I didn’t expect much enlightenment from last night’s debate and I didn’t get any. I was a bit disturbed to see the tone become noticeably sharper than in probably all the previous debates, and I thought the weight of the responsibility for that was on Sanders, who was generally the more aggressive of the two, occasionally sarcastic. I don’t agree with Vox’s Dylan Matthews, who saw Sanders as the clear winner, or Politics USA’s Jason Esley, who called it for Hillary. I thought both candidates had their stumbles and both scored points. Bernie, for example, was caught up short when challenged to name a single case where Hillary had acted differently than she would have if she hadn’t taken Wall Street money. Hillary couldn’t explain why she refuses to release transcripts of her speeches to the financial elite. Bernie zinged Hillary on Iraq and Libya and she got him on gun control. Both of them are nimble question-dodgers, and I doubt many viewers changed their minds either way.   I gained new respect for moderator Wolf Blitzer: he and his colleagues generally asked sharp, on-target questions and persistently followed up (though with limited success) to wring real answers out of their evasive subjects.

The only really new ground, as far as I could see, was Sanders’ reiteration of the criticisms of Israel he made in his undelivered address to AIPAC. For any major party presidential candidate to challenge the dominant narrative of Israeli innocence and rectitude is unprecedented in US politics; to do so just before the New York primary is even more remarkable. Kudos to Bernie.

I am what you might call a “big picture” Sanders supporter.  I like the broad argument he makes even though I often part company with him on details   For example, Sanders pilloried Clinton for not clearly supporting a $15 minimum wage everywhere immediately, and she waffled and sort of folded. But many economists, even on the left end of the spectrum, believe that a rapid rise to $15 would be counter-productive in many areas of the country. Hillary’s position that there should be regional variations in the minimum is probably sounder than Bernie’s. I would also be more comfortable if Bernie made clear that he wouldn’t expect to introduce single payer health care, or universal free public college tuition, in his first term of office, that these are goals that he is placing on the long-term agenda of his political revolution. These aren’t practical political possibilities in the proximate future, and Bernie’s plans for paying them don’t add up. And Bernie’s tax proposals, while objectively meritorious, are almost surely toxic politically. Though weighted heavily on the wealthy, they would also put a substantial additional burden on the middle class. The Republicans would tear him apart over taxes if he actually became the Democratic nominee.

So, I find myself in the somewhat awkward position of a Sanders supporter with qualifications. I applaud his success in changing the terms of debate in the Democratic Party and thus in the country, in demonstrating a powerful constituency for significant political change that conventional politicians like Hillary Clinton can ignore only at their risk. But, as I’ve explained previously, I don’t see him making it to the White House.  I think the progressive cause in 2016 will best be served by the nomination and election of Clinton with a reinvigorated left breathing down her back. Accordingly, I will be voting for Bernie in the New York primary on Tuesday, but my ideal outcome would be for him to lose by just a little.   Paradoxical?  Ambivalent?  Maybe, but  politics is about choices that are often not obvious or easy.


PS–A Note on Comments

There have been a good number of thoughtful comments on this site in recent weeks, prompting some spirited exchanges.  It has struck me that all recent commenters have been giving their full names.  That’s fine, but I want to make sure readers know that it is not necessary.   If you have a comment but for whatever reason don’t want to put your name out on the web, please feel free, as others have in the past, to use a handle (i.e., pseudonym), or just your first name, or initials, or whatever.





  1. Jeffrey Herrmann April 16, 2016 at 7:22 am

    There is a distinction between feel-good gestures and do-good actions.  Unfortunately, the just-barely-a-Democrat Bernie Sanders has morphed into Bernie Slanders, hurling calumnies at Hillary on a daily basis. This is not do-good action by any stretch, as it only helps to put a Repugnican in the White House.
    It puts me in mind of when the sainted Ralph Nader ran for president in 2000.  What a glorious feel-good moment, a chance to stick it to the man!  As it happened, Nader got 97,000 votes in Florida, more than enough of which would have gone to Gore to overcome Bush’s alleged 537 vote margin.  Nader  gave  five Repugnican Party loyalists on the Supreme Court the opportunity to give the Presidency to George W. Bush.  But Nader stuck it to the man, and that’s what counts, doesn’t it?
    And isn’t it great to hear Bernie Slanders deliver those zingers to the unlovely Hillary.  That really put her in her place!  We can feel good all the way to November.

