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Hillary vs Bernie: ‘It’s the ego, stupid!’

Bernie Sanders’ and Hillary Clinton\'s voting records on women\'s issues may be -- as Sanders claims -- very similar.
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March 31, 2016

Bernie Sanders’ and Hillary Clinton's voting records on women's issues may be — as Sanders claims — very similar. But experienced women know what qualities ultimately determine whether someone will be good or bad for them. And when it comes to personality traits, the two candidates couldn’t be more different. Watching them in the last few debate rounds, town halls, and TV interviews clarifies for me why I, a mature female voter, want to see Hillary Clinton as the next President of The United States. To borrow from an old phrase popular during a previous presidential election, “It’s the ego, stupid!”

He is rigid; she is flexible. He is dogmatic; she is inquisitive. He is theoretical; she is practical.  He is abrupt; she is measured.  He reduces; she enlarges. He simplifies; she qualifies. He has an unequivocal answer for every question. She pauses, ponders and often follows a question with a question.  He sees the world in black and white. She sees the world in shades of gray.

A woman complains that in her case, The Affordable Care Act resulted in higher, less affordable rates. What kind of health plan did you have previously? Hillary asks. She listens; she probes; she offers several practical alternatives. Bernie, on the other hand, always responds instantly.  He will fix everything. His single payer health program will provide adequate free care for all.

As far as he’s concerned, the solutions are crystal clear; they always were: “We live in a rigged economy.” Our enemies are “Wall Street,” and “the billionaire class.” “Can you name one billionaire you like?” a man in one town hall asks him. Maybe Oprah, or Gates, or Buffet, I hope. “Oh no,” Bernie answers.  “This isn’t personal.” I should have known. Marxist theory divides the world between “class friends,” and “class enemies.”  Those labels are never personal. If Secretary Clinton used her education, knowledge, and experience to speak to the enemy and got well paid for her work, her checks must have been tainted. Such accusations bring bad memories. In The Socialist Republic of Romania, where I grew up, if you got caught talking to or buying from a “class enemy” – a Western tourist, for example – you could get arrested.  

Bernie will lead the revolution to tear down the ancient capitalist structures and erect novel ones according to his theories and specifications. In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times editorial board, Sanders claims that no president can “literally do anything for the American people, unless there is a political revolution,” against “the ruling class — that is Wall Street, that is corporate America, that is the wealthy contributors, that is corporate media…” And how exactly will President Sanders work with the other side, let's say during the first 100 days of his revolution, editor Goldberg asks him. Bernie responds that he will tell Mitch McConnell, “Hey Mitch, look out the window. There's a million young people out there, now!”

Hillary, by contrast, limits her claims.  Obamacare isn’t perfect care, but she will work hard to expand our choices and improve our alternatives. She will encourage non-profits to join the competition, and she will pressure insurance providers to lower their rates. “I don’t know if my answer will solve everything,” she says, “but I am going to take them on.” As far as she is concerned, we live in a complex, volatile, ever changing world; she will lead efforts to improve, modify, evolve, elevate, learning from past failures and building on past successes; if we elect her, she will create an environment that will increase the incentives and opportunities that will empower more of us to maximize our chances for success. This is the American way – not the Swedish or Russian or Cuban way.

Bernie reminds me of Aylmer, the scientist in Hawthorne’s, “The Birthmark,” who wants to perfect his wife, as Bernie wants to perfect his country, by cutting out her birthmark, and ends up killing her in the process. Hawthorne was a champion of women’s rights and many of his male reformers, like the utopian Hollingsworth, in The Blithedale Romance (“the bond slave” “to that cold, spectral monster, his philanthropic theory”), end up favoring theories over people and harming those they mean to help.

But then Bernie appears sincere, while Hillary seems studied. He is passionate, and she, reserved. Isn't a charismatic idealist with noble dreams preferable to a cautious pragmatist with mundane plans? Some Millennials think so. I think about my father, who joined the communist underground in Romania during World War II, believed in the worker's paradise, rose to become Vice-Secretary of Defense in the new, socialist government only to discover that the nouvelle elite used its power to enrich itself and oppress the rest. He exposed the truth in his book, Gulliver In The Land of Lies, which earned him a sentence of 25 years in prison. Today, his country recognizes him as a hero, “The Romanian Solzhenitsyn.”

As a young woman, I glorified him over my mother, the way young women sometimes glorify their charismatic fathers over their dependable mothers. But it was she, the pragmatist in the family, who had to pick up the pieces of her husband’s shattered dreams, put bread on her children’s table and start a new life from scratch, alone with two children.  And I wonder: How many experienced, resilient, pragmatic women and mothers, married and single, are choosing Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders because they know the difference between dreams and reality, fact and fiction, words and deeds?

Listening to Secretary Clinton’s thoughtful answers to the complex questions raised by Wolf Blitzer after the Brussels attack (“I’m a very strong supporter of Nato. It’s the best international defense alliance I think ever,” but “we have to keep adjusting and changing its mission to meet the new threats that we, as members of Nato, face”), I have faith that this intelligent, experienced, resilient woman has the capacity to bring peace and prosperity to our embattled land.


Irina Eremia Bragin is chair of the English Department at Touro College, Los Angeles. She is the author of the memoir, Subterranean Towers: A Father-Daughter Story

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