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“Momentum Is Irrelevant”: Why Bernie Sanders Supporters Can’t Accept The Grim End Of Their Crusade

It’s hard to say goodbye to something you love — and there are a lot of people right now who absolutely love Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. As well they should. It has been one of the most remarkable happenings in the recent history of American politics, as a rumpled, crotchety 74-year-old socialist put together a serious challenge to the Democratic Party’s anointed candidate, raising over $200 million and energizing young people across the country for a revolutionary crusade to remake American politics.

So you can understand why Sanders supporters have trouble accepting that there’s just no way for him to be the party’s nominee. Part of it comes from the fact that, technically, it’s still possible for Sanders to prevail. Yes, it would require him to persuade nearly every remaining Democratic voter to cast a ballot for him, and then get all the superdelegates now supporting Clinton to flip as well. So who knows?

Here’s the brutal truth, though: No matter how the big prize of California comes out next Tuesday, Clinton is still going to have a majority of the delegates and is still going to be the Democratic nominee. As Harry Enten has observed, it’s a near-certainty that Clinton will officially pass the number of delegates she needs when New Jersey closes its polls at 8 p.m. eastern on Tuesday. Even though the California primary looks to be extremely close — the widely revered Field Poll shows Clinton leading Sanders by a margin of 45 percent to 43 percent, and other recent polls have found similar splits — since Democrats allocate delegates proportionally, the two candidates will gain similar numbers of delegates. It won’t matter at that point who nosed out who in that last big contest.

But tell that to a Sanders supporter, and you’ll likely get an earful of protestation. That’s not because they aren’t rational people, it’s because they have so much invested in his campaign — often financially or in terms of the time they’ve spent, but mostly emotionally. Bernie has promised them so much, and the campaign has accomplished so much, that saying, “Oh well, we gave it a good shot but it didn’t work out” must seem like a betrayal of everything they’ve been fighting for.

Hillary Clinton has offered her supporters little in the way of grand dreams and glorious visions of transformation. She’s a pragmatic politician presenting a pragmatic program. Sanders, on the other hand, is a candidate of revolution. He asked his supporters to believe in something epic, to change their thinking about what’s possible in politics. If you Felt the Bern, you yourself were transformed. To admit that the campaign is over means admitting that the dream is dead, and that person you wanted to be — hopeful, committed, optimistic — was wrong about what was possible.

Add to that the fact that Sanders supporters have convinced each other that the system is rigged, which means that any outcome other than Sanders winning is not just unfortunate but fundamentally illegitimate. If you believe that, it means that once you assent to a Clinton victory you’ve assented to corruption.

While Sanders himself has gotten some criticism for not bowing out already or acknowledging that it’s all over, you can’t blame him — and when you watch him being interviewed in recent weeks, you can see his internal struggle. He surely feels that at the very least, he has an obligation to stay in the race long enough for all his supporters to have the chance to cast their ballots for him. And it would be weird to say, “I’m still in the race, even though I know I’ve lost.” So he can be forgiven for putting the best face on things, even if it sometimes means he has to stray into fantasyland. “If we win California, and if we win South Dakota, and North Dakota and Montana and New Mexico and New Jersey, and the following week do well in Washington, D.C.,” he told rapturous supporters this week, “I think we will be marching into the Democratic convention with an enormous amount of momentum.”

Which is, of course, ridiculous. First of all, he’s not going to win all those places. But even if he did, Clinton will still have passed beyond the majority of delegates she needs. After all the voting is done, “momentum” is irrelevant. It’s like saying that even though your team lost the game 5-4, the fact that you scored a run in the ninth inning means you ought to be considered the winner.

Even after all the TV anchors and newspaper headlines declare that Clinton is now the nominee of the party, there will be a few Sanders supporters who refuse to accept it (and those few will surely have no problem finding cameras into which they can air their grievances). They’ll say Bernie can still make his case to the superdelegates, that they’re holding out for the FBI to indict Clinton, that it was never a fair fight to begin with. If you feel the urge to mock, consider sparing a sympathetic thought for them.

They’ve come a long way, and their idealism is something our system needs. And eventually, even if it takes a while, they’ll make their peace with defeat.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, June 3, 2016

June 5, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic National Convention, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Whoa Nellie!”: Bernie Sanders Is The Future Of The Democratic Party, Right? Not So Fast

As the competitive phase of the Democratic presidential primary has wound down, the action now moves to the nebulous contest to define the terms of Hillary Clinton’s victory and what, if anything, she owes to Bernie Sanders. It is a little strange, as Ed Kilgore points out, that the coverage of this question treats Sanders as the victor and Clinton as the vanquished. The discussion hinges on the premise that Sanders, even while losing the fight for delegates, has won the war of ideas within the party. The premise is shared by such disparate figures as economically moderate Matthew Yglesias (“Sanders’s basic vision of a party with a more sharply ideological message on economic issues is very likely to dominate in the future”) and ecstatic radical Corey Robin, who sees in Sanders’s success the rise of socialism that will sweep liberalism into the dustbin of history. But this assumes that Sanders’s appeal was mostly or even entirely ideological. That is probably wrong.

