What About Bernie Sanders? Can We? Should We?

Few Candidates Have as Complex a Relationship with the Party and Voters as Does Sanders


Bernie Sanders is an Interesting Fellow, to Put It Mildly

One can easily, and justifiably, admire his consistency and determination. If there is much difference between this campaign and the one he ran in 2016, it escapes me. Going further back, Sanders has been true to his beliefs over a very long time. No one could doubt his sincerity or commitment.

In many ways, he has helped shape the national dialogue on more than a few issues in a good direction. Some of his ideas that seemed far out years ago rest pretty much along the mainstream continuum these days, and he deserves some credit for that. I would like to say he brought a ton of new voters into Democratic politics, but there is a caveat to that observation. More on that later.

Sanders is looking pretty strong in a number of national polls these days; not quite as strong in many state by state polls. Still, it’s not inconceivable that he could win Iowa or New Hampshire or both. I bet in the end he will win neither, but time will tell. He surely will do well in both.

I have long said that whoever wins this nomination will get my supporting time and money. I will work the neighborhoods, and write the checks. But  of the viable candidates still standing, Sanders is the last one I would wish to support. I think the case that he would not be a strong candidate in the general election can be made. More importantly, I have grave reservations about his ability to govern.

Why Not Bernie?

So, why the gloomy face about a guy who says a number of things I agree with? He certainly is correct about big pharma and many of the ills of big business. That, for me at least, does not outweigh the downsides.

First, he is not actually a Democrat. He caucuses with them, but he is not one of them. He does not have deep ties in the party at national or state/local levels. I think that damages his ability to muster the kind of effort a winning campaign on a national level will need. His supporters are passionate, but they are inadequate to carry such a load.

Second, while a number of younger voters think being a democratic socialist is fine, a great many older voters – you know, the ones who actually show up to vote – do not feel that way. And their caution is not totally unwarranted. One could argue that socialism and democratic socialism are different things, as indeed they are. But the slide over into good old-fashioned socialism is not a tough one. A modest review of modern history demonstrates rather conclusively that socialism has a pretty poor record of success or self-correction. Having this candidate would be a write off of millions of voters.

Sanders’ Voters

Third, Sanders has a passionate base, but it seems to me that this solid base is also pretty close to a ceiling. More worrisome, many of his supporters are committed to the man personally, much more so than to the platform, ideas, and programs he espouses They are not willing to consider someone else carrying the same priorities. Even a casual look at social media to see what Sanders supporters have to say about Warren is instructive.

I have also noticed other disturbing trends among Sanders supporters that I do not see with other campaigns. If a public figure disagrees with Sanders, the amount of vitriol that spews forth is terrible. Not someone attacking Sanders, just disagreeing with him, gets the Full Monty in attack mode. The two candidates are surely different, but this aspect of cult of personality and thuggery towards the opposition reminds me more of Trump’s modus operandi than anyone else’s.

As I noted earlier, Sanders has brought along a lot of potential new voters, but most seem only willing to support him. If he is out, so are they. I see Sanders supporters all over social media challenging others to commit to him if he wins the nomination. I don’t see many of them at all making the same pledge in the other direction. In part, I blame Sanders for the excesses of his followers. As in 2016, he is slow and begrudging to call people out who have gone too far on his behalf.

What Else?

Fourth, Sanders slow drag on revealing his taxes in the last campaign was disturbing. Only Trump has stalled more. There is no excuse for poor performance on this metric.

Fifth, at least as far as I have been able to discern, Sanders plays very loose with how his various programs would work, what they might cost, and how he thinks he could get them passed in Congress. On program specifics, look at what his campaign puts out on any number of programs compared with what Warren publishes. It is a difference of night and day.

Warren got beat up for the price tag on her initial Medicare for All proposal (now wisely scaled back into phased implementation). Sanders seems to get a free ride by essentially saying he would work it out once his team was in office.

In the same way, Sanders says he will get over Congressional opposition, and any opposition from states, by overwhelming them with the tidal wave of public support he will bring with him. Oh, please. Let’s get real. Such support only goes so far in getting things done.

Sanders did have a pretty good record decades ago in working with a Republican city council when he was mayor, and he has gotten quite a few legislative amendments passed. But he has a poor record of actually getting much done in Congress. This includes actually passing major legislation he wrote or being part of effective cosponsor teams.

