2008 run for president, was publically against gay marriage. While she may claim that her support of DOMA was to head off a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, there is no evidence that this is true (as pointed out by Rachel Maddow in the follow-up to her interview).


On the rights of undocumented immigrants, both Hillary and Bernie support comprehensive immigration reform plans which include a pathway to citizenship and humane treatment for the undocumented. Both plans would also increase legal protections for the undocumented and allow them to obtain health insurance through federal healthcare plans. While the Bernie and Hillary immigration plans are 95% identical, Bernie’s plan includes additional language which would give the undocumented more protections from wage exploitation. Additionally, he proposes reforming detention procedures and banning for-profit immigration detention centers, while Hillary has not mentioned these issues. Given this two disparities (and barring Hillary clarifying her position on these issues), I would give Bernie a slight advantage over Hillary in his stance on undocumented rights.

In totality, when looking at issues of civil rights, I would argue that Bernie Sanders is either equal or superior to Hillary in every policy area. They have basically identical stances on immigration and women’s rights, while Hillary has spent decades slowly evolving to hold Bernie’s positions on LGBT rights and racial discrimination via public policy.

This is part #1 of a 3-part series. The next part will be released tomorrow morning at 11AM.

One thought on “The Progressive Cynic’s Case for Bernie Sanders: Part #1

  1. Pingback: The Progressive Cynic’s Case for Bernie Sanders: Part #2 | The Progressive Cynic

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