I couldn’t count the number of times someone has asked who I might be voting for in 2016. This primary season was the first time I got to fill out a ballot, and I probably considered and reconsidered whose name I would cast for the Democratic Nominee for the President of the United States.
On paper, I look like I should be a Bernie Sanders supporter; I am a college student who is already feeling the stress brought on by student loans and unaffordable education, I care enough about the environment to know we are on a dangerous track our planet may soon be unable to recover from, and I think anyone with a sense of logic and basic knowledge of the 2007/8 Housing Crisis can see why the United States has an obligation to further regulate and monitor the financial sector.
Bernie Sanders is authentic, seemingly uninfluenced by the sources who donate to him, and has created an image of being an “outsider” – someone who is unattached to the Washington Machine that many now consider broken.
As I have said, I am a college student. In many ways, this makes Sanders a good candidate to support, right? After all, he is the one most vocal about the argument that higher education is becoming more and more inaccessible to middle class Americans. Being through only one year of college, I have already began to collect debt under my name via student loans, and the amount will only grow the closer I get to earning my degree. This is the same story countless students across the United States are experiencing themselves, and for many of them, Sanders has become something of a white knight. He has presented himself as ready to tackle the issue of student loans and mass student debt head on, should he be elected. This alone explains one reason he appeals to the mass of millennials, scores of whom are preparing to vote for the first time.
Needless to say I am intrigued by his dedication to the causes most familiar to students of higher education, and a part of me wants to fully support his campaign. The problems lie not in what he has said, but in what he has done (or hasn’t done, as the case may be). Bernie Sanders has had an impressive career on the Senate, but there is one notable stain on his legacy – he has a disappointing record of bipartisanship. He doesn’t want to reach across the aisle. To some, this may be appear beneficial – Sanders doesn’t sacrifice his liberal ideology in the name of compromise. However, this attribute is dangerous in a president. A good leader needs to listen to and work with those who might disagree, not refuse to give attention simply because there is little common ground. In 2014, Sanders was ranked the second lowest of all the committee chairs and ranking members for record of writing bipartisan legislation. Under 10 percent of the legislation he introduced had co-sponsors from both the Republican and Democratic parties.
I have full confidence that Sanders wants to lead positive change on behalf of college students, but his history has proven he likely can’t bring about that change. If he won’t communicate, negotiate, or compromise with the Republican party, how is he ever going to get legislation passed through say, the House of Representative, which is likely to keep a Republican majority for the foreseeable future. Extreme idealism can be a virtue in an activist, but in the leader of a nation, it often creates a wall in a position that should be building bridges.
What’s more, Bernie Sanders isn’t the only candidate who seems to care that college students are taking on too much debt, with little ability to pay it off in a reasonable manner. Long before Sanders announced his official policy on the matter, Hillary Clinton released an organized, detailed plan for restructuring the current education system to benefit the student over the college. In fact, the two actually share a lot of the same goals for reforming education. Both want to allow the refinancing of student loans, limit further growth of college costs, and eventually reduce or eliminate the need for students attending public institutions from having to take loans.
While Sanders, as previously stated, failed to get even 10 percent of his legislation in 2014 to have bipartisan cosponsorship, Hillary Clinton’s record during her time in the Senate was closer to 30 percent. This number is not great, but it shows at the very least a much higher understanding of the need for communication between party members. I fear a presidency where Bernie Sanders could not get any form of robust policy changes on education passed due to failure to participate in bipartisan politics. All of this matters, because student loans aren’t going away, and allowing the better part of an entire generation to enter the workforce already in several thousands of dollars in debt is dangerous to the economy. Both candidates want to fix this, but only one of them seems to understand what needs to happen to turn a political plan into a legislative reality.
This is not the only reason I chose to not to vote for Sanders. Currently, he sits as the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on the Budget. In the arguably likely event the Democrats take a majority of Senate seats in the 2016 election, he will become the Committee Chair. The Budget Committee primarily influences the overall spending of the federal government – this includes determining how much might go toward education and student aid. Bernie Sanders has always struck me as a candidate not interested in the title of the Presidency, so much as in the ability to influence change. However, with a Congress that is likely to be either split between the parties, or controlled entirely by the Republicans, that ability to influence change reduced dramatically.