Between David Axelrod’s playful banter about Bernie Sanders’s alumni status and questions regarding his favorite books, it is clear that the University of Chicago family is proud that Senator Sanders was educated in Hyde Park. And for no small reason: He is a beacon in the progressive movement as well as a leader in the fight to bend this country’s moral arc further in the direction of social justice. But while his speech was an inarguably passionate and authentic take on vital issues facing our country, it ultimately lacked any concrete suggestions on how to make actual change in our government.
Senator Sanders offered his typical stump speech, though slightly altered to focus on our priorities as University of Chicago students. He began by emphasizing the progressive victories of the past century and highlighting the fact that many of those victories were unimaginable at the time he graduated from the College in 1964. He spoke about the election of a black president, marriage equality, and huge strides made in the fight for women’s rights, among others. As you’d expect, he spent the latter half of the speech discussing the areas in which the United States still needs to make progress, particularly regarding money in politics. At one point, he described the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision as “totally corrupting” to the American political system, and he looks forward to the day the case is overturned.
As liberals, and as members of UChicago Students for Hillary, we agree wholeheartedly with the majority of the sentiment behind Senator Sanders’s speech. Equal pay for women, healthcare for all, a strong social safety net, a more equal distribution of wealth, and a fairer criminal justice system are foundational principles of the modern American left, supported almost universally by all Democratic candidates. After all, despite the mudslinging of the primary season, regardless of who the nominee is, we are all committed as liberals to furthering the progressive agenda. We all have the responsibility to support whomever is elected as our torchbearer for 2016.
We’ll admit it: We are fired up by Senator Sanders’s strong conviction. But we remain wary of his plans to achieve these goals in the face of such strong opposition in Congress. During the Q&A following his speech, Sanders was asked how he plans to get his policy proposals turned into law considering that many of those proposals already bear explicit guarantees by congressional Republicans not to pass. He responded by reiterating the need for a political revolution and a complete transformation of the political system, and referred vaguely to “an offer they can’t refuse.” However, the reality is that both houses of Congress are currently held by Republicans, and it is neither feasible nor realistic to expect a presidency devoid of compromise. A more moderate candidate like Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, would understand that political revolutions come in the form of small legislative victories that are achieved through thoughtful deliberation, negotiation, and compromise with the other side.
Sanders offered plenty of populist rhetoric, and if his goal was to fire up a crowd of idealist undergrads, he succeeded. However, if his aim was to persuade a group of critically thinking intellectuals that he has the chops to pass progressive legislation in a city mired in gridlock, he left much to be desired. Although Sanders has pushed important policy to the forefront of many political conversations, we encourage the student body to look at his candidacy objectively, and critically evaluate his policies and plans for implementing his agenda, rather than just celebrating his intellectual roots. Sanders’s charisma and ability to rally supporters are impressive qualities and, when paired with his progressive agenda, make him a compelling candidate. Yet he’s missing the final piece in this puzzle. Real progress in the lives of Americans requires real legislative action in Washington—an ability to get things done—and Senator Sanders just doesn’t get that.
Jamie Ehrlich is a second-year in the College majoring in political science.
Forrest Sill is a second-year in the College majoring in computer science.
Editor's note: Forrest Sill is the Multimedia Editor for the Maroon. This article is running concurrently in the Gate as part of their election 2016 coverage.