By Scott N. Singer
For the young people who had gathered to hear their candidate address the crowd, Bernie’s Sanders “victory speech” in Des Moines was no doubt exhilarating. Only a few months earlier, there were few who could have imagined that Senator Sanders, a 74-year-old avowed Democrat Socialist from a tiny state, would have succeeded in gaining the support of close to half of Iowa’s Democratic caucus-goers. The fact that Bernie was actually trailing Hillary Clinton a bit as the caucus results came in did not seem to matter. From this point on, Sanders’ favorite talking points – income inequality, Wall Street power, the “corruption’ of our political system and the right to health care – would be front and center in the race for the Democratic nomination.
I suspect, though, that for many of those Democrats who were watching on their television screens, there was something ominous about what was transpiring at the Des Moines Airport Hilton. Just a few minutes earlier, the Sanders people, echoing a favorite Republican meme, had been chanting “She’s a liar!” when they watched, on a monitor, as Hillary Clinton addressed her own supporters. Evidently, they considered Hillary’s characterization of herself as a “Progressive” to be demonstrably false.
Then Bernie entered, pumping a clenched right fist. The crowd went wild as he trumpeted his success against the “most powerful political organization in the United States of America” (the Hillary Clinton campaign? the Democratic Party? the United States Government?). He railed against “the billionaires” and the “billionaire class” (four mentions), Wall Street (six mentions), and “corporate America (three mentions).
But the Republican Party scarcely merited any mention at all. At one point, Sanders briefly argued that the Republican candidates refuse to acknowledge global climate change because they receive campaign funds form the Koch brothers (a statement that may or may not be true). Yet there was no reference to the other ways in which a Right-wing victory would threaten so many of the Democratic achievements of the last eight decades — Obamacare, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, human rights, labor rights, minimum wage, a progressive income tax, to name just a few.
There’s a lot at stake in this election – control of the White House, the Congress and almost certainly the Supreme Court as well. But while Bernie and his lofty vision excite younger voters, it’s not clear to me that he’s prepared to build the kind of coalition that can defeat an energized and increasingly fanatic Republican base.
If you’re someone who doesn’t follow politics closely, and you happened to tune in to the speech, you could be forgiven if you didn’t realize that Bernie was running to be the Democratic nominee for the Presidency. The Sanders campaign is completely unlike anything the Democratic Party has seen for the last century. Personally, I’m grateful that Bernie has brought his class analysis and social-democratic-sounding proposals into the Democratic Party’s ideological mix (I don’t think that anything Sanders is proposing could actually be characterized as “socialism”). Still, I’m skeptical of his electability, I’m skeptical about the practicality of his proposals, and I’m especially skeptical about his commitment to support the Democratic nominee if, as appears likely, it’s not Bernie Sanders.
As the Senator reached the end of his speech, I was hoping that he, like Hillary, would graciously conclude by urging his supporters to be prepared to support the Democratic nominee against the Republican, regardless of whom it turned out to be.
It didn’t happen. I was hoping that he would caution his ardent Sanderistas about calling his opponent a “liar” and questioning her progressive credentials. It didn’t happen. Instead, Sanders doubled down, even going so far as to tweet that Hillary wasn’t a real progressive.
This is bad for the Democratic Party. It’s bad for Hillary. It’s even bad for Bernie. Over the last three decades, the GOP has metastasized from a broad-based party, welcoming people with different points of view, into an ideological party that chooses its policies and candidates based on a “true conservative” litmus test. We can only hope that the Democratic Party does not go down that path. I would like to think that the Democratic Party will select a Presidential candidate who will propose sensible measures for improving the lives of ordinary people and has a practical way of achieving them. The first order of business is defeating the Republicans.
Senator Sanders, where do you stand?