‘Lesser of Evils’ vs. ‘Bernie or Bust’

I’ve always liked to think that I have somewhat of a scientific mindset when it comes to politics, that I care deeply about the facts and am very willing to change my mind when wrong on the facts, and happily so. Unfortunately, being hinged to hard facts and information often makes politics so frustrating, especially when one sees distortion and manipulation of facts being presented as an alternate, optional viewpoint.

As an example, I remember being frustrated as hell with the mainstream media’s faux neutrality during the Todd Akin controversy. If you don’t remember, Akin is a congressman who famously said that pregnancy from ‘legitimate rape’ is impossible (insinuating, I guess, that if you got pregnant from rape, you liked it or were asking for it?) Despite being completely wrong on something that even people in ancient empires were aware of, articles refused to acknowledge this; in an apparent attempt to not offend people who might agree with Akin, one could read the entire article and simply be presented two legitimate, optional viewpoints- that woman can get pregnant from rape, or they have a defensive matrix that prevents pregnancy.

Climate change vs. deniers, the value of trickle down economics, weapons of mass destruction, Sharia Law in America, effectiveness of torture, or effectiveness of government surveillance- the list goes on and on. Once in a while in politics, however, there does come along two legitimate viewpoints, based completely on one’s personal set of ethics and guidelines. Issues that we would- in an ideal system- be front and center in American political discourse, issues that people can debate and discuss that are grounded in the same set of facts.

One such example is Sander’s position on gun manufacturer lawsuits vs. Clinton’s. On that very specific topic- whether or not gun manufacturers should be able to be sued for the deaths their products caused- I actually lean more towards the side of Clinton. I believe that lawsuits may be applicable, given that they make a product purposely designed for ending life as efficiently and effectively as possible, while also very likely supporting the NRA’s lobbying efforts to suppress or eliminate gun laws- similar to how I believe people should have been able to sue cigarette companies for making a deadly product while lobbying a public misinformation campaign. Though I hold and maintain this position, I completely respect Sanders’ position- that they should not be held legally accountable for a product our country allows them to legally produce, and acknowledge the legal grey area.

(Some caveats- A, While I tend to lean towards her side in this issue, I don’t necessarily believe Clinton is completely genuine. I believe she simply uses it to attack Sanders in one position she believes he is weak, taking advantage of how bad it looks to come out against suing families of slain victims. And B, Sanders’ position, that assault rifles should be banned, is ultimately the more progressive one. I would rather the companies that make assault rifles not exist to be sued in the first place.)

This leads me to a heated topic of controversy and debate that has been popping up lately. Since Sanders’ loss in New York, while a great many (including myself) have not given up hope, the prospect of a Clinton presidency seems that much more likely. This harsh blowback to Sanders supporters comes parallel to news that it is mathematically impossible for any Republican candidate to defeat Trump- leading many supporters to discuss and debate what their course of action will be given a Clinton/Trump general election.

As their name suggests, “Bernie or Bust”ers have one goal in mind- electing Bernie Sanders- and have no incentive to vote for a different candidate. Whether the allegiance is to the person or his ideals in general, they swear to either withhold their vote entirely or write him in as their candidate come general election- even if it means a Republican president. Reasons range from the short term- that Sanders is the only candidate that would reasonably represent their ideals, and thus, by basic democratic principles, he alone is worthy of their votes- to the long term reasons, theorycrafting about the direction of a the country. Right or wrong, some believe that a Trump’s over-the-top presidency would reinvigorate liberals to continue to fight harder than ever. On the other side, a Clinton presidency would only further cement the Democratic power establishment, disarm Democratic opposition to her more conservative goals, and allow the DNC to take further action to prevent another Bernie Sanders.

Adversely, the “Lesser of Two Evils” crowd. For clarity, in this post I am specifically referencing Sanders supporters, not those with a generally cynical view of politics. These are people who will hold their nose and vote for Clinton if the situation arises, and will do whatever they can to prevent a Trump (or other Republican) presidency. Though they may even acknowledge that Clinton runs antithetical to their core beliefs, they see the risks that a Republican president may enact a policy (or edict, in Trump’s case) that would cause harm to themselves or others, and their ability to prevent this supersedes their own personal preferences. Further, just as the Supreme Court is in the process of swinging Democratic for the first time in a long while, one health complication or retirement of a Justice would swing it back into Republican domination for an entire generation. Given the current political climate, I would guess there would be no ambivalence in their next pick, like they saw when the court ruled in favor of gay marriage and Obamacare.

