The Credibility Gap Between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton


I Believe Bernie Sanders. I Don’t Believe Hillary Clinton.

Really. It’s that simple.

These two candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency both have things going for them. But at the end of the day one of them is much more credible than the other.

They’re both career politicians.

Sanders has been a Vermont Senator for nine years, a U.S. Representative for 16 years, and Mayor of Burlington for eight years.

Clinton was Secretary of State for four years, a New York Senator for eight years, and – most famously – First Lady of the United States for eight years and of Arkansas for 11 years.

But when they speak, only Sanders seems genuine.

I know that’s a personal value judgement. Maybe it doesn’t hit you the same way.

I just don’t know how it could hit you differently.

For instance, both candidates say they’re going to keep the banking industry in check and stop the risky practices that crashed the economy under President George W. Bush. However, that same industry is Clinton’s main financial supporter while Sanders has almost nothing to do with them.

Look at the facts.

Clinton admittedly accepts a massive amount of donations from Wall Street – $824,000 from Citigroup, $760,000 from Goldman Sachs, $696,000 from JP Morgan Chase, $636,000 from Morgan Stanley and the list goes on and on. More than 760 of Clinton’s over all donors list their occupation as CEO or another form of chief executive, according to CNBC.

Meanwhile, Sanders has accepted almost nothing from Wall Street, doesn’t have a super PAC and still raises nearly as much money in donations as Clinton. Small individual contributions make up 70% of his campaign cash. His biggest contributors are from retirees, unions and progressive political organizations – $105,000 from Machinists/Aerospace Workers Union, $93,000 from the Teamsters union, $89,000 from the National Education Association.

So when Sanders says he’s going to break up the big banks and regulate Wall Street, I believe him. Apparently, they do, too, since they aren’t giving him any money.

But when Clinton says she’s going to hold Wall Street accountable, too, it’s just laughable. Why else would they be giving her all this money? Are they paying her to get tough on THEMSELVES!? As Sanders supporter Dr. Cornell West puts it, “I was born at night but not last night.”

The same thing goes for healthcare.

Both candidates say they want to reform the system to make it more affordable and fair. However, Sanders supports a single payer Medicare for all system, while Clinton supports tweaking the existing Obamacare system.

Two decades ago, Clinton agreed with Sanders. Now she receives $13.2 million in donations from the medical and insurance industry – $11.2 million when she was a Senator and $2 million since she began her presidential campaign. From 2013-2015 she received more than $2.8 million in speaking fees alone from the industry.
It’s funny how all that cash coincided with a change in her healthcare policy. She just said recently that single payer will “never, ever” happen.

By contrast, Sanders doesn’t receive sizable donations from the industry at all. Though he voted for Obamacare, he made it clear he thought it was a first step toward the better system he still supports.

So I suppose both are credible in this regard, but Sanders seems to be holding his position more because of conviction than monetary gain. Moreover, how much tweaking of the current system would Clinton really support while still in the pay of the healthcare industry?

However, it’s not all about campaign contributions.

Sanders positions have been fairly rock solid throughout his long career. Clinton’s have changed.

Look at mass incarceration – a huge problem in the United States. We have more than 2 million people incarcerated, many for low level infractions, boosting a for-profit prison industry. By contrast, China – with four times our population – only locks up 1.6 million of its citizens. The US has only 4 percent of the world population but locks away nearly a quarter of the world prison population. Thirty Seven states have higher incarceration rates than most nations, large or small.

When she was First Lady, Clinton supported her husband’s tough on crime legislation. “We need more prisons,” she said in 1994, “to keep violent offenders for as long as it takes to keep them off the streets.” Now that the devastating results of that policy have become clear, Clinton has changed her tune. “We must end the era of mass incarceration,” she said in October of 2015.

That’s quite a switch, and its fairly new. The last time she ran for president, she criticized her rival Barack Obama for being soft on crime and not committing to opening more prisons. Now on the campaign trail she tries to convince us she hates mass incarceration MORE than Obama. In 8 years, she went from a prison booster and belittling Obama for not loving prisons to a prison skeptic.

