A No-Nonsense Guide To The Pros And Cons Of Hillary And Bernie

by John Haltiwanger
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Following the Iowa caucuses, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are the only remaining Democratic presidential candidates (Martin O'Malley, in all his shirtless glory, dropped out).

We've come to a point in the election where supporters of both candidates are becoming increasingly entrenched, prompting impassioned (and sometimes immature) debates between the sides.

Tagged some Bernie supporters for over-the-top reactions to simple assessments of him, now Hillary's peeps are doing the same. Ugh...#Bye — Charles M. Blow (@CharlesMBlow) January 29, 2016

Supporters of Bernie seem to think Hillary isn't trustworthy and represents the establishment. Comparatively, supporters of Hillary contend Bernie just doesn't have the experience and, while his ideas sound nice, he's not realistic.

Meanwhile, some say Bernie might be radical, but he's also been very consistent in his message. Others say Hillary might've flip-flopped on certain issues, but people change, and she's more appealing to a broad audience.

As we saw in the first one-on-one debate between the candidates last Thursday, there's also a lot of discussion over whether Hillary is truly "progressive" or whether Bernie is actually "electable."

WATCH: Clinton, Sanders tackle the 'progressive' issue at #DemDebate — Meet the Press (@meetthepress) February 5, 2016

Amid all this noise, it can be difficult to get a clear picture of what each candidate truly believes.

The presidential race is long, and anything could happen. At the moment, Sanders is struggling to win over older and minority voters, while Clinton is struggling to win over Millennials. Some of this boils down to their stances on various issues, but a lot of it has to do with how they present themselves.

It's probably fair to say many have skewed perceptions of what each candidate is really like and where each actually stands on many issues.

The fact of the matter is Clinton and Sanders actually agree on a great deal.

For example, they both want to overturn Citizens United and support campaign finance reform, they both support LGBTQ rights, they both support raising the minimum wage (Hillary to $12, Bernie to $15), they're both pro-choice, they both support women's rights and equal pay for equal work, they both support criminal justice reform and want to abolish private prisons, they both support accepting Syrian refugees and they both support a pathway to citizenship for immigrants.

Hillary has attacked Bernie on gun control, but they both support expanding background checks. Bernie has attacked Hillary on the issue of Wall Street, but they both support reform in their own ways.

The disagreements between Sanders and Clinton on many issues are very subtle, but they have been exaggerated by the candidates, the media and their respective supporters alike.

To put this into perspective, it's worth noting they voted the same way 93 percent of the time while they were in the Senate together.

Accordingly, it's worth taking the time to discuss and analyze where the candidates truly disagree on important topics.

Here's a no-nonsense guide to major issues that Clinton and Sanders really differ on, with analysis of the pros and cons of their positions based on public opinion as well as the opinions of experts.

Foreign policy

Hillary Clinton Pros:

As a former secretary of state, Clinton has a lot of experience in the international arena -- definitely more than Sanders. She's a skilled diplomat and knows how to navigate the complex waters of foreign affairs.

Clinton doesn't want the US to send combat troops into Iraq or Syria to fight ISIS, a prudent position.

"I am against American combat troops being in Syria and Iraq." - @HillaryClinton #DemDebate — Elite Daily (@EliteDaily) February 5, 2016

Sending combat troops into these countries would exacerbate the situation and serve as a recruiting poster for terrorism. Not to mention, it would mean risking the lives of American troops in what would undoubtedly become a long and costly war.

Clinton is also supportive of helping refugees, which is both practical and ethical.

Hillary Clinton Cons: 

It's difficult to ignore the fact Clinton voted "yes" for the Iraq War while a senator. This conflict was the most catastrophic foreign policy decision of our era.

The Iraq War fueled the rise of ISIS, and many of the problems we are dealing with now are products of that conflict.

But we cannot place the outcome of the war, or its consequences, entirely on the politicians who voted in favor of it. There's also the fact Clinton openly states she made a mistake in voting "yes" for the Iraq War.

Bernie Sanders perhaps concentrates on this point too much when debating her, but it's worth noting because it's indicative of Clinton's arguably hawkish, or interventionist, approach to foreign policy. Her foreign policy would certainly be different from that of President Obama (which could be good or bad).

She definitely supports having a strong American presence across the world, which has had extremely mixed consequences over the past several decades (particularly the last two).

Bernie Sanders Pros: 

It's not unfair to say Senator Sanders and the president are quite similar when it comes to global affairs (which is both good and bad).

I would argue that Bernie Sanders' foreign policy positions show more continuity w/Prez's than Clinton's more hawkish foreign policy stances — Katrina vandenHeuvel (@KatrinaNation) February 3, 2016

Bernie Sanders voted against the Iraq War (just like Obama) and takes a very diplomatic approach to foreign policy. He's not a fan of interventionism.

