Does Bernie Sanders stand any chance of being elected president?
When I wrote here a couple weeks ago that he does not – and that Hillary Clinton will be the next president – I heard from many of my liberal friends who were dismayed by that prediction.
Didn’t I know that Sanders is leading some polls in New Hampshire and Iowa? Hadn’t I heard that even a lot of liberals don’t like or trust Clinton? And whose side was I on, anyway?
I’ve been reminding my compadres how seldom it is that the candidate who is the Flavor of the Month, 15 months before the election, ever becomes president. How much of an outlier Sanders is for most Americans – an old white-haired guy with a New York accent who is culturally Jewish, an avowed democratic socialist who’s never identified as a Democrat, and (perhaps even more exotically?) a Vermonter.
Beyond his sheer unelectability, I’ve hastened to add, Sanders has many admirable qualities.
I wish he could become president. For starters, he’d be a lot more open about his thinking than are most presidents. It’s been refreshing for him to be candid with the press, for example, when he confesses that he doesn’t know how it would change the race if Joe Biden gets in. Or when he acknowledges that he’s been shocked by the huge outpouring of interest in his campaign.
We could also expect a lot more consistency between his campaign rhetoric and how he would govern if ever elected. We know that from his tenure as Burlington mayor, where he went after entrenched interests with the same words and passion that are driving his presidential bid.
It was so gratifying this week to watch Sanders step into the lion’s den of the opposition, when he spoke at Liberty University, in the heart of Jerry Falwell Christian country.
“I believe in women’s rights and the right of a woman to control her own body,” he immediately told the conservative crowd. “I believe in gay rights. But I came here today because I believe from the bottom of my heart that it is vitally important for those of us hold different views to be able to engage in a civil discourse.”
As New York Times columnist Charles Blow wrote of Sanders, “One doesn’t sense the stench of ambitiousness or the revolting unctuousness of incessant calculation.”
True to that portrayal, Sanders told Blow that any discussion of morality in America needs to look beyond just the divisive social issues.
“Morality is more than just your view on abortion or gay rights,” Sanders said. “Moral issues are also hungry children. Moral issues is also the state of our planet and climate change.”
What a breath of fresh air — to hear a presidential candidate limn the moral dimensions of climate change.
Nonetheless, that doesn’t make him electable.
Imagine the forces that will line up against Sanders in the unlikely event that, after Iowa and New Hampshire, he emerges as the front runner.
I suspect the negative stories are already being planted. There was a press report this week, for example, asking whether when Bernie’s wife, Jane Sanders, was president of Burlington College, she may have fraudulently misstated the college’s financial prospects in applying for bank loans to the college.
I’m not saying she did that. But this is how the game works: Opposition research teams hand a plausible “scoop” to the press, which gets reported and repeated. Then, voila – Jane Sanders is Hilary Clinton during the Whitewater “scandal” of the 1990s.
And that’s just for starters. If Sanders bests Clinton in the early primaries, we’ll hear about his application to be a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. “Do you really want a pacifist to lead the military?” we’ll be asked. “Who’s going to stand up and protect America?”
We’ll be reminded that Sanders didn’t hold much of a steady job until he became Burlington mayor – a “career politician.”
The Republicans have done a pretty amazing job of smearing Hillary Clinton with a phony email investigation (which, let’s not forget, came out of their bogus heafings about Benghazi).
The email imbroglio has taken a toll on Clinton. Imagine what the other side would do with Sanders’s past.
Let me be clear: I don’t think he has anything to be ashamed of. But in the deadly shooting gallery of presidential politics, there’s plenty for his opponents to fire at.
Perhaps the biggest canard promoted by Bernie’s most partisan supporters is that if everybody who supports him would vote for him, he would win.
Too bad there’s no evidence for that.
Hillary Clinton continues to hold not just the broad support of party elites and the money people. She’s also got far more support among Democratic voters nationwide. And when it comes to the ground game beyond New Hampshire – where the money to buy media is crucial – Clinton’s lead is enormous.
It’s hard to see where Sanders could come up with the money to buy media in all the states that play such an important role in the March primaries.
And as for the support of the grassroots beyond San Francisco and Vermont, Sanders barely registers with the Latino and black voters who are so important in primaries beyond New Hampshire.
I wish all that weren’t true. I wish that Bernie Sanders was on an equal footing with Hillary Clinton in the money game. That more voters could see his “socialist” positions are what used to the mainstream in American politics.
But the county has moved well to the right. The majority doesn’t care that much anymore about labor unions or a living wage for workers or using government to level the playing field. We’re used to putting our own economic well-being ahead of the environment and the neverending plight of the poor.
But one thing’s for certain: Bernie Sanders is giving the rest of the country a lot to think about.
And for that, many of us are grateful.