Reporter's Notebook

Hillary vs. Bernie
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A reader debate over the leading Democratic candidates of the 2016 presidential primary.

Show 13 Newer Notes

Which Candidate Would MLK Endorse?

One of many similar tweets going around today:

Here’s a bit more on Bernie’s time in Chicago:

As a student at the University of Chicago, Sanders was active in both the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In 1962, he was arrested for protesting segregation in public schools in Chicago; the police came to call him an outside agitator, as he went around putting up flyers around the city detailing police brutality.

Another tweet floating around goes further than the one above, claiming that “if elected, Goldwater promised to overturn the Civil Rights Act and re-segregate the nation.” That’s not true; he backed the 1964 GOP platform that endorsed “full implementation and faithful execution of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and all other civil rights statutes, to assure equal rights and opportunities guaranteed by the Constitution to every citizen.” Goldwater did vote against the 1964 bill, but from the standpoint of a constitutionalist, not segregationist. In fact, Goldwater was very much committed to civil rights at the state and local level. For instance, he was a founding member of the Arizona NAACP and helped integrate the Phoenix public schools. Lee Edwards, in his biography of Goldwater, further details his complex political persona:

Another reader, Jon Barber, addresses the question:

I had also read the several media pieces that delved into Bernie Sanders’s past. Yes, there were a few quirky things as a young man, but not the type of stuff that make a difference to the independent voter. What we don’t find are scandals or unethical behavior. There is no red meat. I found the vetting articles to be refreshing for that reason because it confirmed his reputation for honesty and ethics and that’s the vetted material that impresses independents.

Can we say the same thing about Hillary Clinton? It doesn’t really matter. She has the negatives of more than 50 percent that never really drop. Those numbers comes from her looseness with the truth over the years.

I could list plenty of hypocritical actions or statements from her. My favorite is how she was bilking colleges of hundreds of thousands of dollars for speaking fees to get up to the podium to talk about how much college costs for students. Gee Hillary, your fees weren’t part of the problem?

Personally, I think the Democratic race is over and this subject is a moot point.

A few readers stand up for Clinton. The first:

With regard to Hillary versus Bernie, one thing that people tend not to be factoring in is that Bernie has not faced serious attacks. The back and forth between Clinton and Bernie is basically kids gloves.

For better or worse, Hillary is a known quantity. Her past has been well hashed out, and although it’s quite possible that more stuff can be dug up, I'm not sure how likely it is. Sanders, on the other hand? He has 40 years worth of statements and positions that will, relatively speaking, be news to the vast majority of people. There has been no Swift Boats, or Rev. Wrights, or even pastel suits!

The other reader:

In your latest note about the electability of Clinton and Sanders, you asked Clinton fans to name her biggest accomplishment. Politico already asked that question, and they got responses from some pretty high-profile Clinton supporters. In my mind, the best answers are: pioneering SCHIP as first lady and secretary of state, authoring the sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table for its nuclear program, brokering a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, and guiding the passage of the New START treaty with Russia.

Join the debate via hello@theatlantic.com.

Evan Vucci / Reuters

A reader keeps the debate going:

For me the only question of any import is which candidate is more likely to win the general election. If the Republicans win the presidency they will probably control Congress as well. I cannot underscore enough what an enormous disaster I think this would be for our nation. Given that a Democratic president is unlikely to be able to make any new policy except via executive action, I truly do not care who the Democratic nominee is as long as they win. They MUST win.

And I don’t think Bernie can. He does worse than Hillary in head-to-head comparisons to Republicans. We know that swing voters aren’t policy oriented people. If they didn’t vote from the gut, they wouldn't be swing voters! I can’t see those voters trusting a man who intentionally cultivates an image as angry and unprofessional. Bernie presents the image of a nutty professor as part of demonstrating that he’s reliably socialist. The tradeoff is that, judging by looks alone, he appears to be a nut, and a significant part of swing voters will make their decisions on that factor alone! Given how close elections are, the “bad hair factor” doesn’t need to be very large to cost us the election.

