What's the Difference Between Hillary and Bernie?

A Sociologist Considers Their Records and Possible Impacts

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Throughout the lead-up to the Presidential primary season of 2016, many political commentators have observed that for the most part, Senator Bernie Sanders and former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, contenders for the Democratic nomination, have very similar progressive platforms. Both support paid family leave and more affordable childcare and preschool options; equal pay for women; a sizable increase to the minimum wage; making college affordable; and tightening restrictions on Wall Street.

 The New York Times reports that they voted the same way 93 percent of the time while they overlapped in the Senate.

So what exactly sets them apart? Commentators have suggested that what distinguishes them is simply differing approaches to getting things done. Sanders speaks of political revolution via legislative means, while Clinton positions herself as a pragmatic doer who will eschew legislation in favor of her Presidential power to override the Republican-majority congress.

But from the viewpoint of a sociologist, the difference between them is much greater than method. Its about the implications of the sometimes subtle and sometimes glaring differences in their records and proposed policies, and what each would do to alter society, or to keep it steady on its course.

From this standpoint, the most significant difference is an economic one: Sanders supports socialism, while Clinton is an avid supporter of capitalism.

This distinction signals very different approaches to managing the economy of the nation, regulating corporations and the financial sector, and managing the distribution of income and wealth throughout society. It is a difference that appears clearly in their records and in their proposed policies.

Clinton's record in the Senate show her to be a politician who acts to maintain the economic status quo, or in other words, she supports policies that preserve and in some cases worsen economic inequality. Clinton supported the federal bailout of banks in 2008, which critics noted was the largest transfer of public funds to private interests in the history of the United States. She voted to repeal the Glass-Steagall act, which fostered the risky investment tactics that triggered The Great Recession. Clinton has also shown her support for capitalism by backing free trade deals like the TPP, that benefit corporations and the wealthy at the expense of the majority of people around the world. All of these actions were bad for society, and in particular, damaged the economic well-being of the middle and working classes.

Sanders' record on these issues is entirely opposite. He voted against the repeal of Glass-Steagall and the federal bank bailout package, and has historically voted against free trade agreements that are proven to harm the majority. His actions signal that he places the well-being of the average person over that of corporations and the wealthy, which means he supports policies that are good for society as a whole--not just good for the few.

This political viewpoint is also clear in the policies that Sanders has proposed, many of which are already in the legislative process in congress. He wants to reinstate Glass-Steagall and break up the biggest banks, and generate funds for proposed public programs by taxing Wall Street speculation (to fund public universities, making them free to students), by eliminating tax breaks for fossil fuels companies, and taxing coal-powered plants (the latter two are deeply important as policies that discourage the continuation of activities that fuel global warming and climate change). Sanders also proposes a $15 federally mandated minimum wage, the expansion of social security, and government-provided healthcare for all. Combined with much tighter financial regulations and taxing the finance sector, these latter three policies would significant reduce economic inequality and repair the economic health of the majority.

Sanders' record and proposed policies, many already in process as proposed bills in congress, signal a sharp departure from business-as-usual. He is responding to the severe economic inequality and poverty that plagues America, and the devastating hoarding of wealth by the 1 percent. His approach would take money and power back from corporations and financiers, who have hoarded increasing levels of both over the last few decades, and give it back to the people through the public programs and resources that are necessary for a healthy and functional society.

While some of Clinton's policies show similarities to those of Sanders, she does not support any of the major socio-economic reforms that Sanders has proposed. When viewed in terms of the implications for society, her plans are a combination of modest concessions to demands for change, and preservation of the destructive status quo.

The difference between Sanders and Clinton is huge: it's one of the systemic change that social scientists and many economists have been calling for, and the persistence of a crushing system that is designed to benefit a tiny majority.

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Cole, Nicki Lisa, Ph.D. "What's the Difference Between Hillary and Bernie?" ThoughtCo, Mar. 2, 2017, thoughtco.com/whats-the-difference-between-hillary-and-bernie-3577388. Cole, Nicki Lisa, Ph.D. (2017, March 2). What's the Difference Between Hillary and Bernie? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/whats-the-difference-between-hillary-and-bernie-3577388 Cole, Nicki Lisa, Ph.D. "What's the Difference Between Hillary and Bernie?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/whats-the-difference-between-hillary-and-bernie-3577388 (accessed January 17, 2018).