The Bernie Sanders candidacy and possible presidency – an analysis

By Bruce A. Smith

Bernie Sanders is clearly the Democratic Party frontrunner for their presidential nomination. He won big in Nevada, nosed ahead in New Hampshire, and captured a near-tie in Iowa, along with Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Yet, Bernie’s candidacy has many pitfalls and fearsome uncertainties, and projecting a view outward, so does his administration as President of the United States.

A few days ago, I voted for Bernie in the Washington State primary. However, I did so with great reservation. I am excited by the Sanders campaign and very impressed with how massive the groundswell of progressive support has become. But I also have strong mixed feelings. So do many others, and this essay seeks to explore our many and varied concerns.

To begin is the question of electability. Most of my friends and family like Bernie, and some even openly support him. But the doubters are concerned that others are not going to vote for Bernie. They feel he is unelectable because they think other voters – the independents and moderates – consider Bernie too radical, too controversial, and too vulnerable to Trump attacks that he is a Gawd-forsaken socialist.

However, one Mountain News reader just sent me a link to the political website, “Real Clear Politics,” (RCP) which gathers polling data from various news sources. RCP indicates that as of various dates in February 2020, Bernie beats Trump in all eight of the major polls, and by a margin of 2-9 points. In fact, most Democratic candidates beat Trump, although Bernie’s margins of victory are the greatest.

Notably, these polls include Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC, and NPR. But will this dynamic hold in November? Can Bernie face the onslaught of Trump attacks? Can Sanders weather the growing resistance within the Democratic Party and the media establishment, such as broadcasters Chris Matthews and Chuck Todd?

Celebrities, such as Michael Moore, are chipping away at that resistance. Moore has appeared on many of Matthews’s “Hard Ball” broadcasts and champions Bernie because of his transparency, consistency, and forthrightness. But most of all, Moore touts Bernie as inspirational. “Lots of people in this country are angry,” Moore says, “and they’ve been angry for a long time. Some of them voted for Trump last time around. This time, many of them are gonna vote for Bernie.”

In 2016, New York Times columnist David Brooks correctly presaged that many Americans were looking for a “transformative candidate,” and the one they chose was Donald Trump.

Currently, Brooks is apoplectic over the Sanders candidacy. His recent column, “No. Not Sanders, Not Ever,” is a scathing review of Bernie’s political past. Brooks cannot accept Bernie’s past coziness with Fidel Castro, the communists in Moscow, or support for other socialistic totalitarian regimes, such as the Sandinistas of Nicaragua. However, what disturbs Brooks most about Bernie is Sanders’ distain for compromise and his ideological rigidity. Brooks writes:

“… liberals like Hubert Humphrey, Ted Kennedy and Elizabeth Warren were and are such effective senators. They worked within the system, negotiated and practiced the art of politics.

Populists like Sanders speak as if the whole system is irredeemably corrupt. Sanders was a useless House member and has been a marginal senator because he doesn’t operate within this system or believe in this theory of change.”

Mayor Pete Buttigieg follows that theme and states that the choice of 2020 is between a president stuck in the white supremacy of the 1950s, or stuck in the radical political fervor of the 1960s.

Yet, I believe David Brooks accurately sensed the deepest desires of Americans in 2016. Further, I am convinced the hunger for transformation that Brooks saw four years ago has grown much more fervent since then. The passion of the youth was clearly evident in Tacoma two weeks ago when Bernie spoke to an SRO crowd at the T-Dome.

Global Climate Change is perhaps the tip of the spear driving that call for change. Greta Thunberg’s selection as TIME magazine’s ‘Person of the Year” for her outspoken call for climate activism is a clear reflection of how deep these concerns are in young people. I suggest that members of the establishment – whether media or political – are numb to this fervor.

Another issue is the fear in many young people that they are missing out on the American Dream – of owning a house, being able to raise a family, and having a secure and stable life. Bernie addresses these issues with his pledge to erase student loan debt, support union membership, provide affordable child care, and advocate for livable wages. These concerns have been part of our life for a very long time and are compounded by the shrinking middle class – and Bernie’s calls to correct these realities are resonating with young people. But somehow pundits and establishment figures discount this dynamic.

