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First off, I have to be honest about my level of interest in politics; beyond its direct impacts on things I actually care about, it’s pretty much non-existent. However, in these times, there are a lot of concerning trends, both environmentally and socially-speaking, that are impacted hugely by the decisions made by our political leaders. Climate change, austerity, extinction and habitat loss, conflict, water and air pollution, poverty, and the increasing wealth gap are a few I can think of straight off. The threats we face from environmental destruction and the social and economic marginalization of the majority of the world’s people (the already impoverished most of all), are things that, in order to tackle and remedy, would require tremendous political will translating to firm action on the ground.
Given the state of modern-day politics almost everywhere, that is something citizens in most nations have learned not to even imagine, let alone expect.
But why? Why do we bother to elect leaders if not to lead our societies forward? To encourage innovation and development? To tackle the issues and deal with them as much as conceivably possible to the benefit of as many people as possible? In essence, it’s their job, and we are their employers. We pay them through our taxes to provide us with a specific service, essentially as national managers of all matters of interest and impacting upon the populace. In most workplaces, a manager of poor ability doesn’t hold their post long, let alone one who is mean to the customers or double-crosses the business. Yet politicians, in their equivalent roles as managers of state, seem to escape all but the direst of scandals.
Politicians today are increasingly becoming intertwined with Big Business and banking interests. The donors and lobbying groups who aid their campaigns are more often than not representing these sectors. Given all this, one is left to question how anyone could operate independently and honestly given the many strings tied to them. After all, nothing is for nothing these days, and you expect businesses and moneyed individuals to want a return on their investment. Charles Koch said just as much in regards his political spending.
So in a world where our politicians are in bed with bankers who would gamble national wealth and economic stability for a quick buck, and those who pollute our environment and destabilize our climate in the name of profit, what way out is there?
In my view, towards the left, towards green, towards democratic socialism. These policies are the only ones truly opposed and active in combating the problems we face. That is because they require the people’s interests, the greater good, be put first, not those of banking groups and corporations or the millionaire/billionaire class. So, if I were a US citizen voting, Jill Stein of the US Green Party would be an option, but Bernie Sanders would probably get my vote.
Before I get into my reasoning, I’ll just briefly jump over to the other side of the US political fence and talk about the Republican race for president. There’s not much to say for most of the candidates who have gone or are still in the running. Most of it seems to have been a televised mud-throwing fight against each other and everyone else. It made great reality TV but in the end people are looking for their next head of state, not voting on I’m A Celebrity: Get Me out of Here. For sure, many people wish they would just get lost, but we have to endure the crazy and the pettiness.
It’s remarkable that such people who don’t believe climate change is real or who propose building walls between the US and Mexico can hold any credibility with anyone, much less advance this far onto the public stage. I don’t think their supporters realise that by voting for the likes of Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, they are hurting their own self-interest. If many of them knew of the benefit of voting in more left-leaning politicians to Congress and to the White House, perhaps they’d consider Bernie. Beyond that, though, I’m largely ignoring the Republican side of things, as none of their candidates seem eminently electable.
That leaves the Democrats’ race for the nomination, a race that was considered a foregone conclusion in favour of Hillary Clinton before it even started. I mentioned Jill Stein of the Green Party, a candidate who in some respects is probably more radical than Bernie Sanders, but, unfortunately, with the two-party domination of American politics, it would be exceedingly hard for her get a platform where she could become more visible to voters, which is why I said I’d use my vote on Bernie.
Let’s face it, Bernie has a lot going for him as a candidate. He wants to bring in universal healthcare, break-up too-big-to-fail banks, he wants to tackle climate change by encouraging renewables and banning the practice of fracking, he’s against pro-corporate trade deals, he’s pro-LGBT rights, he has reached out to every community, including Native Americans. He’s in Main Street’s corner, not Wall Street’s. With policies like that and a record to back them up, it’s no wonder he has so much grassroots support.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, while not lacking popular support, has something else backing her. It’s called a SuperPAC, and she also has the support of a lot of big money donors. Bernie has chosen to avoid that route to the presidency and instead is taking donations from small individual donors only. The average donation to his campaign in the last three months has been $27, but Hillary’s average is much greater and more from large donors over $200.
The way I see it, though, what really counts here is their past records as politicians and how they compare. Bernie came out against the Iraq War, Hillary was for it. Bernie has been against free trade pacts including the Panama Free Trade Agreement, which has, as recently revealed, allowed the wealthy from all over the world to avoid paying taxes. Hillary supported it. Bernie Sanders has come out against fracking, a natural gas extraction method which has poisoned many communities’ air and water and released massive quantities of methane to the atmosphere, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide. Hillary’s state department under the Obama administration is accused of selling fracking to the world, thereby proliferating this toxic process not just across the US but in other countries.
Hillary has ties to Wall Street, Monsanto, and as much she might deny taking money from the fossil fuel industry, getting the donations through a proxy isn’t much better.
There’s a lot more I could say about both candidates’ policies and their past decisions. Guaranteed there’s a lot I don’t know about either or haven’t heard. However, as an outsider looking in, it seems to me that Hillary’s supposedly unstoppable march to the White House has been too easily accepted by some voters and overly emphasized by US media outlets. It seems the hype over her potentially being the first female president of the United States of America has overtaken nearly all reason on the part of some.
