Robin Ye: Defending Bernie, Part 2!

Source: USA Today

Remember Robin’s answers to Julia’s questions on his support for Bernie? There’s a part two! Here, Robin answers more questions on the role of money in campaign politics, and Bernie’s fiery rhetoric versus having concrete policy proposals:

JK: Bernie Sanders has clearly showed that he can out-raise and outspend Hillary; doesn’t this counter the idea that money is a major factor in this race? Hillary is still winning, even though Bernie has out-raised her at this point!

RY: Bernie Sanders is a once-in-a-generation kind of candidate with a powerful message – that is why he’s raised the money he has. His strategy for financing his campaign seems like the ideal situation to me – devoid of Super PACs and driven overwhelmingly by small-donor contributions and close to 2 million individual donors.

Bernie Sanders has out-raised Hillary Clinton in spite of our current campaign finance regime. Certainly his campaign message and fundraising message is about the least appealing to big donors, so why should he be punished for his success? If you’re insinuating that money doesn’t matter, you’re wrong. But even if we accept that it doesn’t matter, under that logic if big money won’t provide candidates a boost, then why have this system that allows it anyway? If money doesn’t matter (which I think it does), then why should we allow copious amounts of money to be spent if we can achieve the same outcomes without it? That seems like a very good rationale for campaign finance reform as well.

However, in the post-Citizens United world, not having enough money is 100% prohibitive in a race that’s not a Presidential one. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump reflect the exception to the rule, not the rule itself. To me, super PAC money is analogous to performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball: it’s not the reason why hitters made contact with the ball and hit the home run – that took skill and hard work – but it certainly gave a huge boost to achieve the kind of performance necessary to be successful.

Money in an election is used for name recognition and ground games. Hillary has near-universal name recognition. Very few people knew who Bernie Sanders was a year ago when he announced his candidacy. Whereas Hillary has spent on an impressive ground game to turnout votes, Bernie had to first spend to get the electorate to know him, and his lack of initial cash delayed his ground operations that have underwritten his campaign’s remarkable trend at chipping away at polling gaps before primary days.

No doubt, Hillary is very well organized, but so is Bernie Sanders. Bernie might have more money now (though doubtful when you consider untraceable Super PAC money and joint-funding Victory Funds) but he didn’t have it earlier. Earlier, he was still fighting in the invisible primary, fighting for a chance to even make his case to Democratic Party in the primary. Since the primaries have begun, Bernie has out-raised Hillary, but her initial money surge benefited her much more than Bernie’s later fundraising prowess. A dollar in May is nowhere near the same as a dollar in January or February. Early on is where money makes the most difference.

 JK: Bernie says a lot about how we need to fix America but if you watch his debate performances it’s a lot of rhetoric and not a lot of detail; doesn’t that concern people? I personally want a president who has concrete plans to reform campaign finance, not someone who is constantly raging against millionaires and billionaires without providing a concrete solution!

It’s very surprising to me that if campaign finance is a top issue for someone, they would think Bernie Sanders would not be more likely to see it through. He’s bringing attention to campaign finance reform on a stage and in a way that hasn’t been seen before. Some perceive him as “raging against millionaires and billionaires” because when you’re a politico who has been plugged in to all 9 debates, you’ve heard his same stump speech and you’re a little tired of it, fair. But then you’re penalizing him for bringing massive attention to campaign finance.

When Hillary says, “I have a plan that will go farther than Senator Sanders’” – where’s the scrutiny there? Hillary says, “I get things done” – this may or may not be true but you can’t just say it and make it therefore true. Where’s the equal level of scrutiny, especially for a candidate who, second to Jeb Bush, has gained the most from outside money in politics? Why aren’t more Democrats more skeptical about the likelihood of a first-term President trying to reform a system that helped buoy her into the White House?

If you’re response to that last question is, “she’s pragmatic and could get it done,” then I eschew the word “pragmatic” because that pragmatism is based on undue faith and inertia on the current political system. I think it is far more pragmatic to elect a candidate who vocally and consistently understands the gravity of the problems in the U.S. when it comes to problems like wealth inequality, unequal gains from the growing economy, and climate change mitigation.

However, as understandable as the context in which past decisions have been made, history often reflects that there were people who opposed the actions our leaders made that later, in hindsight, would end up as blemishes on our national political psyche. We should credit those like Bernie Sanders who voted against what was popular or expedient at the time, and ended up seeing more clearly the policies for what they would become.

Check out Mikala’s responses to Robin’s questions on her support for Hillary here, and also look out for Daniel Jellins’ upcoming responses to questions about his support for the former Secretary of State!

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