Another fear of the establishment, and of many Democratic voters, is that Bernie is just too radical. His policy goals – although worthy – are unattainable in the current political environment.

Yet, how radical is Bernie, really? Is he actually a socialist? To me, Bernie is not a socialist, even if he says he is. What is so socialistic about Medicare for All? We already have Medicare for All (MFA) if you live to 65 years of age. Bernie just wants to open that door fully. Will it be done incrementally? Maybe. Will it be chaotic? Probably. I know when I went on Medicare it was scary and bureaucratically complicated. It took time, and I had to read a lot of forms, and ask my fellow senior citizens how to negotiate the system.

But we’ve already had practice as a nation doing something this complicated, and that program was Obamacare. I was on O-care for a short period of time when it was first instituted, and my local Eatonville Family Series agency had “navigators” to guide me through the process. It took me one-hour to complete the journey to this wonderful health care program, and I see no reason why we can’t expand it for everyone.

Can we afford it? Probably. We’ll have to swap various funding sources around – such as employer contributions – and institute payment controls. But Medicare, and its sister program for poor folks, Medicaid, are already doing that and the American healthcare system seems to be able to handle it. Large governmental programs, such as the VA and the abovementioned Medicare and Medicaid, are already demanding reasonable pharmaceutical costs. Now, MFA will expand those efforts. Yes, the profits of the drug companies will be affected, but I doubt it will doom them to poverty.

How will people who already have good health care insurance switch to MFA? Will they get caught in some outrageous governmental kerfuffle? I don’t know, and that is a concern. Hopefully, men and women of good hearts will figure out how to do it in a timely fashion to everyone’s satisfaction.

Is all of this another Grand Scheme of the American Elite? Yes. But is that really a problem? To some it is a deal breaker.

Some folks really hate the so-called elite – those folks who went to college, have good jobs, and feel like they know everything. Often, they are condescending and arrogant. It’s a real issue and a fundamental aspect of our cultural war. I know, because on one of my jobs as a stagehand at rock shows, a fellow stagehand came up to me and snarled: “You look like a guy who went to college.” He and I never spoke again, and I avoided him fervently. But he did teach me how deeply distrustful and pained many Americans feel towards guys like me.

I think it’s important to keep in mind that 30% of all Americans do not graduate from high school. That number has been consistent since the 1980s. Worse, many youths are turned-off by the elitist attitudes of their teachers. Remember, all teachers are college graduates, and the prevailing view of American education is that going to college is the ideal – everything else is lesser. Many reject that notion and leave.

As for the cultural divide in the country and how it will play out politically, education is a big factor. Currently, about 25% of Americans have a college degree. In Seattle, about half of the work force is college educated. Yet, most regions of the country are not nearly as educated. So, these differences are nationwide and deep.

As a result, Bernie’s calls for erasing college loan debt is a dagger in the heart of many Americans. In fact, many people just distain being taxed to provide any benefit to others. I remember vividly in 2008 the thunderous applause Rick Santorum received at his presidential rally in Tacoma when he promised he would not send their hard-earned tax dollars to those “who don’t deserve them.” The cheering was earth-shaking, and for me as a newspaper reporter, memorable. Most importantly, Santorum wasn’t talking about educational relief, or health care, or even red-hot political triggers like welfare or food stamps. Rather, he was just speaking in ideological generalities.

As for the bedrock animosities of the right, and the fog of anger enveloping so many of us, a major concern of mine regarding the Sanders campaign is the action of the Bernie Bros. These self-proclaimed Bernie supporters are active on the Internet, and many of them are nasty, even violent. Some pundits have compared them to the “brown shirt” thugs of the Nazi regime in 1930s Germany. This may be a comparison embraced by many of the Bernie Bros for I saw one “sister” at the Tacoma Dome rally decked-out in a long, brown trenchcoat with a large, brown “Bernie Bro” label stitched to her back.

Reports are claiming that the Bernie Bros have been disruptive and assaultive on the Internet, such as voicing threats on social media to caucus officials in Iowa during the recent vote-counting debacle.

