Why Bernie won’t be — and shouldn’t be — president

AP DEM 2016 DEBATE A ELN USA NV

In any other presidential election cycle, Bernie Sanders would be the big story. He may yet be in this one.

Nobody, including Sanders I suspect, would have predicted that on Jan. 25, 2016, he would be in a position to win both Iowa and New Hampshire against the vaunted Clinton political machine. Yet according to the polls that’s exactly where we find ourselves, and it’s pretty obvious that he has Hillary Clinton worried, that the old familiar doubts have begun to creep in:

Is this really 2008 all over again? Will the nomination that once seemed Clinton’s for the asking be stripped away by another unlikely upstart, in this case a cantankerous 74-year-old upstart? I still say no.

Certainly, Sanders has succeeded in changing the terms of the debate on the Democratic side, and for the better. His relentness critique of the inequities of the economic system has struck home with a lot of people, and it has struck home because he’s right about something essential:  Things have gotten screwed up. Economic security, opportunity and equity are shrinking, not expanding, and the American people have noticed. Change is required, and that change does not come in the form of tax cuts for the rich and a weakening of Medicare, Social Security and other strands in the social safety net.

Here’s how Sanders summarizes it:

“The reality is that for the last 40 years the great middle class of this country has been in decline and faith in our political system is now extremely low. The rich get much richer. Almost everyone else gets poorer. Super PACs funded by billionaires buy elections. Ordinary people don’t vote. We have an economic and political crisis in this country and the same old, same old establishment politics and economics will not effectively address it.

“If we are serious about transforming our country, if we are serious about rebuilding the middle class, if we are serious about reinvigorating our democracy, we need to develop a political movement which, once again, is prepared to take on and defeat a ruling class whose greed is destroying our nation. The billionaire class cannot have it all. Our government belongs to all of us, and not just the one percent.”

That’s a powerful, emotionally resonant message, not so different in a way from that of Donald Trump on the right. Sanders rejects the ugly nativism practiced by Trump, but both appeal to the sense of a country under siege from within, to the notion that the American people have become victims of their own institutions and establishment. And if people on both the left and right are responding to that same basic message, there’s probably something to it.

Personally, I’ve written extensively about the changing global economy and about the need for government to adjust its policies and programs to account for those changes. However, while I sympathize with much of Sanders’ message, I do not trust it in large part because it is much too simplistic. The narratives spun by Trump and Sanders both rely on villains to drive the plot, in Sanders’ case “a ruling class whose greed is destroying our nation.” And the truth is so much more complex than that. Life can rarely be reduced to a “good guy vs. bad guy” story, and if such narratives take hold they can lead us to dangerous places.

Clinton knows that, and because she knows that, there’s no way for her to match Sanders’ rhetoric or capture that anger. That’s not who she is, as a person or as a politician. She is by instinct and background a candidate of the middle. That can lead her astray, as it did in her vote in favor of the Iraq invasion. It is why she lost the 2008 nomination. But in 2016, it is also why she would make a much better nominee and president than any of her opponents.

Yes, Sanders offers a powerful critique on what ought to be the central domestic issue of the 2016 campaign.  Yes, he has given it the prominence that it deserves.  However, he does not offer politically plausible policies to address it. He also lacks the well-rounded approach to a range of other issues, including foreign policy, that voters ought to demand of a presidential candidate.

And frankly, he is not the person who ought to lead the Democratic Party into battle this fall. To bring the argument closer to home, ask Georgia Democrats whether they want to run for office later this year with a self-described socialist as their party’s standard bearer. They do not. You can quibble all you want about what Sanders really means with that label, but in the heat of a campaign such quibbles get you nowhere.

Now, about the campaign:

Conventional wisdom argues that Clinton losses in Iowa and New Hampshire would be troubling but not crippling. The campaign trail then moves South, where Democratic voters are more moderate and where Clinton’s strong relationships with minority voters would serve as a firewall. I think that analysis is correct, but I think a second, even more formidable firewall would come into play if necessary. His name is Barack Obama.

