The Progressive Problem


I’ve spent a certain amount of time talking about the Republican race for the Presidential nomination but it is worth looking at what is going on in the Democratic side as well. Unlike the Republican race, there were never more than two serious candidates – which is quite something in itself. A year ago there was only one. The rise of Bernie Sanders can only be viewed as a good thing – if only to sharpen the Democratic progressive agenda and to present a radically different view of how politics can be conducted. Sanders and Clinton have their differences but have mostly – though hardly entirely – avoided the vitriol of the Republican race.

Bernie Sanders is – like Donald Trump in one way at least – an outsider. While he had held elected office for 35 years (25 years at the Federal level), he comes across as a non-politician. In part, this comes from the fact that for most of his life he has sat as an independent – an independent democratic socialist to be exact – rather than within one of the two mainstream parties in America. Perhaps because of the security he feels in his Senate seat – Vermont is unlikely to turn on him now – or because of his age, Sanders has a refreshing candor. And he is a good, natural speaker unlike his rival Hilary Clinton who sometimes seems earnest but wooden.

Sanders has been particularly effective at motivating young voters, much like Barrack Obama. In most other respects Sanders is nothing like Obama. He has so far shown himself unable to bring large numbers of blacks or Hispanics into his camp. Other than the young, Sanders biggest group of supports are angry working class white men – the same demographic that Trump draws his support from. Of course, the BernieBros – as they are called – are not the same as Trump’s adherents. They are hope-filled rather than hate-filled. But, still, some of their attacks against Hillary have been sufficiently misogynistic that Sanders has had to disavow them.

Clinton seems like a career politician – mostly because she has been in the public eye since her husband was elected President. In fact she has spent far fewer years in electoral politics – and a much smaller percentage of her life – than Sanders. His obscurity has, well, obscured how much of a Washington insider he is. Clinton is also sometimes accused by progressives of being Republican-lite though her voting record is nearly as progressive as that of Bernie Sanders. Her proposals are not nearly as radical as the ones that Sanders has made but probably have a higher percentage chance of being implemented – if she becomes President.

Bernie Sanders and his supporters are a serious obstacle to that goal. Not because Sanders is likely to win the Democratic nomination. Sorry, but at this stage, that is hardly an outrageous statement even if it provokes outrage. It has nothing to do with super delegates who might switch allegiance if Sanders wins a majority of primary delegates – the party establishment is driven by pragmatism not ideology and might swallow the fact that Sanders has never been (and may not now be) a Democrat.

But the numbers don’t lie. Sanders is 300 delegates behind and while his best states may not have voted yet, neither have some of his worst states (Arizona and New York are likely to be won by Clinton). He not only has to win most of the rest of the states, he has to win them by sizable margins. So far, he hasn’t shown the ability to do that.

And, of course, Sanders hasn’t faced twenty years of character assassination by the right the way Clinton has. Perhaps that is the most striking thing about Clinton – that she has endured so much abuse, almost all of it based in lies and innuendo, rather than evidence, yet is still standing and still strong. The biggest question that must – or at least should – weigh on the minds of Democrats is whether Sanders can do as well in what is certain to be a vicious fight for the White House.

At some point Sanders may have to accept that he won’t win the Democratic nomination; then he has to decide if he wants to be another Ralph Nader and hand the White House to the Republicans. And even if Sanders throws his support behind Clinton, will his supporters follow him? Or will they stay home, or worse yet, vote for Trump?

And that’s a little more than ten minutes.


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