It is certainly true that Sanders pushed the debate leftward, by bringing previously marginal left-wing ideas into the Democratic discussion. It is also true that his disproportionately young supporters lie farther to the left than Clinton’s, and that his ideas account for at least some of his enthusiastic support. But to understand the Sanders campaign as primarily a demand for more radical economic policies misses a crucial source of his appeal: as a candidate of good government.

American liberalism contains a long-standing tradition, dating back to the Progressive Era, of disdain for the grubby, transactional elements of politics. Good-government liberals prefer candidates who make high-minded appeals to the greater good, rather than transactional appeals to self-interest. The progressive style of politics was associated with the middle-class reformers and opposition to urban machines, and was especially fixated with rooting out corruption in politics. Candidates who have fashioned themselves in this earnest style have included Adlai Stevenson, Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Gary Hart, Jerry Brown, Howard Dean, and Barack Obama. These candidates often have distinct and powerful issue positions, but their appeal rests in large part on the promise of a better, cleaner, more honest practice of politics and government.

Sanders has tapped effectively into this tradition. His disdain for corporate donations, disheveled appearance, frequent disavowals of personal attacks (“People are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails!”), and pleas to conduct the campaign as an elevated issues seminar have lent him a rare authenticity. This has been aided by the fact that Clinton is unusually vulnerable to a good-government candidate. Through a combination of her husband’s scandals, her own missteps, and a hostile news media, Clinton has labored under the buildup of years of toxic coverage. Obama effectively attacked her on these themes eight years ago, and in 2015 her campaign began under the clouds of new scandals around her buckraking and misuse of a private email server. Polls of Democratic voters showed Sanders crushing her on perceptions of being honest and trustworthy.

The Wisconsin primary is indicative. Fifty-four percent of Democrats said they wanted a candidate who would continue President Obama’s policies, while only 31 percent of voters preferred more liberal policies. (This measure is itself imprecise, since Obama would also prefer more liberal policies, except the Republican Congress is blocking them.) But almost 90 percent of Democrats called Sanders honest and trustworthy, versus 57 percent who said the same about Clinton. Sanders won Wisconsin by 13 points.

Sanders has certainly benefited from and encouraged the spread of radical policies on the left. But the media attention to these ideas has magnified their real-world constituency. A faction is not close to taking majority control of a party before it is able to win at least a sizable minority share of the party’s elected officeholders. When Barry Goldwater led an insurgency to win the Republican nomination in 1964, the conservatives who supported him represented an important faction within the party, with representatives in both houses of Congress. Within the Democratic Party, on the other hand, socialists — depending on how you define it — are limited to Sanders himself. Sandersism may one day become the Democratic mainstream creed, but that day is probably a long way off.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 2, 2016

May 3, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The ‘Sandernistas’ Brand New Congress Initiative”: The Bernie Camp’s Really Bad Idea of A ‘Tea Party Of The Left’

From a great distance, the news that volunteers associated with Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign are turning their attentions to the herculean task of organizing progressives for midterm elections would seem to be exciting news for all Democrats. Without question, the close alignment of the two parties with groups of voters who do (older white people) and don’t (younger and minority people) participate in non-presidential elections has been a big part — along with the normal backlash against the party controlling the White House — of the massive Republican gains of 2010 and 2014. The prospect of heightened midterm turnout from under-30 voters alone could be a big and important deal for the Donkey Party.

But the closer you get to the Sandernistas’ Brand New Congress initiative — the new project by recently laid-off Bernie staffers to create a revolution in Congress beginning with the 2018 elections — the less it looks like the instrument for a difficult but achievable task and the more it looks like the product of a very strange set of beliefs about American politics. It’s not focused on boosting progressive turnout in general elections, but on recruiting and running candidates in Republican as well as Democratic primaries who meet a rigid set of policy litmus tests. The idea is very explicitly that people alive with the Bern can literally elect a “brand-new Congress” in one election cycle to turn public policy 180 degrees. Or so says key organizer Zack Exley:

“We want a supermajority in Congress that is fighting for jobs, criminal justice reform and the environment,” Exley said. “Most Americans actually want that, and I think we get it by running Dems in blue areas, Republicans in deep red areas, and by running independents wherever we didn’t defeat incumbents.”

Republicans, too?

Corbin Trent, another former Sanders staffer, said bringing Republicans on board is “the key to it being a successful idea” and there’s enough overlap between Sanders’ platform and tea party conservatives to make the PAC’s goals feasible.

Reality television star Donald Trump’s current status as the Republican front-runner demonstrates that GOP voters are eager for candidates who, like Trump, criticize the corrupting influence of money in politics and the impact of free trade deals on American workers, Trent said.

“This will allow Republicans to say ‘Yeah, I’m a Republican, but I believe climate change is real and I don’t believe all Muslims are terrorists,” he said. “It will allow people to think differently in the Republican Party if they want to pull away from the hate-based ideology.”