"We cannot be the policeman of the world." - @BernieSanders #DemDebate — Elite Daily (@EliteDaily) February 5, 2016

Like Hillary, he's against sending combat troops to fight ISIS. Unlike Clinton, he believes the task of crushing the terrorist group falls overwhelmingly upon the predominately Muslim nations in the region where it's active.

Sanders also has a very strong record with veterans: He was chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs for two years. Technically, this is a domestic matter, but it's important for any politician with influence over foreign affairs to have an intimate understanding of the costs of war, and Sanders definitely does.

He constantly reiterates the notion we shouldn't send people off to war if we aren't willing to take care of them upon their return.

If you can't afford to take care of our veterans, then don't send them to war. #DemDebate — Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) February 5, 2016

Bernie Sanders Cons:

While he's exhibited good judgment on many related issues, Sanders doesn't have as much experience as Clinton on foreign affairs.

Some also fear Sanders' anti-interventionist approach to foreign policy could translate into a decline in American influence across the globe.

There's also the fact he's critical of the amount the US spends on defense. Some might argue this is a good thing as the US spends more on its military than any nation in the world (around $600 billion), but taking such a stance can be politically unpopular across partisan lines.

In debates, the Vermont senator has struggled in his various responses to questions on this issue, further distinguishing Clinton as better-versed when it comes to international relations.

In Sanders' defense, however, people also attacked President Obama on his lack of foreign policy experience in 2008. (This point is really only relevant if you're of the opinion Obama has done a good job with global affairs over the course of his tenure, which is definitely open to debate.)


Hillary Clinton Pros:

Clinton wants to leave Obamacare in place and expand on it, which is arguably a very practical way to move forward.

Clinton: Let's preserve gains of Obamacare. Her plan to reduce medical costs: #DemTownHall — CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) February 4, 2016

The Affordable Care Act has helped approximately 18 million people gain healthcare so far. Clinton doesn't want to meddle with this.

Based on past experience, she knows trying to make major changes to healthcare in the US can be incredibly difficult.

She believes in universal healthcare (which Obamacare falls short of) but also in pragmatism.

Hillary Clinton Cons:

There is still a great deal of opposition to Obamacare, which is a large part of the reason many people aren't benefiting from it.

This is why it's hard to believe Clinton can deliver on expanding Obamacare, given President Obama's tenure has largely been defined by fighting to ensure its survival.

Bernie Sanders Pros:

Bernie believes in universal healthcare, which is not a bad thing in theory.

He wants to replace Obamacare with a single-payer healthcare system in which all Americans would be provided healthcare by the government.

While this would result in an increase in taxes, Sanders argues it would also mean people wouldn't have to pay exorbitant health insurance premiums.

Sanders on #healthcare program: "Yes. We will raise taxes but also going to eliminate private health insurance premiums." #DemTownHall — Brandon Pope ABC 57 (@BpopeTV) January 26, 2016

In his view, what he's calling for would actually save people money, and many seem to like that idea.

NH voter to Sanders: "If it helps me with health care insurance premiums, I'll gladly pay more in taxes." — David Chalian (@DavidChalian) February 4, 2016

Sanders backs his stance up by pointing out universal healthcare works very well in many countries around the world.

Bernie Sanders Cons:

Many view Sanders' healthcare plan as completely unrealistic and extremely vague.

Opponents argue it would be far too costly and would wreak havoc on the economy.

His plan is also viewed as inherently socialistic, and "socialism" remains a very dirty word in American politics.

While universal healthcare is the norm in many countries, it's seen as a radical idea by a lot of Americans.

And given it's been so hard to implement Obamacare, it's understandable there are so many doubts about Sanders' healthcare plan.

College affordability

Hillary Clinton Pros: 

It's no secret student loan debt is impacting millions of Americans as the cost of college tuition continues to rise.

At the moment, around 40 million Americans collectively owe around $1.2 trillion in student loan debt.

Clinton would like to combat this with a $350 billion plan that would allow students to attend a four-year public university without having to take out student loans.

The money would be allocated over 10 years. Over half would go toward states investing more money in higher education, the rest would go toward lowering student loan interest rates and other initiatives.

The plan aims to lower college tuition costs (via tuition grants), increase graduation rates (and accountability from universities in that regard) and help graduates refinance their student loans (income-based repayments).

Student loan debt is crippling millions of Americans, and this plan could be a good step forward.

Hillary Clinton Cons:

The plan is very expensive and extremely unpopular with much of the GOP -- it would be very difficult to push through a Republican Congress.

In addition, there are others, like Sanders (and many of his supporters), who believe Clinton's plan doesn't go far enough.

Bernie Sanders Pros: 

Like Clinton, Sanders is very disturbed by the astronomical level of student loan debt in this country. He plans to address this by making all state colleges and universities completely tuition-free.

Sanders plan would cost around $75 billion per year, which he says would be funded by a tax on Wall Street speculation.

