We Need to Prevent the Democratic Party–and the U.S.–From Being “Berned…”

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I just can’t seem to help myself. Pretty soon I’ll get back to happiness and haiku. I’m much more comfortable seeking common ground and expressing optimism—and not preaching against a particular Democrat (or Independent running as a Democrat). After this post, I hope to leave this topic.

But for now, with the President’s awfulness mounting, and the chances of his removal from office practically nil, I feel I must use my little platform to try to help prevent a giant case of Buyer’s Remorse.

I think the evidence is strong that if the Democrats nominate Bernie Sanders, we will see him lose—big time. And with the very nature of our democracy hanging in the balance, that’s a scenario I feel compelled to address.

My overarching goal, like most Democrats and a goodly number of Independents and former or current-but-disgruntled Republicans, is to defeat Donald Trump. But I will vote for whoever wins the Democratic nomination for President—unlike some of the above. And there’s the problem.

In my previous warning about Bernie Sanders, I concluded by saying I hoped the press would do their job. Well, some of them are. You may not be seeing these stories in The New York Times, The Washington Post, or on CNN, but there are writers out there warning us quite clearly.

Here are links to a sampling of the articles, which I encourage you to read in their entirety:

—“Bernie Is the Opponent Trump Wants,” by William Saletan, Slate, January 28, 2020.

“Bernie Can’t Win,” by David Frum, The Atlantic, January 27, 2020. (Frum is a very thoughtful guy, a former conservative Republican, now a “Never Trumper.”)

—“Running Bernie Sanders Against Trump Would Be an Act of Insanity,” by Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine, January 28, 2020.

These articles stress that Sanders’ past has never received the scrutiny it will get from Trump, that his present includes some questionable decisions, that most voters aren’t zeroing in on the implications of his socialist plans (as distorted by the Republicans, who call every Democrat a socialist, and now would have a real one to attack), and that the victorious 2018 women elected to Congress show where this election can be won.

In The Atlantic, Frum elaborates on a point that was the focus of the 2016 Newsweek article I cited previously.

“Bernie Sanders is a fragile candidate. He has never fought a race in which he had to face serious personal scrutiny. None of his Democratic rivals is subjecting him to such scrutiny in 2020. Hillary Clinton refrained from scrutinizing Sanders in 2016. It did not happen, either, in his many races in Vermont.”

Frum refers to a 2015 Politico profile by Michael Kruse, asserting that Sanders had

“benefited from ‘an unwritten compact between Sanders, his supporters, and local reporters who have steered clear’ of writing about Sanders’s personal history ‘rather than risk lectures about the twisted priorities of the press.’

(That sounds a bit Trumpian, doesn’t it?)

But there will be no such niceties from Trump and his campaign, Frum writes.

“It will hit him with everything it’s got. It will depict him as a Communist in the grip of twisted sexual fantasies, a useless career politician who oversaw a culture of sexual harassment in his 2016 campaign.

“Through 2019, Donald Trump and his proxies hailed Sanders as a true voice of the people, thwarted by the evil machinations of the Hillary Clinton machine.

“They will not pause for a minute before pivoting in 2020 to attack him as a seething stew of toxic masculinity whose vicious online followers martyred the Democratic Party’s first female presidential nominee.”

And if you think Trump won’t get away with such charges because of his own horrendous behavior, you are applying rationality and a sense of justice to a man who has successfully defied both.

That toxic masculinity charge lurks not far beneath the surface: Sanders appears at best to be indifferent to misogyny (a trait that’s fairly apparent in some of the devoted Bernie Bros).

Frum cites the Sanders’ campaign’s video celebrating the endorsement of “the mega-podcaster Joe Rogan,” apparently an icon among white men who are pretty sensitive about their status these days.

The Sanders’ embrace came despite Rogan’s mocking of many of the causes dear to the left, as well as “dancing around conspiratorial thinking of the left and right fringes: 9/11 denialism, Obama birtherism, and speculation about dark deeds concerning Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation.” (emphases mine throughout)

Is this Sanders’ idea of how to reach the Trump voters? If any of his fellow candidates had embraced such an endorsement, would he have simply shrugged and said, “OK, ya gotta do what ya gotta do”? I think not.

And how will that play with the angry white suburban and African-American women who were such an important part of the 2018 Democratic House victory? They won’t vote for Trump, but will they stay home in disgust?

Jonathan Chait notes in New York Magazine,

“the totality of the evidence suggests Sanders is an extremely, perhaps uniquely, risky nominee. His vulnerabilities are enormous and untested. No party nomination, with the possible exception of Barry Goldwater in 1964, has put forth a presidential nominee with the level of downside risk exposure as a Sanders-led ticket would bring.

“To nominate Sanders would be insane.”

He notes that because the socialist label isn’t as unpopular as it had been [especially among young people], “many people have gotten the impression ‘socialism’ is actually popular, which is absolutely not the case.”

