Is Boring Better Than Bernie?

Clinton speaks during a campaign rally at Iowa State University on January 12. (Scott Morgan / Reuters) ( )
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

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.

And that’s the president we got. But he revived a MOUNTAIN of shit for this in the first term. The people inspired by 2008 felt dismayed, betrayed, disillusioned. The president was meek, weak, feckless, ignored their promises. And while they whined, and complained, and felt betrayed, Obama quietly went ahead and put together the cleanest, most effective presidency of my 32-year lifetime.

When I look at Sanders, I see a B version of Candidate Obama. When I look at Clinton, I see a B version of President Obama. The latter is who I want to be chief executive.

Sanders, right now, is riding a wave of unrealistic expectations. People want him to come in and “fix everything”—though without a clear explanation of what precisely is broken, and how it can be fixed. When I look at America, I see a country that’s done pretty dang well, except for the glaring problems of median wage stagnation and income inequality.

But Bernie Sanders can’t fix that. It’s a society-wide problem. I’m glad Bernie’s putting the issue on the table, but there’s no presidential initiative that’s going to unionize the American workforce, or make shareholders not like profits, or end technological advancement, or make foreign workers more expensive. And if there are, he certainly hasn’t explained them. In fact, he’s given me very little reason to believe he’s capable of delivering anything he promises.  

I happen to have good friends who’ve worked personally with Mrs. Clinton. They describe her as smart, thoughtful, and willing to listen to input. Like I said, I am glad Sanders is shifting the discussion left, and I think he’s great in a role that lets him be loud and angry.  But 90 percent of the presidency is managing, reacting to events, compromising between diametrically opposed forces. I know Clinton can do this, but can Sanders?

If Sanders is nominated, I’m not sure whether or not he can withstand the harshness of the general election. But I expect his presidency would be a disappointment, because the expectations are so unrealistic. He won’t fix everything. He’ll have to compromise. He’ll have to ignore promises, or break them. And it will be a betrayal to his supporters. It’s a recipe for gridlock, or a GOP win in 2020, or both.

Clinton, though, won’t suffer from this. She can be dirty. She can play the game. She can be an effective president and be herself.

David Graham has a new piece up this morning, “Why Is Bernie Sanders Overtaking Hillary?” The most up-voted comment so far:

I think Bernie Sanders is resonating because he is Trump’s tell-it-like-it-is counterpart on the other side. Only the more Bernie speaks, the more it’s evident he’s being entirely truthful and doesn’t appear to be in the race for his ego, which is why I think he could beat Trump head-on, whose tell-it-like-it-is persona is just a laundry list of cynicism, doom and gloom, while he appears to be in it solely for ego.

If you’re a hard-working person just trying to get by, it is clear that Bernie is the truest candidate for your interests. He isn’t bought off by anybody and is primarily looking to benefit you after more than three decades now where Washington always defaults to putting their corporate slavers first.

In a Sanders-Trump matchup, Sanders looks like the boring, sensible one.