Bernie Sanders’ win in Wisconsin shows that his candidacy is very much alive and kicking. That, in my opinion, is a good thing, because Sanders’ success demonstrates that large numbers of Americans want to stop this country’s drift toward plutocracy. It sends a message to conventional politicians, starting with Hillary Clinton, that our politics and policy need more than tweaking, that really significant change needs to be on the agenda. Sanders’ call for a “political revolution” might strike some as naïve, but it’s been an effective campaign slogan, and that says a lot.
But even revolutionaries need to be realistic, and I think it’s important that Sanders fans, and Sanders himself, temper their enthusiasm with a sober appreciation of the political realities of 2016. Bernie Sanders will almost surely not be the Democratic presidential nominee this year. To believe that he will requires you to believe that he will win around 58% of the vote in the remaining delegate contests; not impossible, but wildly improbable. It’s important for Sanders supporters to face that reality sooner rather than later because the inevitable heat of the nominating campaign, and disappointment at its outcome, mustn’t be allowed to displace what has to be the foremost objective for progressives this year: to keep a Republican—any Republican—out of the White House. Just yesterday Sanders himself observed that both he and Hillary agree on that objective. Which means that, like it or not, we have to accept the likely necessity of voting for Hillary Clinton for president.
That in no way devalues Sanders’ candidacy. As I have explained in earlier posts, I have supported Sanders because I view his candidacy as a vehicle for moving the Democratic Party and the nation to the left. I have never seen it as a realistic shot at putting a democratic socialist in the White House. Initially, I assumed that that was Sanders view as well, an assumption that has been validated by a recent NY Times report. According to the Times, Sanders “…was originally skeptical that he could beat Mrs. Clinton, and his mission in 2015 was to spread his political message about a rigged America rather than do whatever it took to win the nomination.” The mission changed as Sanders found his campaign outperforming his own expectations.
Even if he were to win the presidential nomination, Sanders would be a high-risk candidate, fodder for the right-wing smear machine that hasn’t touched him up till now. Recall what the Republican propagandists did to a genuine war hero, John Kerry, in 2004 if you need help imagining what they could do with an avowed socialist and agnostic who went to the Soviet Union on his honeymoon. He’ll tax us all to death to pay for his crazily impractical schemes! (Even my barber, who likes Hillary, thinks Sanders is promising the moon in advocating for free college tuition, among other things.) He’ll turn our beloved America into a godless communist hellhole! Sanders supporters like to point to the polls that have pretty uniformly showed Bernie doing better than Hillary against all potential Republican opponents. But the smear machine has been working on Hillary for much of the past quarter century, with considerable success. Her real and imagined vulnerabilities have already been played for all they are worth. Wait till the smear machine gets started on Bernie.
MSNBC’s Chris Hayes provided us with an extreme example of revolutionary unreality in his interview last week with the actress Susan Sarandon, an ardent Sanders supporter. Sarandon observed that many Sanders followers would find it hard to vote for Clinton in the general election. When she admitted to a surprised Chris Hayes that she, too, would have a tough time deciding on that choice, she speculated that Trump in the White House might not be an altogether bad thing, because “Some people feel Donald Trump will bring the revolution immediately if he gets in, then things will really, you know explode.” Now, I give great credit to a wealthy Hollywood star who devotes herself passionately to improving the lives of the less fortunate, but dangerous fantasies need to be called out. Sarandon presumably doesn’t know that “the worse the better” is a recurrent theme on the radical left with origins reaching back into the 19th century. I can’t think of any instance where it has worked out.
The New York presidential primary is coming in a couple of weeks and I will be voting for Bernie without illusions. I hope most Sanders supporters will be able to put aside whatever illusions they may have when they decide whom to support in the final stretch to November.