Why Not Bernie?

Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash

Elizabeth Warren was my first choice to get the Democratic nomination and run for president. I explained some of my reasons in a post called Why Warren? There were other candidates that intrigued me, Kamala Harris and Julian Castro come to mind. I could see myself voting for either one of them if they were still in it, but Warren separated herself early in the race. Most of the other twenty-odd candidates, I would consider myself neutral on. I think Andrew Yang was trying to start an important conversation that we need to have, but I never got the sense that he would make a good president. Then, there were three whom I actively disliked: Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Mike Bloomberg. I don’t think they would be good presidents, nor do I think they have added any substance to our national debate. I wish they hadn’t run at all.

Of course, the only two serious candidates left are Bernie and Biden. I don’t know which one I’m going to vote for (or, more likely, which one I’m going to vote against), so I thought I’d try reasoning it through in public. I’m starting with Bernie because his supporters are incredibly vocal and loudly claim that, as a Warren supporter, Bernie is a no brainer.

I believe the reason the Bernie supporters think Warren supporters are natural allies is because of their policy similarities. They both talk about Medicare for All and college debt forgiveness and things like that. That argument doesn’t go very far with me. Part of that is that while Warren has legitimate policy ideas, Sanders sticks pretty strictly to hopes and dreams. Warren not only told us what she wanted to do, she told us how she was going to do it. Bernie either doesn’t know, or can’t communicate the plans. Either of those options is bad. Another part of the problem with comparing policy is that where Warren and Bernie diverge, Warren is better every time. Heck, Bloomberg would be better on guns and the environment, and he’s basically a Republican. But the real problem, for me, with comparing their policy ideas is that I don’t judge political candidates based on policy. As I wrote four years ago, I don’t have the epistemic confidence nor the relevant information to judge most policies. I’m forced to judge based on what kind of people I think they are, and Bernie doesn’t strike me as a good person for the presidency.

I know Bernie has the reputation of being a decent guy. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the relevant personality traits to be president. First, he doesn’t strike me as particularly intelligent. That’s not to say he’s stupid, it’s just that I want to be able to trust that the president will always understand his briefings and advisors. The job takes someone who is legitimately smart. Look what happens when they’re not, like with our current president or with Bush Jr. I’m not confident in Bernie’s ability to be better.

A second personality trait that Bernie seems to lack is curiosity. He’s strangely confident in his views and doesn’t want to hear opposing viewpoints. One of Warren’s most appealing qualities is her curiosity, her willingness to learn. She listens, absorbs, and evolves. Bernie just yells at or complains about people who disagree with him.

Related to that, Bernie is awfully close-minded. I feel like he set all of his opinions when he was eighteen and hasn’t budged since. The world has changed quite a bit in the last sixty years. My own views change all the time. I’d like a president that’s at least capable of changing his mind. Who knows what the future holds? I want the president to be open to whatever comes up.

Bernie has an awfully thin record for someone who’s been in public office for forty years. He doesn’t have a signature piece of legislation or even an issue where he’s led the conversation. In a lot of ways, he’s basically been a seat-filler since he’s been in the Senate. His only talent, and it’s been a very modest talent at that, has been as a social critic. This isn’t the place to get into the issues around social criticism, but let’s just say I don’t think Noam Chomsky would make a good president either.

Bernie also has a major racism/sexism problem. As a person, I don’t believe Bernie is a virulent sexist or racist, he’s not Trump. I do think that he’s a typical old white man sexist and racist. It’s almost forgivable. When his views were formed, he was quite progressive. But what was progressive in 1960 is much less so now. That’s not the real problem, though. It’s the racism/sexism that comes from his most ardent supporters and surrogates that worries me. He should have put a stop to it more than four years ago. The fact that he hasn’t means one of two things. One is that he’s not really worried about it, which means I’m giving him too much credit, he’s more racist and sexist than I think. The other is that he’s such a poor leader that he can’t get his most ardent supporters and surrogates to behave. Either choice is not presidential material.

The one unequivocally good thing I can say about Bernie is that he’s Jewish. Having our first non-Christian president would be wonderful. It would break a lot of barriers and open doors for all the non-Christian Americans out there. It would also be great to have a woman or an openly gay person be president, but those don’t appear to be options in 2020.

All of this ignores the fact that Bernie’s old and has had a heart attack recently. As much as I would prefer a younger president and a fully healthy president, those also don’t appear to be options in 2020. And they aren’t my primary concerns anyway. As far as I know, Warren is in good health, but she’s not exactly young either. I guess what it boils down to is that Bernie reminds me of Trump in a lot of ways. He may be worlds better than Trump, but the legitimate comparisons are very worrying. I will certainly vote for Bernie in November if it comes to that, but I don’t want to vote for him in April. I’ll look at Biden next and see if it gets me any closer to a decision.

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