Sunday, April 10, 2016

Is There an Affirmative Case for a Bernie Sanders Presidency?

The fact that Bernie Sanders has run a poor campaign is clear for anyone to see. From his insistence on using the term 'Socialist' to describe himself to his narrowly focused ideology to his unnecessary willingness to defend firearms manufacturers from lawsuits to his personal demeanor and appearance, he has sacrificed much in order retain the trappings of an obscure liberal northeastern politician. Obviously, no one, including Sanders himself, had any idea that there was going to be a significant constituency for his message, and that he might actually have been a viable contender from the beginning. It's interesting to imagine what the race would look like today if he had spent the previous year or two seriously building the image, message and operation necessary to compete in a major party presidential primary.

Alas, all that is water under the quaint Vermont water wheel. The math is, as they say, the math, and the primary process is structured to protect the lead of the frontrunner. In 2008 Obama led with only about 100 pledged delegates at the end of February, and even with a strong finish - including a win in California - Hillary Clinton was simply mathematically unable to close that gap. So we're left to consider what might have been, and to watch the sad, angry, often ugly recriminations from a populist constituency that never could quite figure out how to 'support' their candidate of choice.

In every campaign, particularly since the rise of cable news and digital media, it's important to separate the official campaign's messaging from that of its most passionate supporters. People frequently support a particular candidate for narrow or even ambiguous reasons, and often they are far too uninformed and politically naive to make a genuinely compelling argument in favor of that candidate. But it's impossible to pretend that the impressions and understanding of the supporters and fans aren't the direct result of the campaign itself. And while the Sanders campaign kept repeating its single tune about 'Wall Street Money' and income inequality - important issues, certainly, but not all by themselves the basis for a presidential campaign - his supporters were unable to find anything they could get their hands and heads around, any narrative they could weave that described why Sanders should be elected President.

If they couldn't make an argument in favor of Bernie Sanders, they were left looking for another approach. Ultimately, the Sanders constituency settled on a dual message: The media was biased against him and the Right Wing had been right all along about Hillary Clinton. She was horrible, toxic, corrupt, dishonest, a tool of banks and corporations and represented everything that was wrong with American governance. The media bias message is particularly incoherent - in a way it's similar to the more common conspiracy theories. The story is that the media is keeping the Sanders message from getting out, and in some cases even intentionally favoring Clinton in their coverage. How do they know this? Why, they can SEE it of course. It's just all those other people - presumably the people who favor Hillary Clinton - who are blind sheep who can't see that the media is fooling them. This is a classic closed-loop self-serving narrative, where the conspiracy is obvious but inexplicably only people who believe in the conspiracy can see it.

This approach has, necessarily, extended to attacking and smearing any pundit who even asked basic questions about the campaign's messaging. Even - or perhaps especially - iconic liberal voices have been repeatedly accused of corruption and self-interest. Paul Krugman is one of the popular liberal pundits that has come under vicious fire from Sanders supporters. One of the things I admire about him is his willingness to carefully examine his own beliefs and conclusions to make certain he's not arriving at them because they are things he truly would like to believe, but rather that they are borne out by the facts and models, and that they pass empirical as well as intuitive tests. So when he - as a Nobel Prize winning economist and author of the number one college economics textbook - asked specific questions about the Sanders economic plan, he was immediately smeared as a corporate tool (!!) and accused of angling for a job in the Clinton cabinet. They find it simply inconceivable that an economist might question the economic assumptions of a Presidential candidate.

Now, many of these attacks by Sanders supporters have been offensive, vile smears often descending into rank misogyny. But more annoying than that is their arrogant certainty - the absolute refusal to consider that someone might actually be offering principled support for Clinton, support based on something other than blatant corruption or outright evil. The belief that they are right, and all others are not just wrong, but intentionally wrong with malicious intent. When you couple that with their irrational belief that the majority of Americans would support extremely liberal economic and political policies, in spite of a century of evidence to the contrary - and the fact that Clinton has received almost three million MORE primary and caucus votes than Sanders at this point in the process - you find a deluded, irrational, angry, reactionary rabble. What you cannot find, sadly, is a single argument IN FAVOR of a Sanders presidency.


  1. At my blog, I'm maintaining a "non-endorsement" mentality--I plan to support the Democratic nominee, end of story. Rubbishing a candidate who could win my party's nomination because they aren't my favorite doesn't strike me as serving a purpose--and yet Sanders is not, strictly speaking, a Democrat. Therein lies the rub.

    I don't like the way his campaign dismisses her southern wins. Although he's focusing on the youth vote, he's sorely missing a huge part of the emerging demographics. I don't like the way his campaign pretends they don't have to spend seveal times over the low-dollar donations he's receiving over her campaign's spending to keep their state-by-state winning strategy going--even if it isn't a delegate-winning strategy. It's deceptive.

    I don't like Weaver and Devine (although 2008 Clinton had people just as bad). I don't like his millionaire celebrity surrogates lecturing about how awfully money corrupts. And I think his statement that Hillary Clinton was "unqualified" after her valid criticism of an interview where he, a self-described socialist, said he would break up the banks by fiat is breathtaking.

    There will be a general election--I don't care what the polls say today--I care if his campaign looks prepared to function in one. And I see reasons to be very concerned.

  2. The fact that Bernie Sanders has run a poor campaign is clear for anyone to see.

    1) You've turned into Joe Klein!

    2) As for the "Bernie Bros" complaints, all this has happened before. In 2008, it was Obama Boys. And it was bunk then, too. You might recall that it was Hillary surrogates who started the birth certificate faux scandal, then turned around and cried about the tone of those sexist Obama supporters.

    3) Affirmative case for Sanders? Here you go:

    a. Sanders won't pass the TPP (or TTIP, or TISA). Hillary's newfound, alleged opposition will last about as long as the election season.

    b. Let's talk foreign policy. Remember what you wrote about Hillary's war on Libya? I outsourced my comment to Fafblog. Who was right? Do you think Hillary would have gotten the Iran deal done?

  3. I've got a simple positive rational for a Bernie Presidency; he looks like a Muppet.

    And really, given what we've seen over decades of Sesame Street and the Muppet Show(s) wouldn't every one of us prefer to see them running the country? The Count could be Head of Treasury. Yoda could be SecState.

    Ooo! here's an idea: re-re-boot the Muppet Show re-boot as a re-boot of the West Wing....

    Bernie can make it ALL happen....