Hawai‘i Democratic voters face an agonizing decision as mail-in ballots are getting filled out, continuing through the April 4 official date of the primary.
The Democratic Party has veered from a situation in which an impossibly large field of candidates was on the pathway to hopeless splintering of the vote to one in which the primaries and other developments have stripped all of the people of color and women from the field. The fact that the two billionaires who were running are also out is of little consolation.
This leads us to the situation today, in which two hopelessly old white male millionaires with histories of difficulty dealing with women’s issues are the only viable choices. It all but assures that the November election will pit either Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders against Donald Trump. More of an electoral nightmare is hard to imagine.
Biden, 77, supported the Iraq war — and it wasn’t just, as his debate appearances seem to want us all to believe, through just one Senate vote. He supported the war consistently before and after President George W. Bush pushed through a mass of fraudulent intelligence to justify an invasion that was, in the real world, fundamentally wrong. Thousands of young Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died as a result.
The younger Bush was motivated by the failure of his father, President George H.W. Bush, to finish the war he started in Kuwait in 1990. No rational person could have seen George W. Bush’s war in Iraq as anything other than an attempt to protect his father’s legacy and put notches in his own pistol.
Then there is Biden’s record on women’s issues, starting with his appalling handling of Anita Hill during the confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991. Hill had accused Thomas of sexual harassment, which Thomas denied. But it was Biden’s utter contempt for Hill that assured that Thomas got on the court. Even today, he seems unable to keep his hands off women and girls he meets.
Biden’s television appearances are not reassuring. He loses his way mid-sentence and says things like he’s running for the U.S. Senate instead of the presidency. He often seems like he’s in a memory and verbal-expression fog.
Biden’s policy proposals are sometimes hard to identify since he associates himself so much with the success of President Barrack Obama, whom he served as vice president. But it’s clear that, whatever those policies are, Biden can’t articulate them other than by claiming credit for the achievements of the “Obama-Biden administration,” as if it were a collaboration.
Sanders, on the other hand, is not a member of the Democratic Party, whose nomination he seeks. Though Vermont, his home state, does not have party registration, Sanders has never identified as a Democrat. He has insisted on remaining an independent who caucuses with Democrats. That means he has no commitment to the range of candidates the party must run, nor to the complex challenge of the Democrats holding onto the House of Representatives and hoping to retake the Senate.
That’s one reason so many potential Democratic candidates across the country are putting as much distance as they can between themselves and Sanders.
More than that, as a congressmember and senator, Sanders has compiled a record of exceptional failure to push through his agenda. He is uncompromising, arrogant and unwilling or unable to find political common ground with others who do not toe the line of his ideology.
Plus, there is his age, 78, and his health history of having a heart attack while campaigning. He has released far less detail of his medical records than he initially said he would.
Sanders’ record on women’s issues is profoundly unhelpful. I believe Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s account of Sanders trying to force her to drop out of the race because a woman, he told her, can’t be elected. He has been unable to hold his campaign staff and volunteers to reasonable standards of behavior in terms of their attitudes toward women and their proclivity for vicious attacks on anyone who does display fealty to Sanders.
It is common in the news business for reporters to refrain from party registration or making political contributions. I did neither during the 26 years I spent as a full-time reporter. That said, I see my role as a columnist and freelance contributor to this newspaper as somewhat different from that of a full-time journalist. I do maintain Democratic party registration and have made small political contributions over time at the county, state and federal levels. In this primary season, I have donated a couple of hundred dollars to Warren, who is now out of the race.
Sanders would have you believe that he is waging a campaign in which Democratic Party elites and the national political establishment are working in lockstep against him. But this ignores the reality that Biden has received 4,888,395 votes from regular people in all of the various primaries, to 3,984,295 for Sanders.
And, no, you can’t add Warren’s vote total, 1,782,676, to the Sanders column on the theory that all of them would have gone to Sanders because former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, whose votes presumably would go largely to Biden, received 1,710,995. Biden’s total of actual votes — not from members of some mysterious band of elites — is substantially higher than Sanders’.
It is also true that Sanders is close to a single-issue candidate, with few, if any, views or proposals on foreign affairs. Nor does he offer a rational plan for how his signature program, “Medicare for All,” could actually be brought into existence and paid for in the political milieu of the U.S. in 2020.
I’m as much in favor of a single-payer national health system as you will find anywhere. I think Medicare is enormously successful. Biden would build on the success of the Affordable Care Act, adding a public option to private insurance.
Sanders does not recognize that it is politically impossible in this country today to move abruptly to a fully national, government-funded health system from the ineffective hodge-podge of private and government programs with which we are saddled. The future of our health-insurance system will be incremental, not revolutionary.
So here we are. One of two terribly unqualified old white male millionaires will run for president as the nominee of the Democratic Party against Donald Trump, a man whose commitment to lies, corruption and cruelty exceeds that of the worst presidents who have ever served.
The choice in the presidential election this year will be odious. Democrats may want, instead, to work for total reform of the party system that has proved itself utterly unequal to the task of selecting and electing a president. It has left us with two appalling choices.
Allan Parachini is a Kilauea resident, furniture-maker, journalist and retired public relations executive who writes periodically for The Garden Island.