I love Bernie Sanders. In the past, I have described myself truthfully as a Bernie Sanders supporter. I have even donated $15 to his campaign, which is more than any money I’ve ever given to a political cause of my native UK. Anyone who has had the misfortune to hear me talk about politics will understand why his programme of ‘democratic socialism’ appeals to me.
It is therefore not without a somewhat heavy heart that I now plant my standard firmly within the Hillary Clinton camp, someone whom I personally dislike. Before I explain why, it is necessary I assure you that this has nothing to do with electability, or who is ‘winning’. My continued support for Jeremy Corbyn here is sufficient testament to that. I enjoy the feeling of being able to see a radically progressive candidate who has ignited a grassroots revolution and thinking “I am a part of this”.
However, the problem with Bernie is that, as far as I can see, he just doesn’t ‘get’ the US and its greatest fault, its deep social and psychological chasm that needs to be crossed. This isn’t socio-economics and class like it is in the UK, but race. The US is the only example of a Western nation which had a bloody, predominantly white-on-white, civil war over the enslavement of African-American people (and don’t bother trying to kid us- those ‘states rights’ basically amounted to wanting to keep slaves). Easily within living memory are the days when Southern blacks had to use a separate water fountain or recite the entire preamble of the Constitution without hesitation just to be considered for enfranchisement. Need I even cite names like Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin or Clementa Pinckney? Racial divides are proving difficult to bridge, and are only going to become more relevant as white America recedes further and further into the past.
However, for the overwhelming majority of his campaign, Bernie has been treating racial equality as a substrate of his home turf of socio-economic inequality. It’s the kind of philosophy of a white, Western European Marxist professor from the mid-20th century, a world view that fossilised during the Civil Rights Movement when the twin objectives were legal and economic parity for blacks. ‘If only minorities had opportunities and economic potential equal to whites, then everyone would see that they are the same!’ is the aphorism of the day. If only it were that simple. Unfortunately, we are dealing with deep-seated cultural perceptions that are quite able to ignore indirect indicators of the racial equality that seem completely obvious and self-evident to most of us. Has the lot of the average black American improved as a result of the Obama presidency, proof of the innate ability and equality of non-whites? Any programme of socio-economic improvement would still disproportionately favour whites, however fairly it was officially administered. Bernie seems unable to understand that, yet that appears to be opinion of most of the black community who are backing Clinton in droves despite her less economically radical prospectus.
Not that I especially blame Bernie. For his tenure as a senator, he has been representing a state that is 95% white, was an abolitionist hotbed in the 1850s that would go onto send 34,000 men in service of the Union during the Civil War and never bore the yoke of Jim Crow. Race has rarely featured as a particularly immediate issue amongst the green mountains of Vermont, nor is it a prominent aspect of the academic Marxism that dominated socialist thinking during Bernie’s formative years. On the flipside, Clinton has represented the state of New York, which is a third non-white, and has been the wife of a governor of the state of Little Rock infamy who is now still recognised amongst some circles as ‘America’s First Black President’ for his work within the black community during his two terms in office. From the outset, she has talked openly and boldly about race. Her entire political career has been ever-present at the coalface of race relations.
Hand on heart (and if I got a vote), were the Presidency of the United States about being the most honourable person or having the best socio-economic agenda, then I would have no inhibition in voting for Bernie Sanders. Alas, it is not. It is about picking someone who has analysed the US correctly and has the experience and intellectual framework to solve its most pressing problems. Big money in politics and wealth inequality are undoubtedly of huge importance, and I hope Clinton listens to her noble adversary on these matters. However, without a focus on mending the US’s broken race relations, any future programme for building a more socio-economically just America would be built on cracked foundations. Hold your fiscally radical fire for now, my fellow liberals, for you need Clinton for the vital work that first has to be done.