I believe both these positions to be legitimate, respectable ones. I personally lean more towards “Bernie or Bust” but cannot refute or disrespect anyone who makes the decision to support Clinton- that they’d give up what matters to them and opt to maintain a stable, lukewarm centrist system of government than allow it to delve into an unpredictable mess. That said, the amount of respect from the other ‘side’ has been a mixed bag. I have seen some random spots of “Bernie or Bust”ers being somewhat conspiratorial, insinuating the notion of voting for Clinton means they were never really with Sanders- but these are random commenters, no one in a role I know and respect. I have, on the other hand, seen several people with a large voice or audience on the “Lesser of Evils” side, being downright condescending- insinuating that Bernie-or-Busters are unreasonable, selfish; they have a moral responsibility to prevent a Republican presidency. To withhold one’s vote or to write-in makes one by default responsible for a Trump presidency and whatever that entails.

Let me attempt to refute that claim. One personal political belief I’ve never wavered from is the idea that when one votes for someone, they take responsibility for all that nominee does. I voted for President Obama in 2008 and 2012, and I am partially responsible for every civilian killed by a US drone strike. I am partially responsible for the push for TPP. I am partially responsible for the impunity of the bankers who crashed the economy. When I voted for him, I took partial ownership of that presidency. Given that Clinton has insinuated that Obama’s foreign policy wasn’t hawkish enough, given that she voted for the Iraq war and pushed for intervention Syria, one can assume she will only exacerbate the neo-conservative line that Obama has towed. If not voting for Clinton makes me responsible for Trump, is not the inverse true as well? Are we prepared to take responsibility for all potential foreign conflicts or corporatist policies Clinton will enact?

My second point is this- my first presidential vote was for Barack Obama in 2008. I had only the barest knowledge of politics, so I believed the vague media stigma that he was a someone different- that he would stop the Iraq war and return power to the lower and middle class. Though I did not follow his first campaign closely, I did start to become more politically active and informed- and thus, more frustrated and dissatisfied with his presidency. Though he faced genuine and absurd- not to mention strategically coordinated- obstruction from Republicans, it was more of what he did on his own that irked me- blessing corporate immunity out of fear of economic ‘collateral consequences’, maintaining golden-parachute contracts for bailed out banker executives while ripping up union contracts for bailed out auto workers, showing only the slightest, if any, support for liberal causes, such as protests and union strikes. Disingenuously claiming that his new policy of drone strikes and bombings were not technically a continuation of war. Unapologetically clamping down on government whistleblowers more vigorously than any other president in history. When 2012 finally rolled around, I was downright angry. Though the climate was not as heated as Clinton vs. Sanders, I boisterously debated with podcasts and blogs who said that we should support Obama to prevent a Romney presidency. I won’t name names, but I was irked by the claim that we were cynical rebels, purists- that for every time Obama mentions raising the minimum wage, anti-Obama liberals countered with ‘yeah, but, drone strikes!’, as if we weren’t satisfied with Obama simply because we didn’t WANT to be. (Where is that minimum wage increase, by the way?)
I admit, I lost my nerve, and voted Obama in 2012, again- all to prevent a Romney presidency.

It was no surprise, then, that a few days ago I saw a new post from the same podcast host from back then, saying that they are saddened by Sander’s drawbacks and supported him initially, that it’s the time for unity- we now have a responsibility to support Clinton and prevent a Republican. We must play the cards we are given. So, I thought they called me the cynical one, but don’t they ever get sick of being on repeat? Think about it- starting in 2008, I was fooled into thinking Obama was a game-changing liberal, the shock to the system we desperately needed. In 2012 I voted for him knowing full well he was not someone who represented my ideals. If I vote for Clinton in 2016 (and most likely in 2020 when she runs for reelection) I will have been voting for the ‘lesser of two evils’ for 16 years- about half my life- and will have NEVER ONCE voted for a president that I could truly count on to support my positions. At what point does this become unacceptable? And if this is how I feel, how can you expect any younger, more informed first-time Sanders voter to not become instantly jaded with the system?

I have also heard the argument from some that they will vote for Clinton- but fight her presidency from day one. That voting is not the same as supporting. I said this back in 2008 and still believe it now- I am not rich, I cannot be the type of political donor that an establishment, SuperPAC Democrat would listen to. My ONLY political capital is my vote. If I were a Clinton or any other corporatist, big money Democrat and I heard someone saying they will be extremely dissatisfied with my presidency, that they do not believe they I represent them- but they ultimately promise me their vote, how could I think anything but “stay the course?” They gave me what all that they could give me for four years of leadership, and all I needed to be was politically left of Genghis Khan.

You can’t vote for someone with an asterisk attached. They either believe they have your support, or they believe they would need to earn it. There is no in-between.

Fact Checkers: ‘You are correct, and a liar.’

Sites like Politifact have a rough time. On the one hand, they do an ‘okay’ job at calling out lies and misstatements, remaining fairly objective by just taking each viral or boisterous claim as they come, without picking and choosing. And yet, they walk a thin wire. When George Macy University sourced their website in a study to compare the honesty of political parties, Politifact spokespeople objected. So desperate are they to be seen as non-partisan that it’s spokesmen cringe and sidestep at the conclusion their own site has come to. Republicans lie more. A lot more.