So far, President Obama is staying studiously neutral. In an interview published in Politico today, he speaks highly of both Sanders and Clinton as contenders for the nomination and makes clear his intent to stay out of the fight.

“To me, the relevant contrast is not between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton,” he says, “but … between Bernie and Hillary and Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and the vision that they’re portraying for the country and where they want to take us and how they think about everything from tax policy to immigration to foreign policy, and that gap is as wide as I’ve ever seen.”

However, if you read that interview more closely, it becomes pretty clear that Obama’s official neutrality is official only. He gives Sanders his due, but his admiration for Clinton, both personal and professional, comes through clearly:

“…. like any candidate, her strengths can be her weaknesses. Her strengths, which are the fact that she’s extraordinarily experienced – and, you know, wicked smart and knows every policy inside and out – sometimes could make her more cautious and her campaign more prose than poetry, but those are also her strengths. It means that she can govern and she can start here, [on] day one, more experienced than any non-vice president has ever been who aspires to this office.”

He also says something else pretty telling. His No. 1 goal, he says, is to ensure that he is replaced by a Democrat who is able to protect and build upon his legacy.  The nightmare scenario is being succeeded by a Republican intent on undoing the previous eight years, from the nuclear deal with Iran to climate change, from immigration to ObamaCare.
If Sanders begins to turn potential into reality and becomes a full-blown threat to win the nomination, I have a hard time believing that Obama would be willing to sit back and bet his legacy on a Vermont socialist winning the general election.

Reader Comments 0

600 comments
JedRothwell
JedRothwell

I get what you are saying, but the fact is, Sanders polls better against the GOP candidates than Clinton does. The difference is not large for most of the GOP candidates, but it is large for Trump. Trump 41% vs. Clinton 44%. Trump 42% vs. Sanders 47%.


Here is the clincher: many right wing voters apparently support Sanders. He is attracting Trump's supporters. Here is the online Drudge Report straw poll:


http://drudgereport.com/nosp.htm


1.1 million votes. Top three:


Trump 36%

Sanders 30%

Cruz 19%


Well below that, Clinton is tied with Bush at 0.9%


This is an on-line poll so anyone can vote, but I do not think 340,000 Sanders supporters would bother to go here and stuff the ballot box.  I do not see why Sanders supporters would stuff the vote when Clinton supporters do not. This site does not attract many liberal readers so most of them would not bother.


Regarding your last point. There is more enthusiasm for Sanders. He might actually have longer coattails than Clinton. Perhaps not in Georgia, but in many other states including North Carolina, he might.


This is the strangest presidential campaign I have ever seen.

EliasDenny
EliasDenny

Not all of us are as stupid as you

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

Shorter: Democrat voters are too stupid to be allowed to pick their nominee. Obozo and local party officials may need to step in.

Robert Moore
Robert Moore

@Lil_Barry_Bailout Feel free to stick with Donald and his hair or Cruz and his maniacal fixation on Dominionism and the End Times of Revelations.

Laurie8750
Laurie8750

I'm still a Bernie fan.  Clinton is a part of the system that did NOT hold Wall Street, except one scapegoat from France, accountable for the mortgage fraud and economic melt down 8 years ago.  Most, if not all, his campaign funding comes from people that don't feel compelled to hide behind super PACS.  The only thing I don't agree with him on is illegal immigration.  But hey, I care more about women's rights, healthcare, and economic security for the middle class than anything else. 

HeyThere
HeyThere

Great points Jay. I've noticed too in watching the debates that Sanders talks like a Republican. Lots of fire and brimstone but not a lot of facts, and definitely not many solutions. He may be opening the door for the issues he talks about to play a bigger role in future elections, however. Anyway, Clinton should, and will, win this time around.

skruorangeclown
skruorangeclown

O'Malley is the one or Biden. More and more of Hillary's baggage is getting unpacked and it smells bad.Bernie is over the hill and too radical.

HeyThere
HeyThere

@lvg I think he's aiming for 2020 or 2024. Dude is impressive!

juliainatlanta
juliainatlanta

I'm pulling for the Vermont socialist, at least he isn't owned by Wall Street like the rest of them, Clinton included.  which is why i do not trust her and will not vote for her, even if it means sitting out this election and having a repeat of 2000.

