Wednesday, June 8, 2016

On Sanders

Bernie Sanders's behavior may be the finest example of why you shouldn't develop a movement around a cult of personality. After running a campaign that was remarkably disciplined and mature, he has become an embarrassment to his own good cause. His recent behavior seriously jeopardizes Trump's defeat in November. His attempts to use the undemocratic aspects of the Democratic Party to his favor undercuts so much of the purpose of his campaign.

But let's acknowledge his accomplishments. He ran the most successful left wing primary campaign the Democratic Party has seen in recent years. Bill Bradley quickly fizzled out in 2000. John Edwards, even before his scandal, and maybe because of the historic nature of what his two opponents represented, never managed to excite a movement. Sanders lost in a fair fight, but he earned a hell of a lot of votes and he made Hillary Clinton a better, smarter candidate, and hopefully, a slightly more liberal president.

Presidential campaigns tend to be about the "middle-class" who want to go to college, own a house, and compete with the scary Chinese. Sanders was never actually a socialist, but his campaign revived a New Deal philosophy that acknowledged the existence of the bottom 25% percent of Americans on the income ladder. No presidential candidate had any right to know so little about foreign policy, but it was nice to have a candidate who didn't kowtow to AIPAC and who didn't want to keep Henry Kissinger in polite society. He had no clear grasp of policy, certainly nothing like his opponent, nor the left's other best friend in the Senate, Warren, or the late Paul Wellstone. But his campaign revealed a genuine frustration with some of the most odious policies promoted by the Democratic Party's center, which a previous generation would have called the Republican Party. His support was broad, well beyond rural whites and college students. He always had more black supporters than the media acknowledged and he polled high with 30-something and low-40-something voters. He never quite got the language of the Black Lives Matter movement, nor understood why so many were excited about a viable female candidate. If this was 2008, I'm sure he would have been just as incompetent when faced with the marriage rights movement. But he got an important message across. It was a messy message, and often incoherent. But the Democratic Party will not soon forget the basic sentiment of the message.

The email scandal suggests that the Hillary Clinton presidency won't be that much different than the Bill Clinton presidency. I don't see her passing any sweeping reforms even with a Senate and House sweep.  And she'll make one or two disastrous foreign policy moves, although nothing on the level of the war in Iraq. But she will also be a competent steward of the US government and appoint one or two palatable Supreme Court justices. 

There were good reasons to be concerned about Sanders's competence for the presidency. We would have taken a considerable risk if we gave him that office. I still think it was a risk worth taking. The $20 contribution I sent to his campaign in February was well spent. 

1 comment:

  1. Really good post, and not just because I agree with it.