Yes, that was what I feared: The discredited notion that lefties and the tea party can make common cause in something other than hating on the Clintons and Barack Obama is back with a vengeance. And worse yet, Donald Trump — Donald Trump — is being touted as an example of a Republican capable of progressive impulses because he shares the old right-wing mercantilist hostility to free trade and has enough money to scorn lobbyists. Does your average Trump supporter really “believe climate change is real” and disbelieve that “all Muslims are terrorists”? Do Obamacare-hating tea-partiers secretly favor single-payer health care? Do the people in tricorn hats who favor elimination of labor unions deep down want a national $15-an-hour minimum wage? And do the very activists who brought the Citizens United case and think it’s central to the preservation of the First Amendment actually want to overturn it?

It’s this last delusion that’s the most remarkable. If there is any one belief held most vociferously by tea-party activists, it’s that anything vaguely approaching campaign-finance reform is a socialist, perhaps even a satanic, conspiracy. These are the people who don’t think donors to their political activities should be disclosed because Lois Lerner will use that information to launch income-tax audits and persecute Christians. The tea folk are much closer to the Koch brothers in their basic attitudes toward politics than they are to conventional Republicans.

But there persists a sort of “tea envy” in progressive circles. Here’s Salon staff writer Sean Illing in a piece celebrating Brand New Congress:

Real change in this country will require a sustained national mobilization, what I’ve called a counter-Tea Party movement. While their agenda was nihilistic and obstructionist, the Tea Party was a massive success by any measure. And they succeeded because they systematically altered the Congressional landscape.

Well, you could say that, or you could say the tea party’s excesses cost Republicans control of the Senate in 2012, and produced an environment that’s made Donald Trump and Ted Cruz the GOP’s only two options for this year’s presidential nomination. Indeed, you can probably thank the tea party for the likelihood of a very good Democratic general election this November.

But that will again produce excellent conditions for another Republican-dominated midterm in 2018. It sure would make sense for progressives to  focus on how to minimize the damage in the next midterm and begin to change adverse long-term turnout patterns. Expending time, money, and energy on scouring the earth looking for Republican primary candidates willing to run on a democratic-socialist agenda will not be helpful.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, April 29, 2016

May 2, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Progressives, Tea Party | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“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

“Duck And Cover”: To GOP Swiftboaters, “Democratic Socialism” Is A Politically Correct Term For ‘Handouts’ In The ‘Hood’

Do the folks who are concerned that Bernie Sanders would be swiftboated in a general election have a point?

Just as it is an article of faith among Sanders supporters that Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton is a “corporatist” who will stab progressives in the front if she becomes the 45th president, so too is it received wisdom among Clinton supporters that Sanders would be snapped in half by right-wing media/political operatives if he pulls off a political miracle and upsets Clinton for the Democratic nomination; the usual argument is that right-wing media/political operatives would exploit Sanders’s self-classification as a “democratic socialist” to run roughshod over him on November 8.

Yes, it’s true that right-wing media/political operatives labeled Obama a socialist in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, and the attack failed. However, it’s also true that Obama never labeled himself a socialist, democratic or otherwise.

Would Sanders really be a sitting duck in the fall? Sanders supporters point to polls showing that the Vermonter would be a stronger general-election candidate. However, Clinton supporters would obviously point out that Michael Dukakis was 17 points ahead of George H. W. Bush in the 1988 presidential election before right-wing media/political operatives unsheathed their machetes.

It is not irrational to be concerned that right-wing media/political operatives will exploit Sanders’s difficulties with black voters in a general election, promoting the idea that a Sanders administration will try to curry favor with African-Americans by lavishing largesse upon communities of color at the expense of working-class whites (especially the ones who have gravitated to Donald Trump). Right-wing media/political operatives (with Fox leading the charge, of course) will not hesitate to push the notion that “democratic socialism” is a politically correct term for “handouts in the ‘hood”; one cannot blithely dismiss the idea that a certain percentage of the voters who now say they would support Sanders over a Republican rival in a general election would be successfully seduced by relentless right-wing racial rhetoric in the weeks prior to Election Day.

Right-wing media attacks would not be Sanders’s only problem in a general election. It’s quite likely that mainstream-media outlets will also paint Sanders in the most negative light possible, in retaliation for Sanders’s extensive criticism of corporate-owned media entities. Presumably, the “corporate media” organizations the Vermonter has denounced would not be thrilled with the prospect of a President Sanders spending four to eight years condemning them daily from the bully pulpit of the White House, and encouraging Americans to stop reading and watching publications and programs connected to conglomerates. It’s entirely possible that mainstream-media outlets will be every bit as harsh as the conservative media will be towards Sanders, albeit for different reasons. You can imagine the perspective of the “corporate media” in this respect: Hey, Sanders isn’t being fair towards us; why the heck should we be fair towards him?

Does Team Sanders have a plan in place for dealing with tag-team trashing from conservative media and mainstream media in the event Sanders does the impossible and defeats Clinton for the Democratic nomination? If not, then the general-election savaging of Sanders will be remembered as the political equivalent of the chainsaw scene in Scarface.

 

By: D. R. Tucker, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 16, 2016

April 16, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Socialists, General Election 2016, Right Wing Media | , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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