Monday, January 25, 2016

Bernie Sanders probably isn't all that worried about being called a socialist

There is an old quote a friend of mine once shared with me that I'd like to share with you. It's from a famous writer, TS Eliot:
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.
When I see the naysayers, the doomsayers and the myriad of people who say that Bernie Sanders can't win, for whatever reason, I am reminded of that quote.

The reason I think of that quote often in the context of Bernie's campaign is simple. When people say he's pie in the sky and that whatever he is proposing can't be done in the current political climate, I say that it won't happen unless we try. We won't get what we want unless we ask. And there are many, many people who are asking and they're not getting what they want from the politicians in office now.

Long before Sanders started to take leads in a few important polls, most people I conversed with simply pooh-poohed the idea that he even had a chance. They told me that my best bet would be to support Hilary Clinton since she has the best chance of winning. She'd be better than any Republican and they'd be right. But as I've mentioned before, I don't support someone for public office simply because that person has the best chance of winning. I support that person because I agree with his or her policy objectives.

Yes, a Trump presidency would be a rather frightening prospect. But really, Trump has no clue about how Congress works other than to throw money at it. He doesn't really know how the legislative process works. Like many billionaires, he thinks that an idea is a good one if he can convince enough members of Congress to take money for their support of a bill that just happens to curry the favor of an assortment of billionaires.

Yes, it would be a shame to lose the presidency to any of the Republicans running for office right now (where is John Huntsman when we need him to bring some moderation back to the scene?). But the assumption all along has been that if Clinton gets the nomination, she'll have a better chance than Sanders to win. It's really just an assumption and nothing more. Poll after poll show very consistently that Sanders is preferred by a much wider margin to Trump than Clinton.

Sanders opponents will tell us that the GOP is playing nice now. There is even a SuperPAC running ads in support of Sanders, on the assumption that he will be easier to beat than Clinton, by any of the GOP candidates. Even the National Republican Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has said that he would prefer to go against Clinton than Sanders. Yet, he is also urging Republicans to give no more than $50 each to the Sanders campaign. And someone is openly questioning why Sanders will not denounce that SuperPAC. I say let them be fools with their money.

The more strident among Clinton supporters have told me in no uncertain terms that once Sanders is nominated, the gloves come off and the negative ads will come. And they will come hard. All they have to do is call Sanders a socialist. They will point to a recent poll comparing socialists to blacks, whites, women, Catholics, etc. Socialists came last. Shiver me timbers and roll my eyes.

Yet, few of them have been able to reconcile the fact that in 14 elections over Sanders' career, he has been called a socialist many, many times, and it never stuck enough to cost him an election. He won his last election for the Senate with 71% of the vote. D'ya think there might be some Republicans in that number?

There must be something else to him. Maybe some of those voters know the difference between a socialist and a democratic socialist. Sanders is a self-described socialist, democratic socialist, and progressive who admires the Nordic model of social democracy and is a proponent of workplace democracy. Maybe that's what they like about him.

So I guess I have to wonder why the Clinton campaign is already trying to paint Sanders as a communist sympathizer just a few weeks before the primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire start. Why not just wait until the GOP gets their hands on him?

Because they're worried about losing the primaries and the nomination. They see Sanders snagging a 27-point lead in New Hampshire and making it uncomfortably close in Iowa and now they're getting desperate enough to beat the GOP to the punch. This is after Clinton supporters said the GOP would do it first, but before the first primary vote is cast.

They have a phrase for this, they call it "going negative". Going negative means running ads that cast a negative light on the opponent. In 14 elections, this has never worked. Sanders himself may cast others in a negative light, but from what I can tell, he has never run a negative ad. He has stuck to one simple principle: talk about the positive vision he has for America and what he can do to make this country better. He has inspired many people with his message and that has been drawing huge crowds since the start of his campaign.

At least one columnist, Brent Budowsky, has noticed that going negative on Sanders is a bad move. He nails the problem succinctly in the following sentence:
"She [Clinton] is charging — among many things — that Sanders does not offer a realistic program, which is both condescending and wrong and an insult not only to Sanders, but to the large number of Democrats who are with Sanders."
Clinton suggests that we should be pragmatic about our policy objectives and has proposed incremental change. Perhaps she is concerned that the current Congress, partially and forcefully enumerated by a Tea Party minority, will not allow Bernie to get anything passed. She assumes that the Tea Party types have never cooperated with the Amendment King to get anything done as a Senator. Her position also assumes that Congress will stay much the same.

If there is a sea change of support for Bernie Sanders, and I suspect that there is, the odds of Congress staying the same as before are lower, perhaps much lower than we might expect. Yes, there are many safe seats and many of them represent what resembles a sprawling amoeba more than a reasonably drawn district. But people are getting wise to the problem of safe seats and they may mobilize to break that pattern of behavior. They are also learning from Bernie Sanders that big money in politics is the primary reason why we can't get anything done in Congress.

Even if Congress were to remain much the same, Sanders, with decades of experience in the legislative process, could still figure out ways to get his policy objectives passed. More than any other candidate I think, he would know how to reach across the aisle for bipartisan support. I also think he would know how to call out unreasonable behavior in Congress better than anyone since he knows the House and the Senate well. I think he would at least ask for what we want without adulteration and without compromise first. Then he'd let negotiations begin.

Perhaps the reason some people call Sanders a socialist or try to paint him as a communist sympathizer is that they would prefer that we did not notice the positive vision Sanders has for our country.
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