Did she just evolve on this issue? Has she finally come around to seeing things the right way? Or is she pandering to what she thinks voters want to hear?

Sanders, on the other hand, has been against mass incarceration for most of his career. He’s been speaking about the dangers of ballooning prison populations for more than a decade. As far back as 1994, he said, “Mr. Speaker, all the jails in the world, and we already imprison more people per capita than any other country, and all the executions in the world, will not make that situation right. We can create meaningful jobs, rebuilding our society, or we can build more jails.” Compare that with his statement from July of 2015: “The result of kids not being in school and kids not having jobs is that tragically, today, we in this country have more people in jail than any other country on Earth.”

This issue has become a popular rallying cry recently receiving support from people across the political spectrum. But Sanders was championing it when no one else was paying attention. Clinton has suddenly seen the light.

But it’s not even just past policy decisions.

Clinton is guarded and only seems to make statements that will get her political points. Sanders says things that are sure to loose him votes but that he apparently believes.

For instance, he recently came out in favor of the federal government being largely responsible for public school funding. As a nation, we have drastic monetary and resource inequalities in our nations schools, but no one else is talking about ways to fix it. The trend has been to cut funding. Yet Sanders is willing to put forward a common sense solution the rest of the world has proven works. It’s not bound to get him many votes, though, even from some education advocates afraid of recent federal overreaches in school policy.

Another example is religion. No presidential candidate in recent memory – perhaps ever – has openly admitted to being irreligious. Both Democrats and Republicans usually fall all over themselves to prove how pious they are in their everyday lives. Clinton, for instance, responded during this election cycle that her favorite book is the Bible. Conversely, Sanders admitted he is not a part of any organized religion, though he considers himself Jewish.

That might not get him many votes. But it is refreshingly honest. There is no reason to say something like that unless it were true.

Moreover, Sanders seems like more of genuine person than Clinton. In 1987 when he was Mayor of Burlington, Sanders recorded a folk album. Yes, folk music! It’s called “We Shall Overcome.” The late night shows have been playing it and getting laughs at his expense, but when they bring it up to Sanders, he just laughs and admits that he wasn’t much of a singer.

Can you imagine anything like that from Clinton? Sure, Bill played the saxophone, but Hillary? There is nothing so personal that has leaked to the public. Moreover, the folk song lyrics that Sanders sings are in-line with his political ideology.

Heck! The very fact that Hillary is famous for getting a $600 haircut while Sanders often lets his grey locks fly whichever way they want! It seems like Clinton is trying too hard to convince us, while Sanders is kind of like – here I am, this is me, what you see is what you get.

Ultimately questions of credibility are very personal. People will feel differently. However, looking at the facts, I find it impossible to believe Clinton’s rhetoric and impossible not to believe a good deal of Sanders’. We’ll see how voters feel as the primary elections begin today.

16 thoughts on “The Credibility Gap Between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton

  1. I side with Bernie (99%) more than I do with Hillary (94%) according to, and I agree with your criticisms, especially the Wall Street related ones, but I will vote for Hillary. She’s electable; he isn’t (much to my dismay).


    • Hillary is not electable. Too many on the left will not vote for her – they’ll write in Sanders or vote third party or just stay home. She has very little cross over appeal on the right, even though she is so right-leaning herself. Sanders gets all of the left and even some of the right because he is very good at convincing people that they’re getting screwed by the system that Hillary and all of the Republicans are entrenched in.


    • That’s acting out of fear and the corporations hope you do exactly as they planned, through making it sound like Bernie is unelectable – if everyone that really wanted Bernie as their first choice came through for him, it would make the difference.

      Why do you think the media downplayed all the huge rallies? Never questioned why Hillary couldn’t draw as many? Because it’s a set up. They set up the pins, and the American voter (who usually doesn’t even vote at all) knocks ’em down, every time.


    • To vote for Hillary because you think she’s electable is to not truly care about the damage done to our country by those who only care about profit and not about our political progress. What our country needs is progress in caring for its citizens while operating in the uncaring economic system of capitalism. We have been failing in this respect for a long time.

