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“The Moment Of Truth”: Why The Sanders Movement Is Just About Dead

This is the moment of truth for Bernie Sanders and his supporters. It’s the moment that determines whether everything they’ve accomplished to this point is translated into real power and real change, or fizzles into nothing, leaving behind only bitterness and resentment. And right now, the latter course is looking much more likely.

What happened in Nevada over the weekend was an expression of some key features of the Sanders campaign, even if it involved only a small number of Sanders supporters taking things to an extreme that most of them would never contemplate. It showed just how hard it’s going to be to convert the campaign into a lasting enterprise that has any influence over American politics. And at the moment, Bernie Sanders himself — the one person with the power to shape where this movement goes from here — hasn’t shown that he understands what’s happening or what he ought to do about it.

To briefly catch up: In February, Hillary Clinton won the Nevada caucuses over Bernie Sanders by a margin of 53-47. But because Nevada is one of the states with absurdly arcane procedures involving multiple conventions leading up to the party gathering that took place last weekend which chose the final allocation of delegates, both campaigns did their best to out-organize each other in an attempt to win a few extra delegates. After some arguing and disputes over credentials, the party finally awarded more delegates to Clinton. Sanders supporters basically went nuts, with a lot of yelling and screaming, some tossing of chairs, and eventually a torrent of harassment and threats aimed at the state party chair.

I’m not going to try to adjudicate what happened in Nevada, beyond saying that it looks like Clinton won the caucus, Sanders tried to work the system to grab some extra delegates, but then Clinton worked the system to grab them back, which doesn’t seem particularly unfair in the end. At the very least it was equally unfair to everyone.

That doesn’t mean that Sanders hasn’t had some legitimate process complaints all along. When he says that the leadership of the DNC aren’t neutral but are basically behind Clinton, he’s right. And I get that Sanders is in an awkward position. Telling his supporters to tone down their criticisms lest they damage the nominee would mean acknowledging that he isn’t going to win, and doing that would demobilize his supporters.

We should also appreciate that the Clinton campaign is all too happy to see this kind of meltdown, because it only makes Sanders and his supporters look like desperate dead-enders who can’t accept reality. And if she does become president, she’d probably be happier if she never faced any organized pressure from the left. But at the moment, Sanders has chosen to spend his time suggesting that the Democratic Party is corrupt, and any outcome other than him being the nominee just proves it. That is a recipe for the destruction of everything he’s accomplished up until now.

This is the problem with framing your campaign and everything you want to do as a “revolution.” You can’t have a partial revolution; either you overthrow the old order or the old order survives. And Sanders is encouraging his supporters to believe that if there’s anything of the old order left, then all is lost.

But the reality is that if the Sanders campaign is to become the Sanders movement — a force that has lasting impact on the presidency of Hillary Clinton and American politics more generally — it will only happen because he and his supporters manage to exercise influence through that system they despise. When he goes to visit Clinton in the Oval Office and tells her, “We still need a revolution!”, what is she going to say? Okay Bernie, thanks for coming, it was nice to see you.

If he and his people want to actually exercise some influence, they’ll have to start thinking about mundane things like presidential appointments, executive branch regulations, and the details of complex legislation. Victories in those forums will be partial and sporadic. From our vantage point today, is there anything to suggest that’s an enterprise he and his people will be willing to devote their efforts to? What happens if Clinton offers Sanders something — changes to the party’s platform, or input on her nominees? Will his supporters say, “This may not have been all we wanted, but it’s still meaningful”? No, they won’t. They’ll see it as a compromise with the corrupt system they’ve been fighting, a sellout, thirty pieces of silver that Sanders ought to toss back in her face. That’s because Sanders has told them over and over that the system is irredeemable, and nothing short of its complete dismantling is worthwhile.

This is the danger inherent in a critique that stands apart from substantive policy issues. The Sanders supporters who are now losing their minds certainly want the policy changes Sanders has advocated, like single-payer health care and free college tuition. But that isn’t what’s motivating them most powerfully right now. If it were, they’d be strategizing on how to maximize the chances of achieving those changes given the reality that Bernie Sanders is not going to be the next president of the United States.

Instead, they’re most emotionally invested in the Sanders campaign as a vehicle of rebellion and revolution, a blow against that big amorphous blob of people, institutions, procedures and norms called “the establishment” or “the system.” Because they are convinced that the system is corrupt and only the Sanders campaign is pure, any loss by Sanders can only be evidence that corruption has triumphed. If more Democrats prefer Hillary Clinton to be their nominee, it can only be because the game was rigged.

To be honest, at the moment it looks like there’s no going back. Sanders could come out tomorrow and tell his supporters that even if they don’t get their revolution, it’s still worth working for every bit of positive change they can achieve. But that would mean disavowing everything he’s told them up until now.

