In the United States, people who find themselves in turmoil often turn to either religion or therapy. The former is based on core principles, faith and group activity. The latter is based on the scientific method. It is often stigmatized, and almost always an individual, private matter.
Right now, the Democratic Party is in turmoil and voters are seeking recourse, either through the religion of Sen. Bernie Sanders or through the therapy promised by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton LAW ’73.
The Sanders movement does not trouble itself with the details of how its plans will be funded or make it through Congress. Nevertheless, Bernie’s call has created a new democratic socialist gospel. Meanwhile, the Clinton campaign has almost medically diagnosed each policy problem that America faces and come up with a sound patient treatment plan. Yet, Clinton has failed to develop a broader, unifying message. Take the candidates’ differing stances on marijuana legalization. While Sanders supports decriminalization and legalization because of a general sentiment that the War on Drugs has failed, Hillary supports a more empirical, evidence-based approach. Instead of making a morally pure, faith-based decision and hoping that it will all work out, Clinton wants to reclassify pot and wait for more data from states, which she calls the “research labs” of America.
While Sanders has built a cultlike following around his rallies and promises his supporters a heavenly — and completely unfalsifiable — post-election afterlife of state-funded bliss, Clinton offers sterile field expertise and experience. Sanders is spared harsh scrutiny by the media and his followers, while Clinton must fear accusations of political malpractice for even the slightest misstep. When Sanders is inconsistent, Berners continue to believe without question. Should Clinton update a decade-old policy prescription after careful research and testing, we fear she is dishonest and unreliable. Sanders has all but gotten a good-faith pass for votes against gun control and immigration reform, whereas Clinton is expected to be so meticulously in control that we hold her personally accountable for her IT set-up.
Most religious leaders specialize in their own one faith. Doctors, on the other hand, must receive general medical training in a number of fields before choosing to specialize. Sanders is a one-issue candidate who has held the same job for 40 years, while Clinton has experienced American government in a diversity of roles and chosen to specialize on foreign policy as a secretary of state. Sanders extrapolates from broad generalizations to come up with haphazard, vague solutions to issues that he is unfamiliar with, such as foreign policy. Clinton, by contrast, is deeply aware of each policy category and is well-acquainted with a diverse set of field experts.
And, while religion finds its expression through ritual, holiday or organized prayer, therapy can be a lonely and alienating experience. Sanders supporters have built a culture and a movement. This difference is reflected in something as little as the Sanders counter to Clinton’s #ImWithHer social media hashtag: #HesWithUs. The aim is to underscore that the Sanders movement is a grass-roots, group effort, while Hillary supporters are passionate about Hillary specifically, not a new movement or political revolution. Unless you count yourself as a second-wave feminist, supporting Hillary can also be a lonely, uncelebrated choice — one made through quiet logic, not faith.
Economic turmoil and social injustice have hit America like a bullet through the chest. We currently face deep and pernicious structural inequality. The next president will need to be a symbolic leader, of course, but he or she will also need to know how to implement real policy change. It is up to Democratic voters to decide if they want to say a prayer or be rushed to the emergency room.
Kaivan Shroff is a student at the Yale School of Management who will graduate in 2018. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .