Wednesday, April 20, 2016
Thanks For Playing, Bernie
Yet, as I've written before, I just haven't felt the Bern. To me, Sanders has been a great protest candidate who has invaluably raised the profile of critical issues about the root problems of our democracy and our economy. He has no doubt pushed Hillary Clinton to take more progressive positions than she otherwise would have. He has excited young (white) voters and drawn wildly enthusiastic crowds of progressive-minded people who will hopefully remain engaged in the political process.
But I have never viewed Bernie Sanders as a realistic candidate for President. If his Congressional career and presidential campaign are any guide, he is far better at oppositional politics and protest than policy. His proposals -- from single payer health care to free college tuition -- are wonderful, worthy ideas that lack any chance of getting through Congress. His overarching goal to stop money from corrupting the political system is righteous and admirable, but he has yet to realistically explain how he would make this happen.
And, crucially, while Sanders' national poll numbers remain high, if he were actually seen as a threat to Republicans -- or if he were to actually win the Democratic nomination -- he would be swift boated and red baited faster than you can say "Joseph McCarthy" by an enormously well-financed Republican machine. Sanders is a socialist Jew whose radical left wing past would provide endless fodder for devastating attacks. He honeymooned in the Soviet Union. He sought conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War. He has called for eliminating the CIA. He served as an elector for the Socialist Workers Party at a time when it supported abolishing the military budget and seeking solidarity with revolutionary regimes in Iran and Cuba. These positions might not matter to progressives -- indeed, they may comprise a badge of honor -- but in a time where Republicans so expertly prey on American fears of terrorist attacks, they would be used to undermine his support among moderates and independents critical to a Democratic victory. Look what they did to John Kerry, who actually served heroically in Viet Nam.
It surely has been dispiriting and frustrating to his legions of supporters to find that Sanders' candidacy has not been embraced by the wider Democratic Party and appears to have been undermined by the Party's Establishment. But it is important to remember that Sanders is not really a Democrat. He has long been an Independent who as a member of Congress chose to caucus with Democrats, and has joined the Party solely for his presidential run.
Moreover, unlike Clinton, Sanders has not raised funds to support Democrats down the ballot -- a critical step for any candidate who hopes to lead his or her Party. And, that's a fundamental problem for Sanders when it comes to winning the Democratic Party's nomination -- he doesn't want to lead the Democratic Party. He wants to lead a left-leaning political revolution (not that there is anything wrong with that). But the Democratic Party for better or worse (and often, for worse) put rules in place to limit the ability of insurgent candidates to win the nomination. If Sanders wants to revolutionize the political system, perhaps he will be able to change these rules for the next insurgent. In any event, while the Sanders campaign complains about the unfairness of Super Delegates, the bottom line is that Clinton is beating him handily when it comes to pledged delegates and the popular vote.
And now that Clinton has won the New York primary so decisively, Sanders' very difficult path to the nomination has become nearly impossible. Nate Silver puts Clinton's chances to win somewhere between 95 and 99.5%.
So what's next for Sanders?
He doesn't need to drop out of the race. He should keep campaigning on his signature issues. He should go to the Convention and push for changing the rules to make it less arduous for a grassroots candidate to win the nomination. He should begin campaigning for Senate and House candidates in key races and urge his supporters to participate in local races where they could make an enormous difference. Most of all he should stop attacking Hillary Clinton's judgment and character. He needs to make absolutely clear to Hillary-haters, Ralph Nader dead-enders and Independents that Clinton is not the scurrilous enemy caricatured by the right -- that it is the Republican candidates who pose a real and present danger to our society and must be defeated.
You say you want a revolution? Let's elect a Democratic president and a Democratic Senate (think Elizabeth Warren as chair of the Banking Committee, the return of Russ Feingold, and other progressives in key leadership positions), more Democratic representation in the House, and more Democrats in state houses. A Democratic President and Senate will lead to the confirmation of nominees to the Supreme Court (and lower federal courts) that will tip the balance to the left for the first time in decades, and transform the Court from the most corporate-friendly one since the 1930s to one that is far less deferential to polluters and Wall Street fraudsters, and far more protective of women's health and reproductive rights, LGBT rights, criminal justice, consumer rights, voting rights and civil rights. Citizens United and other unprincipled decisions of recent terms can be overturned.
That might not be considered revolutionary, but I'll take it.