Assessing the Candidates

[Content Note: Class warfare; institutional harm; clean water access.]

So, one of the many interesting (ahem) things to me about engaging with Sanders Stans is the reflexive assumption that anyone who prefers Hillary Clinton—or anyone who says anything even vaguely positive about Clinton and/or vaguely negative about Bernie Sanders—necessarily hates Sanders and necessarily loves Clinton.

While each candidate certainly has their diehard supporters, lots and lots of people I know and/or read, especially progressive people who tend to be super engaged in US politics, don't love or hate either candidate, tend not to believe there's such a thing as a flawless candidate who is beyond criticism, and are scrutinizing both candidates' campaigns and policies to assess who, in their estimation, would make the better president, of two imperfect choices.

I'm one of those people. And many of us look at things beyond (though including) policy prescriptions listed on websites and stump speech promises and voting records.

For example: I look at campaign staff, its diversity and its structure and its efficacy and its decency. I look at how candidates respond to crisis and criticism. I look at voter outreach efforts, especially to marginalized populations, where voters are disproportionately likely to be disenfranchised. I look at the precise language used to discuss issues of concern to me. I look at candidates' debating style, and how diplomatic they tend to be during debates and interviews. I look at their negotiating skills. I look at their preparedness and flexibility and versatility. I look at how capable they seem of being able to pivot, when they are proven wrong. I look at their willingness to be accountable for mistakes and fuck-ups and endorsements of shitty policy. I look at the quality of their apologies, and whether they are willing to apologize at all. I look at how much they value transparency.

This is not a complete list, but you get the picture. In addition to policy, I am keen to assess the attributes that I want to see in a president. I want a president who is competent, effective, unflappable, adaptable, accountable. Who knows when to stand their ground and when to compromise. Who understands that diplomacy and negotiation are huge parts of the president's job, and who is a solid diplomat and negotiator.

And I look for examples, on the campaign trail, of how a candidate might respond to something if they were president. Amanda Terkel provided a perfect example of Clinton's and Sander's contrasting styles describing how they each responded to the water crisis in Flint:
On Saturday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called on Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) to resign over the lead poisoning crisis in Flint.

Three days later, Snyder remains in office, and Sanders has moved on after generating a fair amount of media attention.

On Thursday, Hillary Clinton went on national television and chastised Snyder for refusing to ask for federal assistance in order to help the affected residents.

Two hours after that interview aired on "The Rachel Maddow Show" on MSNBC, the governor did just that.

Clinton had also already dispatched two of her top aides—including one with years of experience working for a Michigan senator—to the state to assist Flint Mayor Karen Weaver (D) with whatever she needed.

..."As far as what Hillary Clinton has done, she has actually been the only—the only—candidate, whether we're talking Democratic or Republican, to reach out and talk with us about, 'What can I do? What kind of help do you need?'" Weaver said.

Amanda Renteria is the Clinton campaign's national political director and one of the staffers who went to Flint last week to talk with the mayor. She has experience in the state, having previously served as chief of staff to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D- Mich.).

"When this came about and [Clinton] read about it, her immediate response has been, 'Let's see what's going on, and what can we do to help?'" Renteria told reporters during Tuesday's conference call.

...Last week, the Clinton campaign also called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to conduct an "expedited review" of Flint's water infrastructure and said the Obama administration should immediately set up a "health monitoring and surveillance system" to test residents for lead poisoning. It's less exciting and headline-grabbing than getting Snyder to resign, but also more likely to happen.
The disparity in these responses matters a lot to me. Because it gives me a picture of what the candidates' respective presidencies might look like.

And while some people might argue that Sanders would respond differently if he were already president, it means something to me that Sanders responds like someone running for president while Clinton responds like someone who is president.

This is but one example of many, as I have been observing both candidates on the campaign trail, along with reviewing their proposed policies and records, listening to what they are saying now and what they have said before. Listening to what both their supporters and critics have to say. Reading what people who have worked with and for them have to say. Talking to other people whose opinions I respect about what they think.

The other day, I was chatting with my friend Imani Gandy (the following shared with her permission), who is not particularly enthusiastic about either candidate, and she described Clinton as "robotically competent." Which is a pretty great description! If not necessarily a particularly complementary one, heh.

Being robotically competent doesn't inspire a lot of people, but one of the things I've most valued about President Obama's presidency is how competent it has been. I implicitly trust President Obama to know what he's doing and to not be a fucking embarrassment.

And even when I have disagreed with the President's agenda, sometimes vehemently, I don't think he's come to his decisions down a path of unpreparedness or incompetence or untrustworthiness.

I was born during the Nixon administration, spent my childhood during the Reagan administration, spent a significant part of my adulthood during the George W. Bush administration. To me, being able to trust a president (who generally shares my priorities) to be reliably competent, to know what to do, is pretty important.

Now, you might have a whole different set of metrics for how you assess who is the best candidate, who earns your vote.

Maybe policy is all that matters to you. Maybe you just want to be inspired. Maybe you just want to vote for a woman because holy fuck enough with the dudes already. Maybe you have all kinds of reasons that look nothing like mine.

And that's fine. I'm not telling you what your metrics should look like. I'm telling you what mine are.

You don't have to assess a potential president in the same way I do, nor do you have to agree with the way I assess potential presidents. But do me the favor of not talking to me like I haven't fucking thought about it.

I have.

[Related Reading: My Vote. Mine.]

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