Robert Moore
Robert Moore

@juliainatlanta That's smart Julia.  Let Donald win or worse Ted Cruz.  That will really work well just like it did in 2000.  Did you sit out that one, too, or vote for Ralph Nader?

Ed Sprole
Ed Sprole

Just more Clinton propaganda.

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

The problem with Bernie is he really believes in his Socialist philosophy in spite of its ultimate failure in every Country it's been tried, just look at the recent admission of the French Prime Minister that their economy is unsustainable

ccrider27
ccrider27

@Infraredguy Actually Bernie is not a Socialist. He's a democratic socialist. Big difference. It's still a democracy.


As Martin Luther King once said: "Call it what you will. Call it democracy or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all God's children."

Ed Sprole
Ed Sprole

@Infraredguy You confuse socialism and communism. Socialism works very well here in the US. (Social Security, Medicare, Public Schools, Roads, Police, Fire, Military)  More Socialist countries, like Sweden and Denmark, are ranked as the best places to do business, and to live. 

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

The bottom line is the Democrats know Clinton is not trust worthy and her and her " Husband " are self serving 1% types that cry about the wealthy while taking their money. If elected Clinton will do nothing that will harm her wealthy Wall Street friends or admit that the Clinton Foundation is nothing more than a fund raising device for her family and friends with only about 10% of funds going to charitable causes. Her scandals are legendary as are her lies, The Republicans have their share of odd ball candidates but nothing approaches the Clintons yet like sheep, the Dems will defend her while holding their nose

Robert Moore
Robert Moore

@Infraredguy The same could have been said of both presidents Roosevelt, yet, they both hold esteemed places in our history for the changes they wrought that affected their class quite strongly.

bufordpurvis
bufordpurvis

jay's post brought to you by one of Hillary's pacs

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

No surprise, Bookman would have a brown really ring around his nose if Hillary stopped fast

FreeThinker
FreeThinker

I am not afraid of the word "socialist". We have an unequal version of socialism now. I am a retired small business owner and consider myself a libertarian.


Our so-called great medical system is a joke. It involves socialism: Medicare, medicaid, VA, Cadillac plan for Congress and who knows what else. Why not have a real single payer system without insurance companies and big Pharma ripping us off? 


The chickenhawks want to fight. We should let them. Set up the draft and no deferments for the ruling class (Congressman and their boys and girls). This would straighten out our foreign policy.


Under the Constitution the President is not a dictator. We have a three part government. A drastic change is in order. Maybe some think Trump would do the job. Not me.

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

So you think that with all the waste and fraud in the VA and Medicare that the Government could run a single payer system well ? You need a therapist

MadWizard
MadWizard

@Infraredguy VA and Medicare are more efficient than our “free market” system, the most expensive and underperforming in the world.


YouLibs
YouLibs

Karma is a beotch sheets.

Philo_Farnsworth
Philo_Farnsworth

Bernie will give Hillary a scare, but she'll prevail. She's been anointed.

Repub race has boiled down to Trump, Cruz, and distant third Rubio.

I'm not a Trump guy. On policy issues he's been all over the place. No core values. But he has energized a large segment of the populace with charisma and slogan. Make America Great Again is the new Hope & Change in many ways.

Should be a fun primary season.

oakislandbeachbum
oakislandbeachbum

I agree with your thoughts, but that will not comfort me because I am worried there are too many misguided voters who will latch on to the buzz terms of the buffoons and the naive.  

St Simons he-ne-ha
St Simons he-ne-ha

they can't bamboozle all the people all the time, don't worry mon, surfs up

rimsky
rimsky

A hilarious listing for an igloo on Airbnb had the lifespan of a snowman. But the joke, much like getting a catchy Christmas carol stuck in your head, lives on.

Patrick Horton, 28, of Brooklyn, New York, and his roommates, Griff Jones and Justin Seeley, came up with the chilliest idea to build an igloo a few months ago.