It is this riding of the line between neutral and objective that has lead many on the left to criticize the website, believing it to pursue and cheerfully report on any perceived lie the left might tell. This is, of course, not to say that Democrats or liberals are immune from being wrong or flat-out lying, but some liberals such as Rachel Maddow have had their beefs with the site, claiming they do mental gymnastics and logical stretches on some statements to hold Democrats and the left to a higher standard than Republicans, so that the lying “score” between the two parties does not look so lopsided.

I personally stopped giving Politifact my website hits following their 2011 decision. Paul Ryan had just released his budget proposal for the Republican side, including, among other things, completely dismantling Medicare as a social program, instead providing vouchers for the elderly to pick and buy their own private insurance. (Government subsidized private insurance, by the way, is something they would later forget they liked, when railing against the Affordable Care Act.) Democrats responded with ads, correctly pointing out that Republicans were voting to dismantle Medicare. Politifact, in a stretch of logic, said that this was a lie- that because the  completely new, non socialized program of private insurance was still technically called Medicare, claiming that it would be destroyed is a lie- and not only is it a lie, they declared it 2011’s Lie of the Year, the BIGGEST lie.

This decision would lead to a lot of frustration, Polifact even publishing it’s own hatemail with mocking emails such as “at least I know when the Democrats criticize our votes to dismantle social security and replace it with private investments, you will have our back- the GOP.”

These logical stretches segway into the recent two noteworthy fact checks, and seem more geared towards bias towards the Democratic establishment against liberal activists.

Our first is not from Politifact, by from the Washington Post’s fact checking segment. A Greenpeace activist’s confrontation with Hillary Clinton recently garnered quite a bit of attention, as Clinton was unapologetically outraged by the ‘debunked’ notion that her campaign has taken millions from oil and gas. In it’s fact-checking, the Washingon Post admitted that, yes, Greenpeace has correctly tracked over 1.5 million dollars bundled by lobbyists as a direct contribution, and another 3.25 million given to her Super PAC.

Washington Post then concluded that Greenpeace, (and by extension, Bernie Sanders’s campaign, who Clinton mis-attributed the accusation to, but has made similar insinuations) lied. “Three Pinocchios”, in the article’s liar scale.
What? Well, the Washington Post stretches in every way possible to come up with justifications. Claiming that she has no technical connection to her super PAC, for one- an eye-rolling notion as absurd as the richest American companies using offshore accounts to claim they never made a profit. But that only explains the 3.25 million. The other 1.5 million, directly attributed to her campaign, they claim, also does not count because lobbyists registered with oil and gas, may also work as more generalized lobbyists registered to other industries. And lastly, that the money in it’s entirety makes up a small portion of her entire campaign coffers- something completely unrelated to Greenpeace’s claim.

While these caveats may, of course, be added during the piece, the claims of Greenpeace were undeniably factually correct- and to claim that it was misleading enough to garner “3/4 Pinocchios” discredits the the Washington Posts entirely. (If the famous 16 anti-Sanders articles hadn’t already.)

Our second example more directly involves Bernie Sanders, and also returns to Poltifact. The Politifact claim in question: “Bernie Sanders says Wall Street Tax would pay for his free tuition plan.”

Politifact correctly outlines Sanders’ proposed “College for All” act, in which a tax on Wall Street would be used to pay for 2/3rds the total cost of a student’s cost of higher education, estimated by some sources to ultimately cost around 75 billion dollars, and that States would be required to cover the remaining cost.

They then go on to explain that, according to the Tax Policy Center, Sanders’ proposed tax would raise between 50 and 60 billion dollars, thus putting him very close or higher to being able to cover 2/3rds cost.

To summarize, Sander’s proposition is either perfectly accurate or over-preforms in how much he could raise to cover tuition for all. Politifact’s ruling? Mostly False.
Again, what? Almost lazily, Polifact barely tries to justify the ruling- giving the excuse that some Republican states, in acts of ideological rebellion, could either refuse government financial assistance, or to pay the remaining costs. Because some states may refuse to participate in his program on obstructionist grounds, they essentially said he was mostly lying. Absurd when you consider this vague assertion could be applied to any number of proposed policy positions that require some amount of state assistance.

Again- though I am against fact checkers taking it upon themselves to pivot several steps in logic or take any number of theoretical variables into account in order to declare a true statement false, I am of course NOT against caveats or “True, but..”. Take, for instance, Republican claims that our Navy is the smallest it has been since World War II- the implication being that A) Democrats have dismantled and weakened the military, and B) we are in dire need of more military funding. This statement, that our Navy is smaller in terms of number of vessels, is true- and also incredibly misleading. Technological capability makes a single ship, jet, or tank worth hundreds if not thousands of antiquated ones.

Rarely is anything true or false in it’s entirety- especially in the convoluted world of politics,  but taking steps upon oneself- with or without an biased agenda- to give the impression that true statements are false makes me want to give the fact checkers “Pinocchios.”