What it comes to, in my opinion, for American voters is a simple question: Is it more important to have a woman in the Oval Office or the right person? Is setting this single precedent worth maintaining the political and social status quo in the US and beyond?
A recent article by Naomi Klein would lead me to answer no on the basis of its content alone. Setting aside my other grievances, the threat of climate change and how unsuited she is to meet that threat given her corporate-friendly outlook is good enough reason to count her out on eligibility to be president. As Naomi stated, her links to Big Business and banking would lead her to try an “everybody-wins” strategy in tackling the problem. This would essentially be an attempt to implore the rich to do the right thing, for fossil fuel CEOs to put the brakes on new extraction projects, scale back activities, and transition away from dirty energy. It would also look to their funders, the banks, to redistribute their funding to clean tech and away from dirty energy power plants and mines.
Sounds great, but it would never happen. At best, these corporations and banks would throw a bone at clean energy and maybe look into R&D to burn their dirty product cleanly. What will likely result is watered-down agreements and promises that will never actually be fulfilled, and the climate crisis will get ahead of us before there’s time to properly intervene.
This is her world; win-win-win. She and her establishment fellows look better for trying, the corporations look a little less evil for “trying” and continue raking in massive profits at the expense of people and planet, and the Greens and left-wing activists are placated as far as she’s concerned. Well, that isn’t good enough. Such a strategy wouldn’t even have been meaningful during her husband’s presidency, let alone today, as now, the threat is graver, and we risk reaching a critical tipping point with every year of delay. No, the pro-corporate, pro-banking, appealing to the goodwill of the already-empowered approach is not what we need from someone who means to be president, who means to be a leader.
So if her solution to the greatest threat we face is to slap a band aid on it, what can we expect from her on other less apocalyptic issues? If everything has to be win-win, does that mean that the betterment of education, healthcare, air and water quality, social security, civil rights, economic disparity, and the growing wealth gap will be constrained by the wants of the corporations, the banks, and the rich? The answer to the latter is yes, and that leads to the answer to the former which is a whole lot of nothing.
How can the social, economic, and environmental problems we endure today be improved if we are empowering those who cause them to make them worse? Half-measures in this day and age aren’t good enough anymore, and that is something Hillary either doesn’t realise or just rejects out of hand. It goes against her entire ethos to do what needs to be done. She will not be the one to interfere directly in the economy for the greater good. She will not be the one to take on the banks. She will not be the one to put the corporations back in their boxes. She will not be the one to lift up the impoverished and the persecuted at the expense of the wealthy and the powerful. Bernie will.
Because he isn’t beholden to any corporate or banking interests, I think he is entirely more trustworthy and likely to keep to his promises, unlike Hillary who will be playing a balancing act between keeping the masses relatively content/apathetic and keeping Big Business exceedingly happy. Bernie presents the possibility of politics making a real difference in people’s day-to-day lives, and that is why his movement is called a revolution. Hillary, on the other hand, offers only a slow evolution towards marginally better for the majority (and as good as ever for the wealthy minority) and in the long run with climate change, marginally better will be lost in the mire of tragically worse.
To finish, I think I should say why this is so important to me as someone from another country. It is because the president of the US may wield power nationally but that translates into impacts around the world, on national governments, businesses, and communities. The US sets the bar in a lot of cases and if I return to the example of climate change, the lack of US involvement is probably the main reason the Kyoto Agreement failed. On this critical issue, we need the wholehearted support of the White House. President Obama has managed to do quite a bit during his two terms but not as much as he potentially had the power to do and much like what Hillary might do, he often played both sides of the field between the interests of combating climate change and those of the fossil fuel companies.
Bernie is a completely different kind of politician, in it for the people alone rather than the corporate elite and the 1%. I believe in his message and that he can bring about the changes he plans to as president. He has the will and even without the support of Congress, there’s much he can do executively. Even as a candidate, he has raised people’s expectations of their leaders. It’s out there now that what has passed for leadership doesn’t cut it anymore. People want to see real action, real change, and not the hyped-up campaign promises that are later broken.
Even in my own country now, having recently had general elections, we are undergoing our own political upheaval as the vote has pushed our two largest political parties together, forcing them to come to some co-operative agreement in order to govern. It is looking dicey at best that they will come to terms and put the people first, in which case, we may need our own Bernie Sanders to carve a new political path for our country. However, the US has that opportunity now, to take a new route towards greater prosperity, security, and environmental stewardship. This kind of thing is game-changing and truly once in a lifetime. A candidate like Bernie won’t come along again soon enough to tackle climate change, an issue universal to us all. The next decade is critical, and we need the right person with the right motivations in the driver’s seat.
That is why I would urge anyone in the US who is thinking of voting for Bernie to just do it. The worst that could happen is that he won’t overcome all of the roadblocks thrown up by Congress, and he’ll still probably make a lot more progress on the issues that matter than Hillary. And who knows, maybe having seen what a Sanders presidency can do unsupported, maybe voters will clean house at Congress and vote in representatives more likely to work with their president to achieve even greater ends. It’s all up for grabs. It’s between change very little or nothing and change everything.
Let’s hope more of you out there feel the Bern!
All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions, and no offence is intended to anyone.