A Republican feels the ‘Bern’

Sandy Baruah

I’m a Republican who has been involved in presidential elections since 1980, and I am rooting for a socialist from Vermont.

It’s not because of his policy positions. I find Sen. Sanders’ “free money” policy prescriptions to be naive, unrealistic and contrary to many of the values that made America the most innovative, creative and dynamic nation on the face of the earth.

I’m feeling the “Bern” because for all my years working in national politics and policy, the issue I find most important in 2016 is that of integrity — and this year’s leading Democratic and Republican candidates lack this basic quality.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has certainly checked the box of government service. While her resume and policy positions generally place her within the mainstream of American politics, the same could be said for Richard Nixon. Like Clinton, Nixon had all the government experience necessary and was in the mainstream of national political thought, but like Clinton, couldn’t find the truth with a flashlight and both hands. “Nixonian” and “Clintonian” probably mean the same thing when it comes to ethics.

Scandal follows the Clintons like the cloud of dust that follows the Peanuts character, Pig-Pen. The list of Clinton scandals seems endless: Gennifer Flowers, Whitewater, Vince Foster, Monica Lewinsky, Benghazi, the mixing of Clinton Foundation and official government business, email servers and classified messages. Now, Clinton seeks to keep her generously paid speeches to Wall Street firms under wraps. What’s next? If her level of opaqueness is so high as a candidate, what’s going to happen if she makes it to the highest office in the land?

Donald Trump is equally unacceptable. Not because he is not a true conservative or because he’s not part of the “establishment,” something of which I’m apparently a member. Certainly his coarse language, bigotry, sexism and support for violence are disqualifying on their own. But more troubling is his complete disregard for any serious policy proposals (or even demonstrated curiosity about policy) and sheer cynicism in which he treats the American voter.

If Donald Trump believes what he says, it means that he has reversed himself on key issues such as abortion, big government, health care and the Iraq War. But he also believes in fantasy, like the Mexican government will pay for a wall along our Southern border or our Constitution, which was written by our Founding Fathers to honor those fleeing religious persecution, would allow immigration bans based on religion. The more troubling prospect is that he actually doesn’t believe what he says and that he’s willing to say anything to rile up the voters and prey on their concerns for their future and America’s place in world.

What America needs is leadership it can believe in beyond the campaign season — sober, ethical, practical, leadership that endures past Election Day. What would happen to America’s already fragile belief in government if President Hillary Clinton continues her evasiveness, deflection and self-serving behavior in the White House? How will Americans’ faith in leadership be diminished if President Donald Trump fails to make America great again by not being able to deliver on key campaign promises of building a wall and banning Muslims? Both scenarios are potentially hugely damaging to our democracy.

I had the honor of working for two presidents. While I agreed with them (mostly) on policy, the prime reason I felt comfortable, and honored, to work for them was their innate character and integrity. Policy is important, but in the Oval Office where life and death decisions are routinely made, integrity and the ability to put America before ego are critical factors for success.

Bernie Sanders may believe in many things I do not, but compared to Clinton and Trump, he is the ethical person in this year’s race. And I can get behind that.

Sandy Baruah is the CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber and was on staff for presidents George W. Bush and George H. W. Bush.