Friday, 12 February 2016

Fact-Checking Political Memes to Introduce You to the Real Sanders and Clinton

This blog post began just as a simple exercise in fact-checking political memes. I strongly dislike memes about politics as they tend to err on the side of simplicity at the expense of accuracy.  But during this exercise (oh, the things I do for fun), I grew extremely angry.  Because in the process of looking into what Bernie Sanders' supporters think of Hillary Clinton, I realized they spent so much time demonizing her, they didn't have time to actually look into their own candidate.  They buy into the proffered narrative and cover their eyes/ears if someone challenges that.  They seem to have placed their own ideals and desires onto a candidate, namely Bernie Sanders.  I know it makes it easier to explain why they support him over Clinton - good vs evil rather than getting into wonky policy.  I will do a comparison of them on specific policies in another post, as ignorance helps no one when it comes to winning a general election.  However, these memes offer an opportunity to point out some of the false narratives currently present.  Ladies and gentlemen - let me introduce you to Senator Bernie Sanders and Secretary Hillary Clinton:

  1. $15 minimum wage - Technically, this is true.  Bernie Sanders supports a national $15 minimum wage and Hillary Clinton supports a national $12 minimum wage.  What this meme doesn't tell you is that most liberal economists do not support a $15 minimum wage, either. Alan B. Krueger, a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University and the former chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, wrote an op-ed for the NY Times in which he states: "Research suggests that a minimum wage set as high as $12 an hour will do more good than harm for low-wage workers, but a $15-an-hour national minimum wage would put us in uncharted waters, and risk undesirable and unintended consequences." Many economists have pointed out that $15 p/h in LA, SF, or NYC is very different from $15 p/h in many other parts of the country.  If you would like to read more about this, here are articles from Vox, Slate, and Bloomberg.  Here is a survey of economists by the Employment Policies Institute.
  2. Marijuana Legalization - Actually, this one is false (I even got tripped up on this one).  Bernie Sanders supports "ending the federal prohibition on marijuana", which leaves it up to the states as to whether they want to legalize it or not.  That is different than legalizing it (a sneaky distinction I did not realize at first).  There is no argument that Sanders will go further when it comes to marijuana - he thinks we should remove it from the federal Controlled Substances Act and while he supports letting states set their own marijuana laws, he would vote for legalization if it were on the ballot.  Clinton offers a more measured approach - she supports states setting their own legislation and she would remove marijuana from the Schedule I classification of drugs and move it to Schedule II, allowing for further research.  Clinton wants to wait and see how things are going in the states that have already legalized marijuana.  Which, ironically, is exactly what Sanders said last May.
  3. Gay Marriage - Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton both support gay marriage.  Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton both did NOT support gay marriage (at least publicly) until relatively recently.  Sanders supported it publicly before Clinton did by about 4 years (2009 vs 2013).  Bernie Sanders did vote against DOMA in 1996, but did so from a states' rights perspective, according to his chief of staff (and wife), Jane Sanders, “We’re not legislating values. We have to follow the Constitution.  And anything that weakens the Constitution should be (addressed) by a constitutional amendment, not by a law passed by Congress.”  In 1999, the Vermont Supreme Court said the state had to guarantee protections and benefits to gay and lesbian couples, which led to the state passing a civil unions bill in 2000.  Sanders shied away from taking stance on the issue, stating “There are a dozen other issues out there that are as important or more important as that issue.”  In 2006, when Sanders ran for Vermont's Senate seat, he said that he supported civil unions over gay marriage because the fight in 2000 was so contentious.  It wasn't until Vermont's Marriage Equality Act in 2009 that Sanders came out in support of gay marriage.  It's disingenuous to claim that Sanders has been a longtime support of gay marriage and Clinton hasn't - they both evolved relatively recently.