    • tonygreco April 16, 2016 at 10:44 am

      I think you overstate a bit, but I agree that more restraint on Bernie’s part is called for. I think he has come to actually believe that he is in this to win. At some point he needs to realize that personal attacks on Hillary help the eventual Republican nominee more than they help him.

  2. Bill Anscher April 16, 2016 at 5:42 pm

    I don’t see how you can vote for Bernie in the primary when you know at this point how critical it is that Hillary win. The bigger her margin of victory, the easier it will be to force Sanders out. At this point, there is nothing more to be gained and a lot to lose (like the Presidency going to a Republican) with Sanders going on and on. All he has left is to continually attack her. Yes, it’s heartening to see a very active left but I’ll never forget what it accomplished in 1972 and we can’t afford to have that happen again.
    Bill Anscher

    • tonygreco April 17, 2016 at 12:34 am

      I see it as a weighing of costs and benefits. I’ve talked a lot about the benefits of the Sanders candidacy. The costs are in the risk that continued acrimony between the Dem candidates will help the GOP in the fall. I understand your point, but as I see it, the costs are not yet exceeding the benefits. It may be hard to remember, but the 2008 Obama-Clinton contest was actually nastier than the Sanders-Clinton has been up to this point. Still, the party had little trouble coming together for November 2008, and I am not yet seriously worried that that won’t happen again. (Whatever they say, I don’t think there are many Bernie supporters who really can’t see the huge difference between Hillary and Trump[/Cruz.) A Clinton win in New York, even a narrow one, will clinch the nomination for her, and I would expect the mutual attacks to start de-escalating.

      • Bill Anscher April 17, 2016 at 5:04 am

        I hope you are right that she wins NY and that ends it. I’m not so sure.

      • Nick Adamo April 20, 2016 at 9:35 am

        The problem is that in 2008 the Young/emotional people won. It was the older more rational voters that lost and had to warm up to the other guy. I am very concerned about the rationality of the youth vote in this regard, they are far too passionate in their rhetoric.

        I don’t have anything against young people either (i’m 23 and I worked as a youth vote organizer for President Obama in Ohio last election) I just know a lot of them who are saying #neverhillary.

        I think the secret weapon for Hillary will be Potus. She is going to need Obama to energize the youth vote for her. I would be very surprised if he doesnt play a major role in campaigning at colleges across the country once the real fight starts.

  3. Nick Adamo April 20, 2016 at 9:18 am

    Now that the NY Primary is over the math is undeniable. The tone needs to be tamped down and as democrats we need to shift our focus towards unification. This means both campaigns need to be more cautious in what rhetoric they use.

    I’m particularly worried that Bernie is going to keep up the sharp attacks, especially the ones related to honesty and wall street. These could wind up being great ammunition for Republicans in the fall. Bernie needs to start thinking about the big picture because he is starting to seem like a typical selfish politician.

    Hillary needs to walk a fine line in pushing Sanders out of the race because his young supporters might prove hard to shift, and I doubt a Sanders endorsement will sway them all that much.

    • tonygreco April 20, 2016 at 7:02 pm


      Somehow, your comments got printed out of order on the website and I don’t know how to fix that. Sorry

      Anyway, I agree completely with your first comment (which appears immediately above this reply) and mostly with the comment that appears above that one. I would question your suggestion that the Obama votes in 2008 were less rational than the Clinton voters; otherwise, I fully agree.

      • Nick Adamo April 20, 2016 at 9:23 pm

        That’s fair, and to clarify I’m really talking about a minority of Obama supporters who probably would have shunned Hillary (I was actually an Obama supporter during the 08 primary myself). I think if Hillary would have won in 08 more pro Obama Democrats would have stayed home than vice versa. I cant quantify a specific number but I think you see a lot more young voters who are only loyal to a specific candidate and not necessarily committed to a Party.

        I think that most Sanders supporters will come around to Hillary in the end, especially when facing the alternative of a Trump or Cruz Presidency and the supreme court implications. But at what percentage do Bernie holdouts start to become a serious issue? 10 % ? 20% ? That could be all the difference in a state like Ohio or Florida, which could change the entire outcome of the election.

        I seriously hope that a strong showing for Hillary next Tuesday further cements the reality for Sanders and we get the change of tone that we need.

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