Like a lot of other politically active liberal Democrats, I’m in a pre-primary quandary. Hillary or Bernie? One day I’m for one candidate, the next I’m leaning toward their contender. Both make a lot of sense to me and represent my world view. But both have done things (or not) that make me wonder about their ability to lead the country (and the world) in a way that makes me feel totally comfortable and confident.
I’d love to see a woman president in my lifetime, but I voted for Barack Obama the last time Hillary ran because I have reservations about her that persist, and I don’t like political dynasties. And I like what Bernie stands for, but he’s troubled me on a few issues, and I wonder if he has the personality, patience and negotiation skills required to get things done on the Hill and around the world, progressive ideology notwithstanding.
The Democratic candidate who emerges will have my full and active support. I will go to the mat to ensure that whichever Republican is nominated has no chance of wreaking the havoc each of them has promised. But here are some things I need to see in a Democratic frontrunner in order to be a proud American again, and to feel that there is hope for the future of our country, our world, and our planet.
First, at the national level, I need to know that serious, enforceable gun control legislation will be among the new president’s priorities. I need to stop seeing daily reports of senseless gun deaths, reports so ubiquitous that we are no longer shocked by them because they are as common as a bad weather report. We have become our own killing field and an enigma to the civilized world. It’s time to understand the 18th century intent of the Second Amendment and to question its relevance today. It’s time to tell the NRA to take a hike.
I also need to see reforms within our justice system, our prison-industrial complex and our approach to incarceration overall. Enough of people like Carlos Mercado, a 45-year old diabetic man who died after 15 hours at New York’s notorious Rikers Island for lack of medical attention as guards stepped over him as he lay dying. Enough of women like Sandra Bland dying in prison for not using a turn signal. Enough of white- collar criminals walking away while black boys and men waste away in lockup. Enough of the torture of solitary confinement and of innocent people incarcerated for years and sometimes put to death by the state. Enough of police brutality, bad lawyering, powermongering parole boards, and judicial corruption. Enough of swat teams in place of community-based policing and sufficient mental health services.
I need to see serious attention being given to rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure before it literally falls down around us. Whether its endangered bridges, potholed roads, a ridiculous Amtrak system instead of high speed rail and mass transit like the rest of the developed world has, or up-to-date air traffic control technology, it’s time we stopped gluing ourselves back together, or ignoring altogether disasters waiting to happen. Instead of building walls to keep people away or devising ways to take a one-way trip to outer space perhaps we could make life safer and more comfortable for folks moving around in our own neighborhoods and cities.
With a view to the wider world, I need to know that the next president grasps the reality and urgency of climate change. It’s imperative that he or she gets the fact – the indisputable fact - that we are on the cusp of extraordinary, irreversible disaster if we don’t act now to save our planet. Reports by multiple, credible scientists of sea changes and weather events driven by global warming - including water shortages that could result in insufficient food, new migrations and conflicts over water - are already here. What will it take for naysayers to get the severity of the issue? One answer is a president who prioritizes climate change and acts responsibly along with other global leaders.
Clearly, anyone in the Oval Office needs to be absolutely dedicated to human rights – which include women’s right to agency over their own bodies and lives – and to making such dedication clear and operational. That means ensuring that quality health care and education is accessible and affordable for everyone. It means having a viable strategy for helping the world’s refugees, people of color, and those from other ethnic or religious backgrounds to feel safe and to live dignified lives.
Finally, I need the president to be absolutely savvy about foreign affairs and to have the kind of experience, advisors, and negotiating skills that give all of us the best chance of living in a world in which armed conflict is reduced and terrorism is eliminated without the slaughter of innocents.
It’s a tall order. But Hillary and Bernie have a year in which to convince me which one of them is up to the job. Until then, I’ll just have to live with uncertainty.