The reader claims that Bernie “does worse than Hillary in head-to-head comparisons to Republicans,” but I’m not so sure that’s true, at least regarding the GOP’s decisive frontrunner. According to polling averages from RealClearPolitics, Bernie leads Trump by the same margin as Hillary leads Trump—44 to 42. And according to The Huffington Post’s averages, Bernie leads Trump 49 to 42 while Hillary only leads Trump 48 to 44.5. The primaries haven’t even started yet, of course, and Election Day is still ten months away, but Bernie seems like he could be just as strong in the general election as his more centrist Democratic rival. Update: The reader below, Matt, bolsters my point even further:

That comment from the guy who says Bernie loses head-to-head matchups against any Republican? Maybe 18 months ago, but the latest polling on RCP has Sanders beating every Repub while Clinton only beats most. (Cruz for some reason has big numbers in Iowa, but it must just be his turn.) So Sanders has the advantage over Clinton in every hypothetical race (see attached screencap from RCP).

This stuff is not exactly science, but it is illustrative. The Clinton Inevitablity/Electability narrative is half-myth, half-Beltway insider consensus. Nobody is inevitable, Clinton least of all (*cough 2008 cough*).

That reader, in his original email, scrutinizes the Clinton narrative in great detail:

My name is Matt. You posted my thoughts about the merits of online dating for a discussion thread you ran several months back. Today I have more comments on another subject near and dear to people of my general age and political persuasion: Bernie Sanders. I wanted to respond to the individual who wrote the topmost email in this note. The reader ultimately misstates the nature of Clinton’s appeal while ignoring that her apparent positives—steadiness, competence, a legislative record to run on, realism, pragmatism, political and bureaucratic mastery, etc—are actual aspects of Sanders’ legislative accomplishments.

People like Hillary for a variety of reasons—her competence, her formidable knowledge and recall of geopolitics, her decades of hard-won relationships in Washington that could theoretically be leveraged into real legislative accomplishments. I too have met her; I found her warm and engaging, if a little humorless and kind of a hard ass. But I have also met Sanders (I interned for him in college) and found him much the same.

The argument I’m not buying, and never will, is the “she’ll by gosh get things done” canard. This is a problematic argument for two reasons.

Clinton speaks during a campaign rally at Iowa State University on January 12. (Scott Morgan / Reuters)

A reader defends Hillary against the these readers who support Bernie:

Your reader wrote: “Clinton appeals to a smaller and smaller segment of the Democratic electorate. She is BORING.” This, I think, is the crux of why I’m wary of Sanders and will be voting for Clinton. Maybe she’s boring. Maybe she’s stiff in public and lacks her husband’s ability to pirouette through the electorate. But I think she’ll be competent and effective in a way that I've seen no indication that Sanders can be.

Obama came into 2008 riding the type of train Sanders is on now. Our last great hope! Save America from the Establishment! HOPE! CHANGE!

I always though the mushy hope/change stuff was largely BS. But what I did see in Obama, in a few unguarded moments like the Reverend Wright speech and the “cling to their guns” moment, was the guy underneath the messiah campaign. And that guy seemed to me like someone who was smart, capable, empathetic, knowledgable, and realistic about the state of the world. It’s that man I wanted to be president.

In a piece from David Graham showing how close the race is between Clinton and Sanders in key polling, David notes how she is “pulling out various stops. In particular, she has spent the last few days assailing Sanders for being, in her view, soft on gun control”—despite the Vermonter’s D-minus rating from the NRA. Along those lines, a reader predicts that Sanders would “wipe the floor with Trump” and refers to the video seen above:

Obama called her Annie Oakley in the 2008 primary because of her proud pro-gun stance, but now ALL OF A SUDDEN she is supposed to be some kind of anti-gun crusader? Come on.

Clinton appeals to a smaller and smaller segment of the Democratic electorate. She is BORING. Sanders has ALL of the excitement because he actually stands for something and is principled. She is so very obviously nothing but a panderer who changes her tune depending on which way the wind blows.

H.A. Goodman in The Huffington Post looks at the record from the last time Clinton ran against a fellow Democrat:

According to a 2008 New York Times article titled Clinton Portrays Herself as a Pro-Gun Churchgoer, Clinton’s rhetoric on the 2nd Amendment differed greatly from today’s attacks against Sanders: