By Robert S. Berger
As someone who has been very involved in local efforts to combat climate change, I believe this issue should be a crucial one for primary voters. Bernie Sanders has been a far stronger voice warning about climate change than Hillary Clinton. But the differences between Sanders and Clinton on this issue are inconsequential compared to the differences between either one and any Republican candidate, who is likely to be a climate change denier. So the crucial question is, who has the best chance to win the general election?
Clinton is a flawed candidate in many ways. But too many Sanders supporters do not appreciate the liabilities he brings to a general election campaign and how those liabilities will be exploited by his Republican opponent in a way that has not been done in the Democratic primary. Sanders will be portrayed as a pacifist, atheist and socialist who should never be elected as president and commander in chief.
Sanders applied to be a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. Those in my generation know this means he claimed to oppose not just that war, but war in general. Sanders’ campaign says that he was a pacifist at that time, but no longer is, a challenging case to make. I admire conscientious objectors, but should such a person serve as commander in chief? Sanders will say he no longer has those beliefs. What will the Republicans and the media say?
Sanders recently said he believes in God, but in his own way, and he is not involved with organized religion. When asked last fall on national television whether he believes in God, he gave a very thoughtful answer, but never said he did. That clip, edited of course, could be used by Republicans. I accept Sanders’ spirituality as sincere and heartfelt. The reality is that he may be portrayed as an atheist or something close.
Supporters might wonder how significant it would be if the voting public was convinced that Sanders is an atheist. For many voters it would matter. Last year, a Gallup poll found that only 58 percent would vote for an atheist, while 40 percent said they would not.
Even worse, the one characteristic that was more problematic for voters is a candidate who is a socialist. Only 47 percent said they would vote for such a candidate, while 50 percent said they would not. The fact that Sanders calls himself a democratic socialist will do little to blunt this issue; being labeled a socialist will be damaging in swing states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.
These are the realities Sanders would face in a general election. Consider them seriously when voting in the primary, because the future of the planet may hang in the balance.
Robert S. Berger is emeritus professor at the University at Buffalo Law School. He has been involved in numerous local and regional organizations devoted to climate change and renewable energy.