Bernie Bros also attack Bernie’s Democratic rivals. The Daily Beast reports:

“When Sen. Elizabeth Warren accused Sanders of telling her in a private meeting that he didn’t believe that a woman could defeat President Donald Trump in 2020, the Massachusetts senator’s Twitter feed was deluged with a plague of snake emojis even as Sanders called for a de-escalation in hostilities. After former presidential nominee Hillary Clinton doubled down on comments in an upcoming documentary that “nobody” in Congress likes Sanders, the number of tweets calling her a “bitch” skyrocketed to new highs, according to an analysis by The Daily Beast.

“That same outsize reaction to hits against Sanders has itself become a hit against Sanders.

“It’s not only him, it’s the culture around him,” Clinton told The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s his leadership team. It’s his prominent supporters. It’s his online Bernie Bros and their relentless attacks on lots of his competitors, particularly the women. And I really hope people are paying attention to that because it should be worrisome… “

The behavior of the Bernie Bros is so distasteful, some, such as singer John Legend,  say they will vote for Elizabeth Warren as a way to repudiate the Bros.

More troubling, the Bros attack voters. The New York Post recently published the following texts Democratic voters received from Bernie Bros:

“… Vote Bernie or bad things will happen..,” one Bro wrote.

“…. We know where you live. Where you work. Where you eat. We know where you kids go to school/grandkids. We have everything on you,” continued another.

“…You made a bad choice. Prepare for hell. Calls won’t stop…”

Sanders has frequently distanced himself from the Bros, and calls their behavior unacceptable. However, he has yet to corral their actions. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has chided Sanders for that failure, stating that all candidates must take responsibility of the actions of their supports and take strong measures to thwart dangerous activities.

Another concern is the response of the Bros if Bernie is not nominated by the Democratic Party. In 2016, over 100,000 disaffected Bernie supporters in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania were so angry with Hillary Clinton that they voted for Trump, thus tipping the balance in the Electoral College. In effect, angry Bernie supporters gave us Donald Trump as President.

So, what will the Bros do in 2020 if destiny does not smile favorably in their direction? In essence, the Democratic Party establishment is caught between a rock and a hard place because of this dynamic.

Also troubling are the actions of the Anti-Fa. These liberal-but-violent activists are better known by their full title of “Anti-Fascists.” They see themselves as the counter balance to the threats posed by armed white supremacists, militia and gun advocates, and MAGA crazies. The Anti-Fa attend contentious political rallies, usually decked-out in football helmets, shin guards, and shoulder pads, and often wield baseball bats or shields. They are a quasi “protective” guard for left-wing activists, such as at the notorious rally in Charlottesville, Virginia several years ago that resulted in the death of one protester by a pro-white supremacist regarding the removable of Confederate War statues. At that protest, the Anti-Fa did not engage in any violent activities, but they were present, and that is provocative at least.

Along those lines, I recall a very disturbing interview several years ago during the Occupy Movement encampment in the People Park in Tacoma. This protest was generally peaceful, but I did meet one Occupier who shocked me when I asked him what his top goal was. He replied, “I want to kill Boomers. They have all the good jobs, and the only way I am going to get a good job is when a Boomer dies.” That kind of violent attitude had permeated through the Occupy encampment from time to time, and later I was bitten by a dog of one of the Occupiers. He loudly proclaimed that his dog was a good one and not a dangerous animal. He sincerely believed that, and I shared his perspective. But it did inform me of the enduring violent energies emanating from these kinds of political movements.

Once again Bernie Sanders is treading close to these troubled waters as he calls for a reformation of the American political and economic system. Will there be an incident that flips the election, or sinks Bernie’s chances? Will the cultural divide get larger? Possibly.

Further, these tensions can be easily inflamed by the Trump supporters. Already the Mountain News has been targeted by what seem to be pro-Trump bots, possibly from Russia or elsewhere. On a more personal level, my email in-box has been deluged by Trump supporters telling me that BERNIE IS A COMMUNIST! and I should get a new brain or pull my existing one out of a very dark place. It’s not pleasant to deal with these kinds of communications, but it is the nature of our world.

Lastly, I do believe the Bernie Sanders campaign is a worthy effort. Win or lose, he is putting laudable goals on the table for our country to consider, and I believe he is advancing the possibility of a better life for all by doing so.

BAS, Cover, head shot, best, 2015

The author at work at Mountain News HQ.

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