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“A Brutal General Election”: Bernie Sanders’ Supporters Are Convinced He Could Win A General Election. They’re Wrong

Bernie Sanders’ rather unconventional personal style and characteristics are part of his appeal. Not some blow-dried politician who could fill in doing the weather on your local newscast, Sanders looks different from other candidates. A 74-year-old socialist with wild hair, frumpy suits, and an old-timey Brooklyn accent thicker than a pastrami sandwich, Sanders seems like the last guy who’d be able to assemble a national majority. But if that’s what you think, his supporters will tell you, you’ve got it all wrong. In fact, they say, Bernie is the only Democrat who can win in the fall. It’s only if the party screws up and nominates Hillary Clinton that Democrats are doomed.

It may be getting late in the process for arguments about electability, particularly when Clinton will almost have the nomination in hand if she wins in New York. But since Sanders supporters are so insistent on this point, it’s worth exploring.

Before we begin, we should acknowledge that all judgments about electability are imperfect, to say the least. That’s partly because politics is inherently unpredictable, and you never know what issues will emerge, what events will occur, what the other side will do, and how your candidate might screw up. It’s also because all of us have a hard time putting ourselves in the mindset of people who think differently than we do. In particular, people who care a great deal about politics and have clearly thought-out and ideologically coherent beliefs often find undecided voters positively baffling. How on earth can a person look at two candidates representing parties with profoundly different agendas and values, and say, “Gee, I just don’t know who to pick”?

But they do, and as we’ve seen before, the voting public’s judgments about candidates they don’t know much about beforehand can be radically altered by what happens in the fall campaign.

Sanders supporters, however, say not to worry. Their primary evidence for the superior electability of their candidate comes from “trial heats,” polls that ask voters whom they would choose in the general election between each Republican and each Democrat. And it’s true that in those polls, Sanders usually does better than Clinton. Trial heats show her beating Donald Trump, roughly tied with Ted Cruz, and behind John Kasich, while Sanders beats all three.

But is that much of an indication of what would happen in the general election? Clinton and Sanders come to this race with very different profiles. He was a completely novel character to most Americans, while she has been one of the country’s central political figures for over two decades. So in the eyes of most Americans — who are paying only intermittent attention to the primary campaign — Bernie Sanders seems like a kindly if eccentric uncle. He doesn’t sound like a typical politician (always a bonus), he speaks some uncomfortable truths, and he has an air of purity about him.

But what hasn’t happened yet is anyone really attacking Sanders. Clinton’s criticisms have been mild, and have largely come from the left, on those few issues like guns where she could position herself there. But you can barely get a Republican to utter an unkind word about Sanders, and that’s precisely because they know how they’d be able to go to town on him if he became the nominee.

So let’s consider the kinds of attacks Sanders would face from Republicans. They wouldn’t just call him a socialist — in fact, that’d be about the nicest thing they’d say about him. They’d say he’s coming to raise your taxes to fund big-government schemes. They’d say he wants to cripple the military. They’d say he’s advocated eliminating our intelligence capabilities. They’d say he was part of a Trotskyite party that expressed “solidarity” with the theocratic government of Iran while it was holding Americans hostage. They’d say he wants government to seize the means of production. They’d say he hates America. They’d say he’s the author of smutty rape fantasies.

These attacks would be unfair, exaggerated, distorted, dishonest — and when Sanders protests, the Republicans would laugh and keep making them. By the time they’re done with him, most Americans would think Sanders is so radical and dangerous that they wouldn’t want him running their local food co-op, let alone the United States government.

Sanders supporters tend to wave away the possibility that these attacks would hurt him in much the same way the candidate himself dispenses with questions of practicality, by saying that his revolution will be so extraordinary that it will sweep all opposition away. Millions of heretofore absent voters will turn up at the polls, Americans will see the wisdom of his ideas, this election will be different than any that came before! But there’s little reason to believe that will happen, particularly when even within the Democratic Party, Sanders hasn’t been persuasive enough to overcome Hillary Clinton, who is supposed to be so weak.

And there’s no doubt that Clinton does indeed have plenty of weaknesses as a candidate. Twenty-five years of attacks from the right have taken their toll on her public image, and she’s made plenty of her own mistakes along the way. But there’s nothing new that the GOP is going to throw at her — we know what Republicans will say, and we have a good idea of how the public will react.

On the other hand, the Democrats haven’t nominated a candidate as far to the left as Bernie Sanders since George McGovern in 1972 (and maybe not even then). I’d love to think that a candidate with his ideological profile could get through a brutal general election and still assemble a national majority. But it’s an awfully hard thing to believe.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, April 19, 2016

April 20, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, General Election 2016, Hillary Clinton, Republicans | , , , , | 2 Comments

“How Soon We Forget”: Bob Dole As A Tribune Of Civility Is Laughable

So now we’re supposed to fall in love with Bob Dole: the enfeebled old solon went on Fox News this week and said his beloved Grand Old Party should be “closed for repairs” for having abandoned civility and comity, and for lacking “ideas.” All right then; let’s give Bob Dole half credit. It is true that Bob Dole was on the Republican side of the hyphen for plenty of pieces of bipartisan legislation (never mind that many of those laws were awful—like “Bayh-Dole,” the 1980 law that let universities patent, and thus privatize, their publicly financed inventions). But let’s also call it half bullshit. All in all, Bob Dole was much more an architect of the Republican Party’s culture of hyper-partisan nastiness than a tribune of civility.

