The presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders has vastly exceeded all reasonable expectations. His insurgent candidacy has certainly enriched the Democratic debate, and if his campaign ultimately boosts turnout for the party in the general election, then his participation could improve the prospects for progressive reform.
However, the end is near. At this point, victory is mathematically impossible for the Senator; he remains in the race solely to increase his delegate count in order to maximize his influence over the party platform.
That is a constructive and legitimate goal — or would be, if the candidate and his followers were better sports. Hillary Clinton will win fair and square, by every reasonable measure, with or without superdelegates. Still, the Democrats have wisely extended an olive branch to the Bern Unit, offering them unprecedented influence over the party platform.
Normally, at this point a challenger mends fences and closes ranks with the inevitable nominee to fight the good fight against the common enemy — in this case, the proto-fascist menace of Donald Trump and the reactionary obstructionism of the GOP Congress.
Sadly, Sanders and his supporters have chosen instead to keep complaining. They whine that moneyed elites rigged the system and stole the nomination from them, though this is clearly false.
Crying “Bernie or Bust,” sore losers threaten to pick up their marbles and quit the progressive coalition; a few even resort to the Leninist lie that we might need a Trump presidency to “maximize the contradictions” of capitalism, shake us out of our complacency and bring on the revolution.
A lunatic fringe continue to launch hateful attacks on Secretary Clinton and her supporters. They lazily recycle four decades of right-wing slurs against the former First Lady, evidently untroubled either by the frequent misogyny or the established falsity of the charges. When called on their bad behavior, some Sanderistas lash out viciously. After disrupting the Nevada Democratic Convention, Berners deluged party officials with obscene death threats and told an activist he “deserves to watch his children die of brain cancer.”
I assume that Sanders and most of his supporters are more decent than that, and I look forward to the day that the Senator and his minions definitively disavow the disgraceful acts their fellow travelers have perpetrated pretty consistently throughout the campaign.
There are, however, two Berner arguments that deserve serious consideration:
- Citing polls showing their candidate running stronger than Clinton against Trump in the general election, they suggest that superdelegates should reverse the verdict of primary and caucus voters and throw their support to the democratic socialist as the more viable candidate.
- They argue that their candidate has been consistently correct about every important issue since springing from his mother’s womb. Clinton, on the other hand, has been guilty of moderation or even conservatism at times during her political career and that of her husband. Thus, they contend, Sanders would be the better president.
It is true that Clinton barely beats Trump in most current polls. The gap between them has narrowed in recent weeks because Democrats remain divided while Republicans have begun to rally behind their probable nominee.
HRC and Trump both boast universal name recognition, but both are also widely disliked. The billionaire comes by his high negatives honestly, just by being himself: a narcissistic, anti-intellectual, misogynist, xenophobic bully. The marvel is that anyone finds him appealing on any level.
On the other hand, Clinton’s high negatives stem partly from her lackluster personality, but mostly from the stubborn residue of four decades of relentless personal and partisan attacks. As First Lady, opponents complained about her feminism, her appearance and her prominent role in health care reform. And then there were the scandals. Since Watergate, many politicians have lived by the rule, “If you can’t beat ’em, investigate ‘em.” Throughout the ’90s, “a vast right-wing conspiracy” persistently dug for dirt on the Clintons and generated remarkably small returns despite a massive investment of tax dollars, private money and labor. When HRC ran for president and served as Secretary of State, the old lynch mob wheezed to life again and produced similarly meager results.
Why, if those investigations yielded so little, did they hurt her reputation? Because — as Sen. Joe McCarthy showed — a relentless barrage of accusations will damage an opponent, even in the absence of compelling evidence. Endless attacks on the Clintons were always meant to excite the right wing while exhausting everyone else. Few of us had the stomach or the stamina to hang in there through all of the scandals and alleged scandals, separate fact from fiction, and form reasoned conclusions. Most of us simply shrugged and concluded the Clintons must be somewhat dirty, lazily assuming that “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” But most of the time, there was no fire; we were just getting fogged by a political smoke machine.
In fact, Mrs. Clinton is probably the most thoroughly investigated political candidate in American history. Few of our greatest presidents would have survived the level of scrutiny to which she has been subjected.
Republicans have not bothered to scrutinize Sanders, for a very sensible strategic reason: They would prefer to face him in the general election. Throughout the campaign, the GOP has concentrated their attacks exclusively against Clinton, a viable moderate and one of the best-qualified presidential candidates in history.
Conservatives know that if Sanders were the nominee, they could easily discredit a self-proclaimed socialist with a very ambitious high-tax, big government agenda. He is the only candidate who could make Trump’s weird, vague policy proposals feel somehow normal.
It would be a grave mistake to underestimate the deep hostility of the American people to socialism. Consider how effectively the GOP attacked Obama — a moderate — as a socialist, and reviled Obamacare — a timid reform that conserved the for-profit essence of our health care system — as socialism. Witness how effectively Republican governors have hobbled the Affordable Care Act to constrain its reach, and how they have paid no discernible political price for keeping millions of their constituents from experiencing the law’s benefits.
Now imagine how effectively conservatives would crucify a presidential candidate who actually calls himself a socialist. The Senator’s negatives would quickly skyrocket, handing the election to the GOP.
Sanders is literally Trump’s only hope.