  4. Keystone Oil Pipeline - According to Politifact, Hillary Clinton never flip-flopped on Keystone: "Clinton said, "I never took a position on Keystone until I took a position on Keystone."  In 2010, she said the administration was "inclined" to back it, but she qualified that statement by noting that the analysis was not complete, and the administration had not taken a final position. While this shows a more positive attitude toward Keystone XL than Clinton’s position today, it was not a firm stance. Other than that one comment, Clinton did not indicate her position on Keystone until she announced that she opposed it in September 2015."  Claims otherwise are simply not true.  
  5. Trans Pacific Partnership - This one is relatively true.  Bernie Sanders is against the TPP, Hillary Clinton spoke favorably about it multiple times as a member of President Obama's cabinet before coming out against it in 2015 once the final deal was made public.  
  6. Iraq War Vote - Again, this one is relatively true but it's not the whole story.  In the town hall in NH the other night, Hillary finally explained her vote for the Iraq War (which she has called a mistake in the past and has said if she knew then what we knew now, she wouldn't have voted the way she did), pointing out the "very explicit appeal that President Bush made before announcing the invasion that getting that vote would be a strong piece of leverage in order to finish the inspections," which was supported by U.N. Inspector Hans Blix.  I encourage everyone to read what she actually said when she cast her vote as it's not as simple as Sanders implies.
  7. Patriot Act - Bernie Sanders voted against it, Hillary Clinton voted for it (as did the vast majority of Democrats).
  8. Privatized Prisons - Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are against privatized prisons.  Full stop.  Here is the link to Clinton's criminal justice reform platform, where it states: "Hillary believes we should move away from contracting out this core responsibility of the federal government to private corporations, and from creating private industry incentives that may contribute—or have the appearance of contributing—to over-incarceration."
  9. SOPA Internet Censorship - I'm not even sure why this is on here considering neither Bernie Sanders nor Hillary Clinton took steadfast stances on the issue.  Before SOPA was tabled, Sanders "Leaned no."  According to the Burlington Free Press, "Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., the state’s lone House member, said the anti-piracy measures were too deeply flawed to proceed in their current form. Changing the proposals will be for the best, they said."  Meanwhile, Clinton was not even in Congress at the time, although she did say this in a speech at the Hague "When ideas are blocked, information deleted, conversations stifled and people constrained in their choices, the Internet is diminished for all of us.  There isn’t an economic Internet and a social Internet and a political Internet. There’s just the Internet."
  10. 2006 Mexican Border Fence - Rep. Bernie Sanders voted against the Secure Borders Act of 2006.  Hillary Clinton (and Barack Obama) voted for it, as did most Democratic Senators, as the Senate version of the bill "would have paired tough border security provisions with new paths to lawful work and citizenship for foreign workers and the nation's illegal immigrants," according to the Washington Post.  It's also curious that this was included, considering Sanders voted against Ted Kennedy's Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, saying on CNN at the time, “If poverty is increasing and if wages are going down, I don’t know why we need millions of people to be coming into this country as guest workers who will work for lower wages than American workers and drive wages down, even lower than they are right now.”
  11. Wall Street Bailout - Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton voted differently on this, but is this as strong a positive as he claims?  TARP arguably prevented a second Great Depression and while it wasn't perfect, was the alternative truly viable?  Sanders has also shown he is willing to compromise on issues relating to banking (not necessarily a bad thing), sparking accusations of being a sell-out.  
  12. Who Funds Them - Really?  "The People" fund Bernie Sanders while "Banks" fund Hillary Clinton?  That's oversimplified and petty.  I donated money to Hillary Clinton, am I now a bank?  