“Beers were definitely involved in that idea,” Horton told The Huffington Post. “But once we had it in our heads we knew that we were going to do it.” 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/patrick-horton-igloo-airbnb-2016_us_56a649ebe4b076aadcc73a0f//////////

These are my kind of people.

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

A BIRTHER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Just effing wow.  doomy never stopped braying about alleged deficiencies in Obama's constitutional standing to be President on account of doomy's claim that Mr. Obama was born in Kenya to two Islamic parents and now doomy takes someone else to task for what is a legitimate question.  Talk about a troll who also happens to be a hypocritical POS. 


The Doom
The Doom

Gots to head out. Gotta let the progs rant about Hillary's email, let them rant about their birther movement, let them get to pondering whether China should devalue or re-evaluate its assets. LOL!

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

Hillary sure hasn't been making any smart-arse comments about her email scandal, here recently.

Why, it's as if it stopped being news awhile ago.

rimsky
rimsky

The network of Greek islanders who have rescued, sheltered and embraced refugees fleeing terror in their homelands may be up for the Nobel Peace Prize.

A group of academics from Oxford, Princeton, Harvard, Cornell and the University of Copenhagen will submit a Nobel nomination for residents of Lesbos, Kos, Chíos, Samos, Rhodes and Leros, The Guardian reported Sunday. Of the 900,000 or so Middle Eastern refugees who arrived in Europe last year, most did so by way of the various Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, where they docked and were helped ashore by local volunteers.//////


Those Greeks got my vote.  Even with all the trouble they are going through they have lend a helping hand to the really needy.

PaulinNH
PaulinNH

@rimsky "will submit a Nobel nomination for residents of Lesbos, ...."  Now, there is a hanging curveball waiting to be knocked out of the park with a joke if ever I saw one.

The Doom
The Doom

@rimsky


I would think most any decent human being would help someone who is in danger of drowning if they can. Not sure if doing the common, decent, and humane thing that most of us would do anyway constitutes a Nobel prize. 

honested
honested

@Doom Classical liberal @rimsky 

Hey, we have 'leaders' in this state who think they should get a Nobel Prize for voting against expansion of Medicaid.


The people on Lesbos have been at this 24/7 for months while the 'Masters of Austerity' in Germany have had their thumbs in the position.

The Doom
The Doom

@honested @Doom Classical liberal @rimsky


Its not their dang country, silly. Greek territorial integrity is protected by Greeks. That would be like us asking the Mexicans to come help us with any Cubans that wash up in Florida. Geez, dude. 


Germany has accepted lots of Muslim refugees, silly. Lots of em. 

honested
honested

@Doom Classical liberal @honested @rimsky 

Wow, It's their Country, I never thought of that......

So much for the European Union and NATO, never want to let the concept of unity come up when it's really necessary now do we.

As for asking Mexicans for help with the Cubans, it was enough that every Taxpayer had to (and still has to) pitch in to set them up for a new life, them escaping COOOOMMMMUUUNNNISSSM and all.

rimsky
rimsky

Volunteers for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's Republican presidential campaign will be distributing water on Wednesday to residents of Flint, Michigan -- but apparently, only to anti-abortion groups.////

He should be barred from running for the Presidency.  He can go back to be a Senator.

The Doom
The Doom

@rimsky


"He should be barred from running for the Presidency."


Upon what lawful basis do you make the statement that he should be barred from running for potus. 

KUTGF
KUTGF

@Doom Classical liberal @KUTGF @rimsky Nope.  Just asking the Constitutional question.  There is no doubt as to his place of birth.  You seem to be confused and ignorant as usual.  As well as playing intentionally stupid... 

rimsky
rimsky

@Doom Classical liberal @rimsky Only helping people who think your way is despicable especially when it comes to lead poisoning.

The president should help everybody not the people you like.  That is low down.  He calls himself a Christian.

carolelynne
carolelynne

@rimsky @Doom Classical liberal What I was going to say. This shows he wouldn't be President of all Americans, just the ones he likes and approves of. I don't know if his birthplace disqualifies him, but his morals should.