New York is an electoral microclimate that is in many senses distinct from the rest of the United States, yet the storms that develop in New York sweep across the American political landscape. We know; The Nation was founded in New York, and we have been covering this city and its outsized influence on this country for 150 years. Because so much economic, social, and media power is concentrated in New York, it shapes not just a local debate but a coast-to-coast dialogue. Perhaps it is true that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. But what happens in New York goes national.
So as the 2016 Democratic presidential race crashes into New York City in advance of the April 19 New York state primary, it is no surprise that everything is blowing up. The charges and countercharges are flying, the tabloid headlines are rolling off the presses, and the pundits say that “Wisconsin nice” has been replaced by “New York nasty.” We don’t quite buy that. What’s happening is that a race that has been reasonably genteel—especially when compared to the brutal battle Republicans are experiencing in this Trumped-up campaign season—has intensified because so much is at stake. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton retains her front-runner status, with a clear lead in the race for delegates. But Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is winning the momentum race, having secured overwhelming majorities on six of the last seven contests—including a Wisconsin primary fight where both candidates ran hard and Sanders carried 71 of 72 counties and won 57 percent of the statewide vote.
The morning after the Wisconsin primary, all attention shifted to New York and it seemed as if the volume was suddenly turned up to 11. Unfortunately, the New York fight started with less focus on issues and ideas and more focus on foibles and mischaracterizations. Let us break through the New York noise and state a few things up front: Bernie Sanders has a lot of good ideas for breaking up big banks, he cares a lot about victims of gun violence, and he knows that subway tokens are a thing of the past. Hillary Clinton knows how to use a MetroCard, she understands that mass incarceration must be addressed, and she is qualified to serve as president of the United States.
It is on that last question of qualifications that the Democratic contest has turned particularly edgy. On April 6, Clinton was asked on the MSNBC show Morning Joe if she believed Sanders is “qualified and ready” to be president. Clinton said responses by Sanders to questions from the New York Daily News editorial board “raised a lot of really serious questions.” The headline writers at The Washington Post wrote: “Clinton questions whether Sanders is qualified to be president.” Sanders responded by noting the questioning of his qualifications and said of Clinton: “I don’t believe that she is qualified if she is, through her Super PAC, taking tens of millions of dollars in special interest funds. I don’t think that you are qualified if you get $15 million from Wall Street through your Super PAC. I don’t think you are qualified if you have voted for the disastrous war in Iraq. I don’t think you are qualified if you’ve supported virtually every disastrous trade agreement, which has cost us millions of decent-paying jobs.”
Now everyone has gone to their corners, as accusations and demands for apologies fly back and forth, and pundits talk up the notion that, by the times the New York primary rolls around, the Democratic race really could be as nasty as the Republican race. That won’t happen, in part because Clinton and Sanders have more respect for one another than the Republican candidates do, in part because an argument about qualifications and records is dramatically different from an argument about wives and hand sizes.
Nation editors examined the qualifications of both Clinton and Sanders before making an endorsement in the race. We concluded that, on the most basic measures, both candidates are exceptionally well qualified: Clinton is a former senator and secretary of state with vast experience working on an array of critical issues: from children’s rights to women’s rights to healthcare reform, and the direction of American foreign policy. Sanders is a former mayor, congressman, and US senator who helped to form the Congressional Progressive Caucus, became a master of the legislative process (using amendments to shape policy even in Republican-controlled congresses), and forged a remarkable bipartisan coalition to develop and pass the most comprehensive piece of veterans legislation to be enacted in decades.
We could accept either of these candidates as president, but we endorsed Sanders with enthusiasm because we believe that he has additional qualifications rooted in judgement and vision. He did vote against authorizing the war in Iraq, and against the Patriot Act, and against trade deals that have done enormous damage to the prospects of American workers and American communities. He has steadily opposed the death penalty and argued for criminal-justice reform, and he recognizes and challenges the economic underpinnings of structural racism. He objects to regime change as a foreign-policy priority and instead argues for a focus on diplomacy and development. And he has recognized, along with Elizabeth Warren, that our rigged economy extends from a rigged political process in which special-interest groups and billionaires have far more influence that citizens. On many of these issues, Clinton has developed credible positions, but she keeps arguing for lowered expectations and more limited goals. That’s not what is needed. When Sanders speaks of the need for a political revolution, he evidences an understanding of just how serious the moment is and just how bold we must be in fighting for the future. To our view, that recognition is a qualification. Indeed, it is the qualification that makes us confident that Bernie Sanders is the candidate who is best prepared to be the Democratic nominee and the president of the United States.