Is Bernie Sanders really more pro-gun than Hillary Clinton or are the votes that he cast over the years that make him look that way merely votes that any Vermont politician would have to cast to preserve his “political viability”? I don’t claim to know, but I am pretty sure that few politicians can have a long, successful career if they always say exactly what they think and believe.
Certainly Sanders has a reputation as a “conviction politician” in ways that Clinton does not, and this is a big part of his appeal, especially to idealistic young people. I believe that Sanders is about as close to a straight talker as we get in the current state of things. And Clinton — however fairly or un- — often gives the opposite impression. But what does she really believe, in the area of public policy?
Nicholas Lemann, writing for the New Yorker, put that question under the microscope and made some progress not by comparing Clinton to Sanders but to President Barack Obama. True, she’s not running against Obama, although she did in 2008. Also true, she is basing part of her appeal in the current contest against Sanders on her recent stint as Obama’s secretary of state. She is hugging Obama close and appealing to those Dem voters who seek to continue and build on the achievements of Obamaism. But, Lemann argues, if you look closely …
[P]oliticians do usually turn out to have had at least some beliefs that are non-generic and that are different from the bull’s-eye center of public opinion at the moment. It’s probably not useful to think of Clinton as someone who would simply continue Obama’s policies, convenient as it is for her to indicate that while Sanders is still in the race.
Not too surprisingly, Lemann suggests that Clinton is more hawkish than Obama. Of course, if you know one thing on that subject, you know that Clinton voted to authorize the Iraq War while Obama opposed it — as did Sanders. But there’s much more on the Hawkish Hillary theme:
Clinton has said that she argued for a more aggressive early campaign of arming rebels in Syria, and favors establishing a no-fly zone there now. She seems to have been quicker than Obama to support American military intervention in Libya, and she was for a less swift exit of American troops from Afghanistan. She has made tougher remarks about Vladimir Putin than Obama has, and has specifically said that she would have done more to counter Putin’s assertion of power in Ukraine. Although she hasn’t opposed the nuclear deal with Iran, her rhetoric about Iran has been far harsher than Obama’s, and she opposes Obama’s absolute insistence that Israel stop building settlements in the occupied territories. … All in all, Clinton seems more willing to use American power assertively abroad, and more inclined to see the world in terms of friends and enemies of the United States.
More surprisingly, Lemann argues that Clinton is generally to the left of Obama on domestic policy (although he acknowledges that a lot of us probably think the opposite). Here’s some that case:
Clinton came out against the Keystone pipeline weeks before Obama did, and publicly broke with him over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which he supports and she now opposes. She also opposes drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean, which Obama has permitted. She has taken verbal shots at charter schools and the “gig economy,” toward which Obama has been friendlier. Clinton and Obama have both tried to get technology companies to be more supportive of the government’s efforts to identify potential terrorist activity online, but Clinton’s statements about this were earlier, more public, and more threatening toward the companies.
I’m not sure that gets to the essence of the issues that define domestic policies in current U.S. politics, but I found it interesting. And I thought Lemann’s list helpfully brought up a bunch of issues that generally aren’t being discussed because, for whatever reasons, it doesn’t suit the needs of either the Clinton or the Sanders campaign to talk about them.
At the very least, for voters who basically want to vote for a third Obama term, Lemann’s introduces new complexity to the analysis.