There are millions of people who voted for Sanders in the primaries and will happily support Hillary Clinton in the general election — indeed, that describes the vast majority of Sanders supporters. Even most of the core activists who made up his revolutionary vanguard will probably cast the same vote, if for no other reason than to stop Donald Trump. And many of them will take the inspiration they felt and the things they learned working on this campaign and use them in new efforts for change. But the idea of a lasting, effective movement led by Bernie Sanders and built on the ideals and goals of his campaign? That’s just about dead.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, May 18, 2016

May 21, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Hillary Clinton, Sanders Supporters | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Different Analyses Of What’s Wrong With America”: Here’s The Big Difference Between Bernie Sanders And Donald Trump

Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary represented about as emphatic a rejection as you could imagine of that imposing monolith we’ve been calling “the establishment.” Bernie Sanders certainly felt it. “The people of New Hampshire have sent a profound message to the political establishment, to the economic establishment, and by the way, to the media establishment,” he said. “The people want real change.” On the Republican side, you could almost hear the establishment whimpering sadly as the possibility of Donald Trump being their nominee became even more real.

But we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that Sanders’ and Trump’s success — whether temporary or not — represents two sides of the same coin, a single phenomenon manifesting itself simultaneously in both parties.

That isn’t to say there aren’t a few similarities between the messages the two men are sending. People joke about Sanders and Trump both being supporters of single-payer health care, even though Trump’s “support” consists of a couple of favorable comments years ago; the truth is that he doesn’t seem to know or care much about health care, just like most policy issues. But Trump has sounded some economic populist themes, particularly on trade, where he’s been as skeptical as Sanders of the free trade policies pursued by Democratic and Republican administrations alike. And Trump has no particular commitment to conservative ideology, so if he does become the nominee, don’t expect him to advocate for traditional Republican economic ideas.

That aside, Trump and Sanders have fundamentally different analyses of what’s wrong with America and its government, and what ought to be done about it.

Anger has been the signature emotion of this election on the Republican side. And while there’s no question that many Democratic voters have problems with what has happened during the Obama years, they’re not angry so much as they are disappointed. And that disappointment is really with governing itself — the difficult slog of legislation, the necessary compromises, the inevitable mix of victories and defeats. Hillary Clinton’s problem is that she doesn’t promise anything different; her point is not that she’ll remake American politics, but that through hard work and persistence she can squeeze out of that unpleasant process some better results.

It’s a pragmatic, realistic message, but not one to stir the heart. Particularly for idealistic younger voters, Sanders’ vision of not just different results but a transformed process was bound to be appealing. To those liberals whose attachment to the Democratic Party is less firm — which may also be true of younger voters — Sanders says that the problem isn’t the other side, it’s the whole system, and the “oligarchy” that controls it.

Trump too has a message that transcends partisanship. But where Sanders says the problem is that the system is corrupt because it’s controlled by the wealthy and corporations, Trump argues that the problem is stupidity. He doesn’t want to bring about some kind of transformation in the system. He wants to just ignore it, and produce unlimited winning through the sheer force of his will. For instance, they may both have problems with the trade agreements America has signed, but Sanders will tell you it’s because corporations exerted too much influence over the content of those agreements. Trump just says the agreements were negotiated by idiots, so we got taken to the cleaners by foreigners.

Here’s another important difference between the two: For all their misgivings about the Democratic establishment, Sanders’ supporters are idealistic, hopeful, and looking for dramatic change that is rooted in liberal ideology. They want more comprehensive government benefits in areas like health care and education, higher taxes on the wealthy, and greater restrictions on financial firms. In short, they want their party to be more ideologically pure.

Trump’s supporters, on the other hand, aren’t motivated by hope and idealism but by anger: anger at immigration, anger at Muslims, anger at foreigners, anger at a changing country that seems to be leaving them behind. They want a restoration of American greatness, the feeling of mastery over events and the world. They are far less interested in fulfilling a wish list of conservative policies — which is why they’re unfazed when other Republicans accuse Trump of not being a “real” conservative. He isn’t, and his supporters don’t really care.

There’s another difference: As dramatic as both victories in New Hampshire were, Trump and Sanders face very different prospects from this point forward. Trump is the overwhelming Republican frontrunner, standing far atop a chaotic race in which his opponents are dropping like flies. He may or may not become the nominee, but at the moment he’s got a much better shot than anyone else. Sanders, on the other hand, still trails Hillary Clinton in national polls and faces a daunting map. He’ll now have to go to states with large numbers of the minority voters among whom Clinton has been particularly strong.

We don’t yet know how deep the desire for “revolution” among Democrats really goes, and that question will probably determine the outcome of their primary race. The conservative rage that propelled Donald Trump to victory in New Hampshire, on the other hand, seems virtually inexhaustible.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, February 10, 2016

February 11, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Ideology, New Hampshire Primaries | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Fringe Appeal”: Sanders’ And Trump’s ‘Us vs. Them’ Mentality Won’t Win Over America

If you want a window into the state of U.S. politics, the speeches given by the first- and second-place finishers in New Hampshire’s presidential primary were revealing. But what was striking was that the commonalities among the candidates did not follow party lines as much as they related to the candidates’ “outsider” or “establishment” status.