Saletan, writing in Slate, makes the same observation, noting that Trump uses the word socialism at every rally to make the Democrats look “radical and scary.” As an avowed Socialist, Sanders is the opponent of Trump’s dreams.

Saletan cites poll after poll in which voters as a whole state their opposition to socialism. In a HarrisX survey asking “Would you ever vote for a Socialist for elected office?,” liberals said they would, but 72 percent of registered voters, including 64 percent of Democrats, said they would not.

The term “Democratic Socialism,” which Bernie espouses, draws fewer negatives (52 percent) but they include 25 percent of Democrats and 29 percent of voters who “lean liberal.”

[I stress here that I personally see the urgent need for greater government intervention to redress our current shameful economic disparities, which are the worst they’ve been since the 1930s.

There were compelling reasons for the New Deal, and too many Americans are hurting today. I do not regard socialism as the incarnation of evil. But I’m looking at the larger picture here, and I strongly believe Trump will persuade enough Americans of that supposed evil to defeat Bernie.]

Chait discusses Sanders’ “web of creepy associations” that will make it easy to depict him as a dangerous radical, reinforcing “attack narratives” that will stick in portraying his world view just as surely as pictures of Dukakis in a tank or Romney’s dismissal of the 47% did for theirs.

He adds:

“Sanders has never faced an electorate where these vulnerabilities could be used against him. Nor, for that matter, has he had to defend some of his bizarre youthful musings (such as his theory that sexual repression causes breast cancer) or the suspicious finances surrounding his wife’s college.

“Democrats are rightfully concerned about attacks on Hunter Biden’s nepotistic role at Burisma, but Sanders is going to have to defend equally questionable deals, like the $500,000 his wife’s university paid for a woodworking program run by his stepdaughter.”

Interestingly, after my previous Bernie post, a Vermont friend (a progressive who said no one she knows supports Bernie), wondered why there hadn’t been discussion by the media of Jane Sanders’ financial fiasco, which some in Vermont regard as mere stupidity, but others view as fraud.

Most important to me is Chait’s exploration of the 2018 winning of the House. Citing various progressive voices claiming how wrong the Dems were to run the kinds of candidates they did, he notes the following:

“As we now know, it was a good strategy to win the House. Democrats flipped 40 seats. Tellingly, while progressives managed to nominate several candidates in red districts…any one of whose victory they would have cited as proof that left-wing candidates can win Trump districts, not a single one of them prevailed in November.

“Our Revolution went 0–22, Justice Democrats went 0–16, and Brand New Congress went 0–6.* The failed technocratic 26-year-old bourgeoise shills who were doing it wrong somehow accounted for 100 percent of the party’s House gains.”

And here I think Chait makes an interesting observation. If the Democrats hadn’t won the House, their critics on the left would have said they’d been vindicated.

But instead of considering their broad losses in various geographical areas, they focused on the left-wing candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, “who defeated center-left Democrats in deep-blue districts.”

In this effort, they were helped by the conservative media, seeking to make AOC and her small band the face of the Democratic party.

“The fact that the party had just run a field experiment between two factions, and the moderate faction prevailed conclusively, was forgotten.”

Chait emphasizes that:

“Trump has serious weaknesses on issues like health care, corruption, taxes, and the environment, and a majority of the public disapproves of Trump’s performance, but he does enjoy broad approval of his economic management.

“Therefore, his reelection strategy revolves around painting his opponents as radical and dangerous. You may not like me, he will argue, but my opponents are going to turn over the apple cart. A Sanders campaign seems almost designed to play directly into Trump’s message.”

How do we address the electorate, then? Are there lessons we can learn from Bernie that will help elect a more broadly acceptable nominee?

Frum has some important points for the Democrats to consider. The issues that matter most to “highly online and very well-informed anti-Trump voters”—such as preserving our democracy, cleaning out corruption, applying the law to those in power—are easier to focus on when you have good health insurance, a solid middle class job, and the potential that your kids will get a college education.

But millions of Americans lack those things, and they may well decide the election. That’s something that Sanders has recognized and to which he’s given voice. Thus, says Frum:

“If the Oval Office is to be cleansed of Donald Trump, it will not suffice to defeat Sanders’s candidacy.

“The ultimate winner will have to plagiarize from his campaign, copying not Sanders’s literal ideas, but his themes: the practical over the theoretical, the universal over the particular.”

In a nutshell, I think that means stop fighting over whether the key health care issue is improving Obamacare or Medicare for All. Focus instead on how many people who had health insurance have lost it under Trump, and that he wants to take away your protection for pre-existing conditions.

Emphasize that his promises not to cut Medicare and Social Security are now being revealed as questionable. Stress that he never built those roads and improved those bridges. The needs are great; the list is long.

So maybe this time around the operative slogan is not “It’s the economy, stupid.” Rather, it’s “How well are YOU doing, you who are not among the 1 Percent?”

Annie

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