      Voting for “electable Hillary” is keeping the oligarchs and the multinational corps in control of the greatest country on the planet for their own benefit vs us citizens. I, for one, am sick of it. You agree with Citizen’s United??? Come on! Seriously???

      Sanders is the one whose ideas, honesty and integrity are what American politics, economics and the people need. A black president was also not electable.

      The mantra to adopt is:
      Bernie’s electable if people make him electable by giving him their vote, not by doubting.


      • At this point, I would not call the U.S. the greatest country on the planet. The most powerful militarily, yes, but that depends on how one defines “great”.

        Is “great” defined as the country with the largest prison population on the planet, the largest ratio of children living in poverty among the most developed countries, a country with more weaponized aircraft and aircraft carriers than every other country on the planet combined?


  2. Had Clinton spent her career representing a small state and making speeches maybe she would never had to compromise. Sanders voted to protect gun manufacturers from lawsuits – the one time he could have stood up to a powerful employer in Vermont and he chose not to. Both Clinton and Sanders are politicians, and I don’t say that as an insult. I back Clinton because she has an unmatched depth and breadth of experience and knowledge and because we need a woman in the White House.


    • “…because we need a woman in the White House.”

      So, Carly Fiorina it is then.

      As far as all that great experience she’s had, can you tell me anything good that’s come of it? Iraq War, Patriot Act, Libya, triangulation, Walmart?


  3. Have you read this recent piece that was published by The New York Review of Books—The Clinton System?

    If you can access it and read it, I’m sure it will reinforce, with bullet proof armor, what you already think.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you Steve, as always, for your thoughtful insight and sharing. I think you shared with details, examples and facts what many people are thinking and feeling. Two things that are more anecdotal than factual but really just jumped off the page at me —

    1.) “But when they speak, only Sanders seems genuine.

    I know that’s a personal value judgement. Maybe it doesn’t hit you the same way.

    I just don’t know how it could hit you differently.”

    EXACTLY! Thank you for saying this so that now I have words for this incredulous feeling. I continue to be dumbfounded by people who do not see/feel this.

    2.) Your comment about has Hilary evolved or is she just pandering? Again, thank you. I truly, truly believe people can change their minds and evolve and I would not consider that “flip flopping”, but first you have to admit that you had the original opinion and say that you have grown/evolved as a person. I RESPECT any person and even more so any POLITICIAN who admits to personal growth resulting in the change of a position. Conversely, if your stance has changed but you ignore that it was once different, you are pandering. There are some things the Hillary has said she has changed her position (Marriage Equality), but it just seems that there are more that she just conveniently changes to suit the current audience.


  5. I remember the first debate when they asked Hillary “what do you consider yourself” and she said “I’m a progressive”. Did Hillary’s supporters believe that? Did they not notice she backed a new tax on the rich only when she started slipping in the polls? This is unfolding right before your eyes!

    PROGRESSIVE FIGHTER: In the Senate, Bernie didn’t just bring home the bacon to Vermont, he helped demonstrate the benefits of “socialized” medicine, in practice, for the whole country.

    Holding his Obamacare vote ransom, Bernie secured $11 billion in funding to double the existing appropriation for community health centers styled after the UK model. Today, those 9,200 facilities serve 1 in 13 Americans, some 25 million, and specifically those in the neediest situations.

    When the program came up for renewal, it had even convinced Republican senators to vote to extend it in their states (every dollar spent on preventative care saves over $15 dollars, so this is actually the most fiscally conservative solution for the long-term).

    Hear David Dayen describe the amendment:

    Because this is an education blog, I’ll also add that Bernie’s ESSA accomplishment is not getting the attention it deserves either. When it was in the Senate, Bernie and Sen. Collins (R-ME) sponsored an amendment that was passed into law as the Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority, a 7-state pilot to give states flexibility to replace bubble testing with creative class-based assessment.

    Just last week we learned that New York is now in the running to become one of those 7 states.


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