He is not especially good at working with others. I believe he has been accurately quoted as saying he does not like to compromise. I agree there is not much to work with on the Republican side these days, but if your starting position is that you have no interest in looking at compromise with Republicans, centrist Democrats or others, don’t expect to get much done.

Sixth, while Sanders has taken some courageous positions on Israel and the Middle East, and has a reasonable record in other areas, his penchant to give leftist dictators a pass is not acceptable. He has always (there is that consistency again) made excuses for Central and South American dictators, even the Chinese. I see nothing good about trading Trumps admiration for his favorite dictators for another list of favored despots.

And These Problems, Too

 Seventh, Sander’s benchmark programs, Medicare for All and free college for everyone strike me as impractical and extremely wasteful. They are also colossal political losers. There is much merit to a single payer system but making that transformation all at once is an administrative, political, operational nightmare. Sanders’ unwillingness to recognize the value of a phased approach is worrisome and doctrinaire. Similarly, his insistence that you and I should underwrite the cost of sending a millionaire’s kid to college is nonsense. It is an ideological position, not a policy.

Eighth, the man is 79 years old and just had a heart attack. I admire his energy and stamina, but as anyone familiar with aging knows, this profile could be one stroke, one more heart attack from being incapacitated irreversibly. I cannot find a compelling reason for the country to take the risk. The odds are not terrific.

Finally, we do need a president who will fight for us, but most of us also want a president who can help heal the nation. Several candidates have spoken eloquently of this. Sanders seems only interested in the fight. It may be an unfair ageism on my part, but I swear when watching him on TV, if you turn the sound off, you can almost hear him say. “Get off my lawn.” This is not a happy warrior. Besides, when I look at him and Larry David side by side, I forget which one is imitating the other!

Spare Us

Sanders has contributed much and could continue to do so. But I don’t think he will be the nominee, nor do I think he should be. My greatest concern is that he will repeat his 2016 performance in continuing to run long after it was clear he would not be the nominee and that he will embitter his followers to the detriment of the final candidate. All to the advantage of Donald Trump.

OK, Sanders fans. Tell me where you think I am wrong. And yes, if he wins I will support him. Just not happily.

      Bill Clontz

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4 replies to What About Bernie Sanders? Can We? Should We?

  1. I agree with you 100% Bill. Very worrisome is the fact in a recent poll ranking Bernie first choice responders on their second and third choices after Bernie suggested his supporters don’t have a second choice. Bernie or nobody! This is very dangerous to our hopes of defeating Trump in November. Especially if he doesn’t act early in helping them move to the designated candidate for the party.

    • Yes, this has all the earmarks of what was so wrong in 2016. Runs too long, supporters refuse a second choice.

  2. Bill–

    Your article on Bernie Sanders expresses my thoughts perfectly! I’ll support him if he is the nominee–but I hope he isn’t! His supporters resemble all too much a personality cult; they share a lot of the negatives with Trumpistas. And I have the same doubts about Sanders that I have about many others: they tell us what the American public feels, is sick of, will vote for–all without the slightest shred of evidence!

    This makes me wonder if a) these candidates believe this nonsense themselves; or b) they don’t, but they expect us to. E.g., Sanders assures us that his Medicare for All plan won’t cost anything, because our taxes will be lowered to compensate. To fulfill this promise would require that any number of laws be passed (no one can say how many–because Sanders’ plan is too vague). And there is no plan for passing even one law! A perfect example is his boast that “I wrote the damn bill!” Exactly! He wrote a bill! A bill has exactly as much legal force as if you or I wrote it on toilet paper, with a Magic Marker! I.e., none whatever!
    Appeals to remember the French Revolution have about as much force as appeals to Hitler’s example. But still–remember what happened when the revolutionaries said (in the French of the day), “My way or the highway!” They fragmented, and squandered whatever strength they had. Sanders’ supporters, and Sanders himself, seem likely to me to accomplish just as much.


    • Yes, the cult like similarities are indeed worrisome. All candidates tend to fudge a bit on details, but I find a pattern with Sanders well beyond that. On the other hand, Warren, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar have some pretty detailed plans out there. Biden has some also, but not as well defined, in my view. Booker also laid out some good specifics before he left the field. In my view, its OK to not have all the details, but the absence of a real meat and potatoes plan (apologies to my vegan friends) and no realistic plan on how to work a reluctant congress seems negligent at best.

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