Once, when LBJ was thundering toward his 1964 landslide, megalomaniacally rolling up road miles to defeat as many incumbent Republicans as possible, he told the reporters traveling with him, “You all know a bit about the Republicans in Congress, and there must be at least a few of them that you think deserve to be defeated. Give me some names and either Hubert and I will try to get into their districts in the next few days and talk against ’em.” After they got over their shock, one piped up proposing that Dole kid, the young congressman out of Kansas: he was a nasty man, a hatchet man—a traducer of the civility of Washington. Which was largely how Bob Dole rose in Republican counsels. How soon we forget.

It’s one of those ineluctable patterns in American political culture. As I wrote in 2004 upon Ronald Reagan’s death: “each generation of nonconservatives sees the right-wingers of its own generation as the scary ones, then chooses to remember the right-wingers of the last generation as sort of cuddly. In 1964, observers horrified by Barry Goldwater pined for the sensible Robert Taft, the conservative leader of the 1950s. When Reagan was president, liberals spoke fondly of sweet old Goldwater. Nowadays, as we grapple with the malevolence of President Bush, it’s Reagan we remember as the sensible one.” As, thus, does Robert Dole: in today’s Republican Party, “Reagan wouldn’t have made it.”

And now, like clockwork, Bob Dole volunteers Bob Dole as the cuddly one, thereby basking in the pundits’ lionization of Bob Dole. Bob Dole!

Rick Perlstein is not buying it. Bob Dole, who in 1971 when Richard Nixon expanded the Vietnam War into Laos, called Democrats who protested to Nixon publicly (but not Republicans who did the same thing privately) “the new Chamberlains in what they hope will be another era of appeasement,” saying George McGovern has went “as close as anyone has yet come to urging outright surrender.”

The next year, as Nixon’s Republican National Committee chair, Bob Dole eagerly stood up on his hind legs for the Watergate-plagued president, then peed on Woodward and Bernstein: “For the last week, the Republican Party has been the victim of a barrage of unfounded and unsubstantiated allegations by George McGovern and his partner-in-mudslinging, the Washington Post…McGovern appears to have turned over the franchise for his media attack campaign to the editors…who have shown themselves every bit as surefooted along the low road.”

Others can add their greatest hits from their own personal Wayback Machines. Meanwhile, let’s count down for another Bob to bob forth with some blathering about Bob: Bob Woodward. It can’t really be long.


By: Rick Perlstein, The Nation, May 31, 2013

June 3, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Failure Wasn’t His, It Was Ours”: George McGovern Will Die Vindicated On War And Peace

Speaking at the Democratic National Convention in 1972, George McGovern kicked off his ill-fated presidential bid by focusing on his opposition to the ruinous war in Vietnam. “I have no secret plan for peace. I have a public plan. And as one whose heart has ached for the past ten years over the agony of Vietnam, I will halt a senseless bombing of Indochina on Inaugural Day,” he said. “There will be no more Asian children running ablaze from bombed-out schools. There will be no more talk of bombing the dikes or the cities of the North. And within 90 days of my inauguration, every American soldier and every American prisoner will be out of the jungle and out of their cells and then home in America where they belong. And then let us resolve that never again will we send the precious young blood of this country to die trying to prop up a corrupt military dictatorship abroad. This is also the time to turn away from excessive preoccupation overseas to the rebuilding of our own nation. America must be restored to a proper role in the world. But we can do that only through the recovery of confidence in ourselves.”

Over the course of his career, McGovern made a lot of arguments that I personally find unpersuasive. But he sure did get the most important issue of his time right. Think of all the Americans who’d be alive today if the country had listened to McGovern rather than his opponents about the Vietnam War. Think of all the veterans who’d have been better off. Think of how many Vietnamese civilians would’ve been spared death by napalm. But America didn’t listen.

The country would eventually come to see Vietnam as a mistake.

But ours is a people who are dismissive of men who lose presidential elections. We behave as though the electoral outcome discredited their ideas, even on matters where they’re ultimately proved right.

Of course, it was about more than one war for McGovern. A World War II veteran, he liked to say that he’d been persuaded by Dwight Eisenhower, under whom he served, about the dangers of the military industrial complex. The Democratic Party grew comfortable with it over time.

But McGovern never did.

When America launched its war in Iraq, a lot of Democrats signed on. McGovern opposed it. “I oppose the Iraq war, just as I opposed the Vietnam War, because these two conflicts have weakened the U.S. and diminished our standing in the world and our national security,” he wrote.

He was right again.

After Obama took office, McGovern wrote him an open letter, published in Harper’s magazine, that said, “When I entered the U.S. Senate in 1963, the defense budget was $51 billion. This was at a time when our military experts felt it necessary to have the means to win a war against the combined powers of Russia and China. Today we have a military budget of over $700 billion, and yet neither Russia nor China threatens us, if indeed they ever did. Nor does any other nation.”

Once again, few Americans are listening.

It’s strangely common to think of men defeated in presidential elections as losers, though they are invariably men who’d be regarded as especially accomplished if they’d never run for the office. McGovern was a decorated combat veteran, a college professor, a three term senator, and a humanitarian who worked for years to alleviate global hunger, among other things. As he lays dying in hospice, his country remains as beholden to the military industrial complex as ever, years after the decisive defeat of its only credible geopolitical foe. When the obituaries are published, they’ll note McGovern’s electoral loss. It’s far less likely that they’ll note the two ruinous wars America would’ve been spared had its leaders and voters taken McGovern’s advice.

The failure wasn’t his, it was ours.


By: Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic, October 19, 2012

October 20, 2012 Posted by | Politics, Senate | , , , , , | Leave a comment


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