California Forum

A liberal millennial’s case against Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton prepare for a debate in New York this month. Sanders has done especially well with younger, white voters, but Clinton has won minority votes decisively.
Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton prepare for a debate in New York this month. Sanders has done especially well with younger, white voters, but Clinton has won minority votes decisively. The Associated Press

With each primary vote, Bernie Sanders inches closer to Benjamin Franklin’s assessment of someone who has overstayed their welcome: “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.”

As a 21-year-old liberal Democrat, polls show that the majority of people in my demographic are strong Sanders supporters. A poll of California primary voters taken in March pegged Sanders with a 47-percentage-point lead over Hillary Clinton among my age group.

But I’ll be voting for Clinton on June 7, because I find Sanders’ appeal to the angst of the far left just as dangerous as Donald Trump’s appeal to the anger of the far right, albeit without the racist and xenophobic overtones.

Take Sanders’ proposal to make college free for any student who attends a public university. The plan, which calls for the federal government to pay two-thirds and each state to pay the remaining third, is gilded concrete. It looks nice on the surface, but look deeper and you see a plan that would require states to raise taxes or cut spending. Sanders’ plan would benefit families that can afford tuition, as opposed to subsidizing federal aid programs like Pell Grants, which benefit students who need financial aid the most.

With plans like this, you see how Sanders leads a movement that can be described as the tea party of the left. He attracts voters who dislike establishment party figures. This plays well with my demographic, dubbed the entitlement generation for a reason. We’re the “participation trophy” kids, and as adults in the working world, we’re more likely to expect higher salaries, more flexible hours and even more time off than our predecessors.

And with their animosity at the establishment, many of my relatively well-off Bernie-loving peers deride Clinton. It’s disheartening to hear them say they won’t support the former secretary of state if she becomes the Democratic nominee.

But minority millennials don’t see the election quite the same way.

Despite having overwhelming millennial support, Sanders does poorly among minorities. While polling of minority millennial voters isn’t regularly conducted, one poll from February showed Clinton thumping Sanders 64-25 percent among black millennials. Among white millennials, Sanders led Clinton 75-22 percent.

Minority millennials don’t #FeelTheBern because it is a privilege they don’t have, and because of the high stakes of a Republican in the White House: deportation among Hispanic communities and disenfranchisement from discriminatory voter ID laws among the African American community.

Sanders has urged us to reject Clinton because she voted in favor of the Iraq War. We should resist that urge. Accountability is important, but suggesting any ill-cast vote invalidates Clinton’s ability to be a pragmatic president sounds like the tactics of tea party conservatives. Remember Grover Norquist forcing Republicans to sign a pledge promising never to vote for tax increases?

With promises for more free stuff, Sanders’ appeal to millennials becomes apparent. We didn’t grow up watching great political compromisers like Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill. Our lives have been bookended by two government shutdowns, and we started voting at one of the most polarized and hostile political eras in American history.

But I won’t support Sanders because I remain optimistic that the great compromises engineered by Reagan and O’Neill are still within reach. My generation, the next political leaders, cannot forget that. If the aspiring politicians among us don’t come to grips with the pitfalls of Sanders’ approach to politics, I worry our political system will remain deadlocked for years to come.

I appreciate what Sanders has done for the election. His focus on economic inequality has steered the conversation on the Democrats’ side in a helpful direction, but some of his proposals to fix that – good in theory but impossible politically – turn me off.

Nathaniel Haas is a student at USC’s Gould School of Law and a USC Schwarzenegger Institute Student Fellow. Contact him at