Undecided

I occasionally turn my attention to socio-political issues here on “Pleading the Phyth,” so since it’s a week before the Iowa caucuses, I thought I’d offer a “voice of an undecided voter” piece.

I’m focusing mainly on the Democratic race here. It’s not that I have no interest in the GOP race, nor am I unwilling to vote for a Republican in November. However, the only candidate on the GOP side I find attractive at the moment is Ohio Governor John Kasich, and his odds of securing the nomination are currently long.

Indeed, the Republican party is grappling with its identity as it steam rolls towards Tuesday’s caucuses. Are they the party of the business establishment (currently represented by Florida Senator Marco Rubio), the Tea Party and evangelical Christians (Texas Senator Ted Cruz), or the populist outsiders (Donald Trump)? It’s fascinating to watch, but since none of those candidates appeals to me, I’ll almost certainly be voting in the Democratic primary here in Ohio.

So that brings me to Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

Here’s where my evolving political views have me in a quandary. Socio-culturally, I’m a progressive. I believe in the classic liberal ideas that government can solve problems, that we need to level the playing field as much as possible to create equality of opportunity, and that we should be as accommodating as reasonable to differing views. I don’t mind paying taxes to “promote the general welfare,” to quote the Constitution, although I do expect tax law to be fair (which, of course, is a debatable term).

But politically, I’m a centrist. Like any ideology, liberalism is not perfect, checks and balances are required, and being rich does not make one evil. Moreover, if the last seven years have proven anything, it is that you cannot govern from a position of ideological purity. Government should serve the needs of the people, not the ideals of any particular philosophy or the ambitions of those who hold it.

(At present, conservative politicians cling to ideological dicta, fighting the president on any and all initiatives, no matter how sound or bipartisan. But some of my fellow liberals would have it the same way, substituting their own rigid idealism for the conservative brand in power now. That’s no better.)

Sanders and Clinton personify my dilemma. Bernie Sanders inflames all my liberal ideals. I don’t agree with him on every issue. I’m not sure, for example, that the TPP is an horrific evil for American jobs. (Indeed, I’m generally pro-business, since, whether we like it or not, we live in a capitalist society with a consumer-driven economy.)

But Bernie is a progressive’s progressive. He believes in the same general principles I do, and his grassroots fundraising approach is really, if you’ll excuse the phrase, democratic, not to mention inspirational.

But . . .

If Sanders is elected, he has zero chance of getting even five percent of his agenda made law. The political winds do not suggest Republicans will lose control of the House of Representatives. They will be able to continue their fully obstructionist policy towards any Democratic president, and if a coalition-building centrist like Barack Obama can’t get Republicans to come to the bargaining table, what chance has a far-left liberal like Sanders got?

And even if there were a tidal wave of Democrats elected with Sanders to change control of Congress, Sanders is still too far left to get most of what he promises done. Democrats controlled both houses of Congress in the first two years of both Bill Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s presidencies, and those two middle-of-the-road politicians struggled to get their agendas accomplished.

Which brings me to Clinton. She too is a centrist. She is a negotiator. She’s tough and knows how to get things done. She has experience both in the U.S. Senate and as Secretary of State (not to mention the policy she spearheaded when her husband was president). She’s smart, she learns from her mistakes, and she’s cagey. From a practical point of view, Clinton is the much better choice.

But.

She is an archetypal politician. She pivots positions based on the shifting winds of conventional wisdom. Her beliefs seem malleable. I listened to her interview on NPR last week, and the woman never answered a question. She gave carefully scripted responses that evaded the substance of the question and allowed her to say what she wanted on the issues at hand.

While I’m reasonably certain Hillary Clinton is a leftist at heart, that she favors policy I think is good, I don’t really know what she believes.

She strikes me as someone who is running for president less because she feels she has something to offer the country and more because she just wants the job.

So I have not yet chosen a candidate to support. Who’s better? A guy I can believe in, who reflects my personal beliefs (for the most part)? Or someone who seems a little shady but will likely be able to get more accomplished? Can I trust Senator Sanders to be effective? Can I trust Secretary Clinton to do the right thing?

The Democratic party is currently at a crossroads. Sanders and Clinton are battling for the very soul of the party in the same way the Republicans are struggling to decide whom they are. Will the Democrats be anti-Wall Street populists? Or do they want someone who can hold the line against attacks on President Obama’s accomplishments and push it further out?

Bringing the question home to me personally, do I vote for my ideals, or do I choose pragmatism? When I’m standing in the polling booth, which choice do I make to try to “form a more perfect union?”

I’m sure my conservative friends would suggest that voting for either of them is a mistake. They’ll get the chance to make the case for that come November. In the interim, I’m trying to help decide the fate of the Democratic party.

It’s not unusual for me to be undecided at this point in the electoral cycle, but I’m not even leaning towards someone yet, and that is a first. I am, for all intents and purposes, an undecided voter — a middle-of-the-road guy, whose vote is currently up for grabs.

I’m watching. I’m listening. I’m trying to determine how best to spend my vote.

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