You might characterize the difference between Sanders' plan and Clinton's plan as tuition-free vs. debt-free.

Hillary Clinton says she believes in affordable college, not free college. #DemDebate #Decision2016 — NBC Nightly News (@NBCNightlyNews) February 5, 2016

While Sanders' college plan might sound radical, it also helps explain why he's so popular with young voters, who are very concerned about the economy and feel overburdened by student loans and the cost of college tuition. Sanders' plan definitely aims to reduce that burden.

Bernie Sanders Cons:

As with healthcare, many view Sanders' free college tuition plan as too expensive, completely unrealistic and too socialistic for the US.

It's true, like universal healthcare, there are European countries that have successfully provided students with a higher education sans tuition.

But in the US, where we can't even get people to agree on raising the minimum wage, the notion of free college is just too extreme for many people. In other words, it might not be politically feasible.

Not to mention, there are worries that a plan like this would lower the overall quality of America's educational offerings. Some say it would make it harder for private institutions to compete, resulting in a decline in the variety of educational programs offered.

Capital punishment

Hillary Clinton Pros:

If you're a proponent of using capital punishment under limited and rare circumstances, you're on the same page as Hillary Clinton.

Clinton doesn't support abolishing capital punishment, but she desires to curb its use and thinks there's evidence it's been applied too frequently and in a "discriminatory" way.

Hillary Clinton Cons:

Clinton's position on the death penalty is very unpopular with many liberals because it's viewed as a barbaric and antiquated policy that diminishes America's international standing.

The majority of the world's countries abolished the death penalty. By retaining it, the US remains in the same company as countries like Iran, China and Saudi Arabia.

The death penalty is also applied disproportionately against minorities and the poor in the US, and there's evidence a significant percentage of those sentenced to death are innocent.

Data from Amnesty International reveal the US remains one of the top executioners in the world, which is hardly something any country should aspire to be.

Bernie Sanders Pros:

Bernie Sanders favors abolishing the death penalty from both a human rights and practical standpoint.

.@BernieSanders: "In a world of so much violence and killing, I just don't believe that government itself should be part of the killing." — HuffPost Politics (@HuffPostPol) February 5, 2016

Sanders' position on capital punishment places him at an advantage over Clinton among certain segments of voters.

Bernie Sanders Cons:

If you're of the opinion the death penalty is an appropriate means of delivering justice, you're at odds with Senator Sanders on this issue.

But that also means you're among the majority of Americans who continue to favor its use.

Because much of the public disagrees with him, Sanders' position on capital punishment will not help him win the election.


Hillary Clinton Pros: 

If you're still uncertain about the effects of marijuana use but think current laws are too harsh, you'd probably agree with Hillary Clinton's stance on pot.

Clinton doesn't support legalization, but she has called for liberalizing America's marijuana laws. She wants to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 drug.

This is a significant difference, given marijuana is currently classified alongside drugs like heroin by remaining a Schedule 1 drug.

As a Schedule 2 drug, marijuana would be in the same category as prescription drugs. This is also why Hillary's expressed support for the medicinal use of marijuana and further research.

Clinton wants the US to stop imprisoning people for the use of marijuana.

She's said it's "absurd" the federal government treats marijuana like heroin, and she acknowledges America's marijuana laws have disproportionately impacted minorities.

She's right: Blacks and whites possess marijuana at similar rates, but blacks are almost four times more likely to be arrested for it.

Hillary Clinton Cons:

A majority (around 58 percent) of Americans (particularly Millennials) now support legalizing marijuana for recreational use, so Clinton is not on the same page as a lot of the public when it comes to pot.

Moreover, keeping pot illegal at the federal level perpetuates the War on Drugs, a futile endeavor that's fueled mass incarceration in the US.

The US has almost 5 percent of the world's population, but nearly 25 percent of the global prison population. This is an embarrassing stat for a country that prides itself on its "freedom," and there are far too many nonviolent offenders imprisoned for drug-related crimes.

Decriminalizing marijuana is seen by many as an important step in ending the War on Drugs and, in turn, incarceration rates.

Clinton is viewed by many as very out of touch when it comes to pot.

Bernie Sanders Pros:

Sanders wants to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level -- he views it as a criminal justice issue.

Millions of people have been arrested for using marijuana. That is absurd and it is destroying lives. — Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) January 31, 2016

The Vermont senator also wants to allow states to decide whether to legalize the use of recreational marijuana.

His approach to this issue stands in line with the majority of Americans and increases his popularity with Millennial voters.

Bernie Sanders Cons:

Even though his position on marijuana is pragmatic and popular, it's hardly enough to catapult him to the White House.

Sanders is also struggling with older voters (compared to Clinton), and his pro-pot stance might turn off certain segments of Democratic voters he needs to win over if he hopes to gain the Democratic nomination.

Citations: Here's where Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders stand on the issues (Business Insider)