How I Chose Between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders

If we are to change America and keep it whole, we need a pragmatic candidate, not one from the parties’ far right or far left who will exacerbate our divisions. Hillary Clinton is that candidate.

Hillary Clinton listens to rival Bernie Sanders during the Democratic U.S. presidential candidates' debate in Flint, Michigan, March 6, 2016.
Reuters

I have been torn by two candidates for president, wrenched by the choice between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton speaks to my belief that she is ready, and that she understands how to make this country a better place for more of its citizens. She has a long record of supporting and often being successful in dealing with immigration reform, improving our health care system, changing our tragically inadequate gun laws and supporting LGBT rights.

Bernie Sanders speaks to my belief in an aspirational presidency, supporting universal health care, free tuition in public colleges, and dramatic changes in how best to deal with the shocking inequality in between the rich and everyone else in America. He has the courage to take on an economic establishment that has not understood its role as decent citizens who have responsibilities beyond their profit margins.

I watched the Democratic debates, read interviews, listened to speeches and was torn: Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were slam-dunk excellent candidates. I could proudly support either. Using Talmudic language, my yetzer ha’Hillary and my yetzer ha’Bernie, my inclinations for each candidate, were battling one another. I was a bit of a basket case of indecision.

How would I choose?

The young are mesmerized by Sanders; giant rallies everywhere. The African-American community sees Hillary as the friend it can trust in this period of increased racism in America. Yes, Hillary would be the first woman president, but Bernie would be the first Jewish president. Both care about Israel and a Middle East peace that would ensure the safety, security and freedom of Israelis, Palestinians and the other nations of the Middle East.

I observed the campaigns become more negative toward one another, only rarely stopping to realize that the two were mirror images of each other, with the differences far outweighed by their remarkably similar desires and, more importantly, similar policies for a more humane, caring, compassionate America. They both know government has an important role in moving America to being the “city upon a hill,” the America I and most of my friends and colleagues have fought for all our lives. In policy and in vision Bernie and Hillary spoke to my very heart.

Until recently they both modeled civility and respect for each other in the insanity that is the present brand of American politics. Both of these candidates are well qualified to be president of the United States, and they and their view of America would be best served by each just saying so about the other. They certainly can debate their differences - but should do so passionately and never lose a step of civility.

Back to my dilemma. We are in America and we have to support someone, often the less bad, but this time for me it is a choice between two good and qualified people. And I choose Hillary.

I choose her because I understand our country and how I believe it is best served. We are not a radical place. When we tilt radically in either direction, we become inflamed. Jews of the Talmudic era had learned from the earlier time of the destruction of the Second Temple that revolutionary and hatefully described positions by different parties destroyed an earlier iteration of the nation of Israel. The rabbis of the Talmud insisted we progress in an evolutionary way. They insisted that we listen to each other’s opinions and make changes after great thought. Hillary clearly wins in that department.

If we are to change America and keep it whole, we need to respect the differing opinions of those with whom we disagree. Our country is so divided that the far right and the far left of each party will use hateful invective to define the other no matter what, but the giant center would like to find a deserved peace. Hillary and her pragmatism, more than Bernie and his idealism, will give that gift to our country. She has a history of speaking to disparate groups and if not bringing them together, at least allowing them the space to hear each other’s differences.

We are a nation in need of great changes but our changes, as my great friend and teacher, Leibel Fein, z”l, once told me are best served by evolution not revolution. The Beatles posed this question in their great song Revolution: “You say you want a revolution / Well, you know / We all want to change the world / You tell me that it’s evolution / Well, you know / We all want to change the world / But when you talk about destruction / Don’t you know that you can count me out.”

While Bernie will lead us in a revolution, Hillary will lead us in an evolution. It is as simple as that. We need a determined evolution that will both institute significant change and keep us more united as a people.

My yetzer ha'Hillary has won over my yetzer ha'Bernie. Hillary Clinton clearly is the better choice for this fractious moment in our nation’s life.

Rabbi Steve Gutow is also a lawyer, community activist, and Jewish communal leader. He previously served as the president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA). Twitter: @sgutow