  1. Pro-Choice - Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are pro-choice and have voted accordingly.  I will leave Planned Parenthood's explanation for their endorsement for Hillary here, because I assume that's why it was included on the chart.  However, I will also include a worry - that Bernie Sanders does not view women's issues as important as other issue, as former Governor Madeline May Kunin has pointed out: "When Sanders was my opponent he focused like a laser beam on “class analysis,” in which “women’s issues” were essentially a distraction from more important issues. He urged voters not to vote for me just because I was a woman. That would be a “sexist position,” he declared."
  2. Gay Marriage - Factually untrue, please see above.
  3. Protect Civil Rights - The ACLU ratings are correct.  However, you cannot base civil rights solely on one rating from one organization.  Vote Smart offers a compilation of various civil rights groups' ratings for Sanders and Clinton during their legislative careers.  Notice how strong they both are when it comes to civil rights.  It's also worth reading the Human Rights Campaign's endorsement of Hillary Clinton.
  4. Spying on US Citizens - This highlights exactly how uninformed Americans remain on this issue.  The scandal surrounding the NSA warrantless surveillance was from the time period between 2001 and 2007.  The current argument isn't about warrantless surveillance as the US government (aka the NSA) must get warrants from the FISA courts to surveil American citizens.  The debate today is whether FISA properly protects American citizens (here is an excellent NY Times article that points out the problems with secret courts).  Sanders and Clinton voted against the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (Hillary had already conceded to President Obama, who campaigned against this but signed it into law nonetheless).  However, Clinton does stress the importance of balancing personal liberties with security, to the dismay of some progressives.
  5. Bulk Data Collection & Whistle Blowing - This is an important issue that has somehow been boiled down into Edward Snowden quotes.  For the record, both Sanders and Clinton believe Snowden broke the law and should face punishment for his actions.  Bulk data collection is no longer legal in this country, thanks to the USA Freedom Act of 2015.  The ACLU called it "the most important surveillance reform bill since 1978."  Sanders voted against it, claiming it did not go far enough.  Clinton was not in Congress in 2015.
  6. Voted for Wars - Please see above re: Iraq War vote, 2002.  Everything else is false, especially considering Hillary Clinton was not in the Senate during the remaining issues.  First of all, there was no vote for military action in Libya.  Here is Politifact's take on it: "On March 1, 2011, the Senate approved a resolution "strongly condemning the gross and systematic violations of human rights in Libya."  The Senate approved the resolution [SR 85] by unanimous consent, so senators never actually voted on it. But Sanders showed his support by joining in as one of 10 cosponsors."  Second, there was no vote for going to war in Syria, either.  The AUMF was passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee but never brought to a vote in the Senate as a deal was reached with Russia to destroy Syria's chemical weapons.  As for the surge in Afghanistan, while Bernie Sanders spoke out against it, he did not choose to vote against H.R. 4899 (111th): Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2010, which was the bill that funded the surge (and the only vote on the surge).
  7. Regulating Wall Street - Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton support regulating Wall Street.  They just have different means of accomplishing that goal.  Hillary has a history of talking about regulation - here is Politifact rating Clinton's claim that she called for Wall Street regulations early in the financial crisis as "True."  Here is the NY Times breakdown of her plan to regulate Wall Street.  The New Yorker, Vox, The Atlantic, and Paul Krugman have all written articles praising Clinton's plan for Wall Street regulation.  It is also worth noting that Sanders voted for the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, an act that exempted swaps and derivatives from regulation by the CFTC and the SEC and helped contribute to the financial crash.  The point is that no one is 100% "pure" on this issue.
  8. TPP, Trade Deals, & Offshoring Jobs - Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton want to keep jobs in America (obviously).  Sanders ignores that trade deals are not all the same and that the data isn't as clear about the effects of NAFTA as he claims.  Clinton goes back and forth on trade deals - she voted against CAFTA but has supported smaller deals.  As stated above, she currently does not support TPP.  
  9. Campaign Finance Reform - Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton support campaign finance reform.  They both support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.  They both currently benefit from Super PACs and outside groups.  Both have benefited in the past from money that comes from lobbyists and "the establishment."
  10. Climate Change - Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton believe in combating climate change. Both signed on to the #50by30 campaign (Clinton before Iowa, Sanders before NH). The League of Conservation Voters endorsed Clinton last year.  Supporting a carbon tax is not the only indicator for strength on climate change (nor should it be, considering how toxic it has become).
  11. Keystone Oil Pipeline - Completely false, see above.

I hope that this post teaches people the necessity of doing their own research, first of all.  Feel free to click any of the links in the post and please let me know if I have gotten anything incorrect.  But even more importantly, stop putting politicians on pedestals. Bernie Sanders is a career politician - and that's ok.  He is "establishment," you can't be a politician for as long as he has without become so.  He has strengths and weaknesses, the same as Hillary Clinton.  They both have a past and they both certainly are not perfect.

The point of this piece isn't to convince you to vote for Clinton.  For those who are voting for Sanders, I just want you to know that who you're voting for is someone who is not all that different from Hillary Clinton, as you can see from above.  And for God's sake - fact check political memes before you re-post them.


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