The 2016 primaries and caucuses are underway. In less than five months, the Democrat and Republican parties will have their nominees for president of the United States. From there it will only be another four months before we have elected the next president.
But which election phase bears more significance – the primaries or the general election?
Sure, the prospect of a Trump, Cruz, or Rubio presidency is reason enough to spend every waking moment (and some sleeping ones, if possible) getting out the vote. But evidence shows that despite growing buzz that some Democratic voters might jump ship in the general election if their candidate doesn’t win the nomination, ultimately both Democrat and Republican voters (swing, scorned, etc.) will simply tow their party line come November.
Secure in this knowledge, and with hope that the absurdity of the Republican party will secure a Democratic victory in November, it’s time to acknowledge the very real gravity of the primaries and caucuses. It is now that your voice as a voter truly matters. The Democratic candidates, while similarly positioned on many of the issues, are vastly different politicians with oceans between their operating ideologies.
So what are the differences, and why do they matter?
Bernie Sanders’s civic engagement began as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago in the early 1960s. A member of the Young People’s Socialist League, the Congress of Racial Equality, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, he led a 1962 rally and Chicago’s first civil rights sit-in to protest the university’s segregated campus housing policy. The following year he attended the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom before returning to Chicago to demonstrate against segregation in Chicago’s public schools.
Hillary Clinton’s began around the same time, but with a very different focus. As president of the Wellesley College Government Association when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, Clinton ‘turned out to be a moderating influence on campus.’ This meant preventing strikes or protests like those happening on other college campuses across the country, instead requesting that the administration recruit more black faculty and students. Even then Clinton believed that ‘in a democracy, you had to work within the system.’
These histories are microcosmic examples of what we could expect from a Sanders or Clinton presidency.
On one hand we have someone who recognises a broken system as the underlying obstacle to realising actual progress and change. On the other, someone who believes in working within the current system to make incremental steps towards progress.
With Sanders demonstrating serious voter support in the primaries and caucuses so far, Clinton has recently deployed a new tactic: aligning herself closely with President Obama. In last Thursday’s Democratic debate, she mentioned Obama no less than 21 times.
In addition to garnering minority support, this alignment is meant to highlight the differences between Obama (and Clinton) and Sanders’s theories of government.
Clinton has always believed in working within systems to accomplish incremental change. The assertion that Obama shares this political theory, however, is misguided. While Obama has used this method during his presidency, it is arguably because such methodology has been necessitated by the barriers in place from Congress throughout his tenure.
Obama’s political beliefs are such that they require systemic change to be accomplished to their full extent. He is surely aware of this. However, following the entrenched failures of the Bush administration, Obama had a long way to go just restoring America. His second term allowed for the enactment of greater change, but at no time was he in a position to attempt systemic change. That does not mean he does not believe in or want it.
Obama’s presidency of restoration and incremental change has paved the way for someone like Sanders to take the reins and implement systemic changes to our systems that are very clearly broken, from campaign and finance reform to our education to criminal justice systems. Sanders not only believes in systemic change, he understands that country’s desperate need for it.
Clinton, on the other hand, solely touts an incremental theory of political change. This means accomplishing things piecemeal and not necessarily to the fullest desired extent through compromise and negotiating the existing system.
Following the global financial crisis, Obama has positioned the country well economically. Now is the time to address the social issues so urgently in need of attention.
In his 2008 campaign, Obama was criticised for his hope and idealism, yet he has restored our economy and world standing, accomplished amazing change like same sex marriage and Obamacare, and put us on a path towards real progress. Eight years later, we somehow have the fortune of another presidential candidate unwilling to accept politics as usual. A candidate who recognises that our systems aren’t working and is willing to take on fixing them. A Clinton presidency would be a slog through four years of no real change, and one that could very likely find us embroiled in another war or conflict.
Your primary or caucus vote has the ability to drastically change the course of the United States. The stakes are high. Don’t squander the opportunity.