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A reluctant endorsement for Hillary Clinton


In this strangest of presidential campaigns, New York Republicans and Democrats get to help pick their party's candidate in the April 19 primaries.

Republicans have unpalatable options: two candidates with terrifying views and a third who sounds reasonable only by comparison.

For Democrats, the choice is the opposite: between two rational, experienced, progressive candidates, either of whom - under the right circumstances - could be a strong president, helping the country meet its enormous domestic and international challenges.

None of the Republicans deserves our endorsement. But the Democratic Primary decision is a difficult one. Our staff here is divided, so as editor, I'm writing the endorsement this week, and we'll have a dissent from some of our other writers next week.

If I based my decision solely on positions, the endorsement would be for Bernie Sanders. He has laid out strong, commendable positions, not only on health care and public-college affordability but also on climate change, the Middle East, defense spending, national security, infrastructure investment, and much more. And it is significant that he is inspiring more young voters than Clinton is.

Hillary Clinton's negatives - her stands on the Iraq war, crime and welfare reform, trade agreements; her endorsement of the death penalty for ("particularly heinous") federal crimes; her more militaristic instincts; her ties to the financial industry - are enormous concerns.

Also a concern: the arrogance and sense of entitlement - Clinton's and the Democratic Party leadership's. Clinton's tone-deaf response to questions about her Wall Street speeches are the kind of insider, elitist behavior that the general public is rebelling against.

Neither Clinton nor Sanders would be able to work miracles as president, but given her record and her ties to big-business interests, there's a risk that Clinton will compromise when she doesn't need to and shouldn't.

Given all that, why endorse her? First, she has important strengths, including her broad government service. Particularly important is her foreign policy knowledge and experience, which the country badly needs in this complicated, dangerous time. Clinton's depth - including her experience dealing with some of the most difficult decisions a presidential administration faces - dwarfs that of every other candidate, including Sanders.

Nor are all of Clinton's positions weak. She says she will push for campaign finance reform, gun control, criminal justice reform, and an increase in the minimum wage. She has a long, solid record advocating for women, children, and the poor. Her strong, deep support among African Americans - including among some long-time civil rights leaders - is an indication of her commitment to racial minorities.

And Sanders isn't perfect. Taking progressive positions is one thing. Being able to get members of Congress to support you is quite another, and there, Sanders' record is thin. In addition, many liberal economists have concluded that his numbers - on how he would finance single-payer health care, free public colleges, and infrastructure investment, for instance - don't add up.

The biggest concern, though, is this: Democrats need to nominate the person who has the best chance to win the general election, and who will best be able to get things done as president.

Bernie Sanders is doing well in national polls at this point. And he has strong favorable ratings. Clinton, on the other hand, has strong unfavorable ones. But national polls aren't terribly reliable right now; the national campaign hasn't started. And if Sanders is the nominee, the Republicans will unleash a firestorm of attacks, painting him as a tax-loving extremist, a socialist, a communist in disguise.

Sanders will look particularly weak if Republicans nominate someone other than Donald Trump. A contested convention looks increasingly likely, and a less extremist party savior - John Kasich, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan - could seem more palatable to many Americans than Sanders.

Many liberals - Democrats and independents alike - are embracing Sanders' message. But regrettably, we are not the majority of Americans. We do not have the majority in Congress. While the country has come a long way on issues like same-sex marriage and health-care reform, the country is not yet where Bernie Sanders is, philosophically.

Sanders promises that if he is elected, he will lead a revolution and bring about change. But historically in this country, big change has come slowly. And a president is not a dictator. Whichever Democrat is elected will have to have the support of enough senators and representatives to bring about the changes that many of us want. He or she will have to bring Congress and the rest of the country along.

Even the least extreme Republican running for president right now (or waiting in the wings for a convention draft) would try to undo Barack Obama's remarkable progress in health care reform and climate change, continue the erosion of women's reproductive rights, reverse Obama's temperate approach to foreign policy, and escalate the country's economic inequality and its march toward oligarchy. And a Republican president would appoint at least one Supreme Court justice, probably more than one.

A Republican president would have to have cooperation from Congress, but it seems likely that if Republicans win the White House, they'll keep control of both the Senate and the House. It is critically important, then, for a Democrat to succeed Barack Obama as president - and that the Democratic nominee help other Democratic candidates - moderates and liberals - win a majority in the Senate.

Hillary Clinton has a better chance to do that.

Clinton isn't the candidate I hoped for. And I wish the country were ready for Bernie Sanders. I wish that if he were elected he could bring about the change he and so many of us want. But this country is a democracy. The voters in this country are not yet where Bernie Sanders is, much as I wish they were. And Susan Sarandon - God help us - to the contrary, we won't pull it there by electing Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, or John Kasich. Nor, sadly, will we pull it there by electing Sanders.

Next week: City writers' dissent. And we encourage your own comments.