The outsiders won last night, of course: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, while having been elected to the U.S. House and Senate, did so as an independent and considers himself a democratic socialist. Donald Trump, a real estate developer and reality television personality, has held a variety of positions on political issues and contributed to both parties, but has never before held political office.

The runners up, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican John Kasich, embody their parties’ establishments: Clinton was a first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state. Kasich served as U.S. congressman, chairman of the House Budget Committee and is the popular two-term governor of Ohio.

But in their victory speeches, the outsiders sounded more like each other than they did their partisan colleagues. Sanders and Trump piqued the frustrations and angst of their respective parties’ primary voters.

For Sanders, it was American versus American: Wall Street, the billionaire class and Super PACs versus the victims of the “rigged economy.” His solution: a “political revolution” to make the rich pay their “fair share” so the rest of us can have free college, health care and retirement.

For Trump, it was Americans versus non-Americans: China, Mexico, immigrants and terrorists. His plan is to “earn world respect” and “make American great again” by constructing a border wall and rebuilding the military to “knock the hell out of” the Islamic State group. Unlike Sanders, Trump at least tempered his typical campaign demeanor and rhetoric during his victory speech in an apparent combination of glee and recognition of the fact that he had a national audience in prime time.

Clinton and Kasich, on the other hand, acknowledged and assuaged the insecurities of their parties’ bases by invoking core American values and desires.

Clinton, always politically calculating and often poorly advised, made a somewhat brief attempt to sound the Sanders theme, vowing to “fight Wall Street,” before falling back on her natural strengths. She promised to “work harder than anyone,” and reminded voters of her lifelong commitment to public service (which has proved that she does, indeed, work harder than anyone). She described a “growth and fairness economy” and vowed to support human rights for “every single American.”

Kasich vowed to “re-shine” America. He discussed the importance of the opportunity to work, the desire in each of us to help our families and neighbors and the preference to look to government as a last resort. Kasich promised to heal divisions, “leave no one behind,” and solve problems not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans.

Unfortunately for Sanders and Trump, most Americans still reject the “us versus them” mindset, whether internally or externally focused, espoused by Democrat or Republican. This approach is not just “outsider,” it is “fringe.” That fringe appeal proved to be a successful primary strategy in New Hampshire, but it is neither a viable general election strategy nor a way to govern an already insecure and divided nation.

In contrast, during their New Hampshire primary night speeches, both Clinton and Kasich appeared to have adequately addressed the concerns of their partisan voters while simultaneously appealing to the national electorate that they hope to face in November. To the extent that the term “establishment” correlates with judgment of the sort that Clinton and Kasich demonstrated on primary night in New Hampshire, we might just want to consider using the more appropriate term “qualified.”

 

By: Michael C. Barnes, Thomas Jefferson Street Blog, U. S. News and World Report, February 10, 2016

February 11, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, New Hampshire Primaries | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Hillary Unleashes The Kraken On Bernie”: ‘If You’ve Got Something To Say, Say It Directly’

It was almost as if a switch went off in Hillary Clinton’s brain.

Moments into the first Democratic debate not beleaguered by the presence of Martin O’Malley, Clinton laid into her remaining opponent, Bernie Sanders.

Sanders has tried to paint Clinton, the former secretary of state and first lady, as a representative of the “establishment” he rails against. He often notes, sometimes without using Clinton’s name that she has taken millions in contributions from Wall Street and pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees from banks.

But tonight, after weeks of semi-veiled attacks, Clinton announced she had enough.

“People support me because they know me, they know my life’s work, they have worked with me, and many have also worked with Senator Sanders—and at the end of the day, they endorse me because they know I can get things done,” Clinton said, redefining her “establishment” credentials as an asset.

“Being part of the establishment is in the last quarter having a super PAC that raised $15m from a whole lot of money from drug companies and other special interests,” Sanders quickly retorted.

As soon as the dreaded “e” word was used again, Clinton was ready to pounce, directly pushing Sanders to attack directly if he was going to attack at all.

“It’s fair to really ask what’s behind that comment. Senator Sanders has said that he wants to run a positive campaign, and I’ve tried to keep my disagreements over issues,” she said. “But time and time again by innuendo and by insinuation, there is this attack that he is putting forth, which really comes down to ‘anybody who ever took donations or speaking fees from any interest group has to be bought,’ and I just absolutely disagree with that, senator.”

Clinton went on to insist that she would never be influenced by the vast sums of money she’s received from Wall Street.

“If you’ve got something to say, say it directly,” Clinton said, her voice raised. “You will not find that I have ever changed a view or a vote because of any donation I have received. I have stood up and I have represented my constituents to the best of my abilities, and I’m very proud of that.”

Semantics about the definition of “establishment” and “progressive” aside, this seemed to mark the beginning of a new stage in the contest between Sanders and Clinton. And it’s not going to be pretty.

 

By: Gideon Resnick. The Daily Beast, February 4, 2016

February 5, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Primary Debates, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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