Hillary Will Do What Is Popular, But Bernie Will Do What Is Right

by John Haltiwanger

During a campaign event in New Hampshire last Wednesday, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton told attendees she does not favor abolishing the death penalty, but would like to see its use limited.

Clinton weighs in on death penalty (1st time in years). "I do not favor abolishing it," she says. But would like to limit number of cases. — Liz Kreutz (@ABCLiz) October 28, 2015

One day later, Senator Bernie Sanders, also a Democratic candidate for president, took a decidedly less ambivalent position on the issue, calling for the outright abolishment of capital punishment during a speech on the Senate floor.

It's time for the United States to join almost every other Western, industrialized country on Earth in saying no to the death penalty. — Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) October 29, 2015

Sanders' and Clinton's respective stances on the death penalty are emblematic of their general approach to politics, especially when it comes to controversial issues.

While Clinton often takes positions that align with popular opinion, Sanders has consistently stood up for what he believes is right throughout his political career, with or without popular support.

In spite of the fact over two-thirds of the world's countries have abolished the death penalty for both practical and ethical reasons, a majority of Americans support the continued use of capital punishment in the US (61 percent).

Accordingly, Clinton's stance on the issue might be at odds with the viewpoint of many liberals, but it coincides with much of the general public. This is quite typical for Hillary, and it makes it difficult to know where she really stands on many topics.

For example, Clinton supports same-sex marriage today, as does a majority of the US public (around 52 percent according to Pew Research Center). But as PolitiFact notes:

Clinton opposed same-sex marriage as a candidate for the Senate, while in office as a senator, and while running for president in 2008. As polls showed that a majority of Americans supported same-sex marriage, Clinton's views changed, too. She announced her support for same-sex marriage in March 2013.

Indeed, LGBT rights is an issue Clinton has continuously flip-flopped on.

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders supported the LGBT community long before it was popular. He hasn't always been perfect on the issue but has a generally consistent and progressive record.

In 1983, for example, when he was mayor of Burlington, Vermont, Sanders endorsed the first ever Gay Pride Parade in the city.

Later, while he was a congressman in 1995, Sanders stood up on the floor of the House of Representatives and defended homosexuals who served in the military. This was over a decade before the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, which Sanders opposed when it was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993:

In 1996, Sanders voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as a "legal union between one man and one woman."

As Time notes, he was one of just 67 members of the House to oppose it. And, in 2000, Sanders supported civil unions in his home state of Vermont. It's true Clinton supported civil unions around the same time, but Sanders came out in full support of same-sex marriage in 2009, four years before she did.

Indeed, Bernie Sanders has been ahead of the times on a wide array of issues. He's not the type of person to wait until it's timely or popular to take a clear stance on something. Sanders is an individual who unapologetically stands by his convictions.

When it comes down to it, Clinton can't make the same claim. Even on foreign policy, which Hillary seemingly has more experience with via her time as Secretary of State, Sanders has arguably exhibited more consistency.

In 2002, when she was a senator for New York, Hillary Clinton voted in favor of the war in Iraq.

The majority of Americans supported the war at its onset. But, eventually, Clinton signified her vote was a mistake. Correspondingly, polling shows a majority of the American public also came to see the war in Iraq as misguided.

Comparatively, Bernie Sanders voted against the war in Iraq in 2002 and continued to oppose the nature of America's involvement there.

When Bernie Sanders announced his decision to run for president earlier this year, he was quickly dismissed as a long-shot candidate. The momentum and success of his campaign thus far has come as a shock to many of the naysayers.

No one expected a self-declared democratic socialist from Vermont to present Hillary with such a challenge.

The 2016 presidential election is now about a year away. If Sanders' campaign is able to continue to generate support with a level of consistency anywhere close to that of his political career over the coming months, Clinton will be in serious trouble.

Bernie was right during the first Democratic presidential debate when he said the American people are tired of hearing about Hillary's "damn emails" (and Benghazi for that matter). But perhaps we haven't heard enough about Hillary's inconsistent record, who her top donors are (banks and corporations) or her hawkish foreign policy, among other matters.

Do Democrats want a president who will do what is popular or what is best for the country? Do they want a president who's dedicated to the issue of campaign finance reform, or who's financed by the institutions that make it necessary? Do they want a president who votes against illogical and costly wars or one who blindly and imprudently favors interventionism? Only time will tell.

Citations: Bernie Sanders Speaks Out Against The Death Penalty After Hillary Clinton Stands By It (Huffington Post), Hillary Clinton Comes Out Against Abolishing The Death Penalty (Huffington Post), Hillary Clintons changing position on same sex marriage (PolitiFact), Where do Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders stand on the death penalty (PolitiFact), Death Penalty (Gallup), Changing Attitudes on Gay Marriage (Pew Research Center), How Bernie Sanders Evolved on Gay Marriage (Time), 32 Years Before SCOTUS Decision Sanders Backed Gay Pride March (Bernie Sanders), Hillary Clinton says her Iraq war vote was a mistake (Politico), Iraq (Gallup), End Dont Ask Dont Tell (Bernie Sanders)