Some thoughts on the state of the Democratic campaigns.
Fair piece on a fundamental truth of this election: if Dems don’t win back the Senate *and* the House of Representatives, none of the lofty — in my eyes a more accurate word than admirable — goals Senator Sanders has set can be achieved.
But, as Ezra half-heartedly acknowledges towards the end of this lesson on governance, Bernie Sanders knows this too — the quoted passage is preceded by “Maybe,” and of course the suggestion that the Senator doesn’t understand this predicament is ludicrous . He’s an experienced politician who actually has compromised and successfully impacted the laws of the land.
So where are his nuanced plans and statements about compromise and how public work actually gets done? That’s the question to focus on. I’ve never heard the Senator actually answer the question, “If you were to win the Presidency, but fail to win majorities in Congress, what does the work of a Sanders administration look like?” He only ever answers as a traditional candidate — not exactly answering the question — implying that, if he were the Democratic nominee, surely a revolution was occuring and he’d win large majorities and take back Congress. He denies the premise of the question, as a skilled politician does, and moves on. This, for a voter who appreciates nuance and pragmatism, is frustrating.
In fact, it goes along with my general frustration with Senator Sanders: that he never strays from his message and practically never dives deeper into his attacks on banks, greed, corruption, and whatever else it may be he is railing against. This is on brand campaigning and not a new political strategy, but it’s not one that I appreciate.
I equally dislike the Senator’s attacks on the Secretary’s Wall Street donors, super PACs, and speaking fees. Let’s get the speaking fees out of the way first: political leaders sometimes are paid to make speeches — this happens, quite often at a corporate level, and does not mean those speakers are corrupted. Similar logic can apply to campaign donations, because, unfortunately, the corrupt political system we live with is the status quo. As Secretary Clinton smartly brings up at each of these debates, President Obama had wall street donors and super PACs supporting him. He hosted mega-fundraisers with millionaires, billionaires, and celebrities, alike. No one credible is suggesting President Obama was corrupted by those donations, and the implication that Secretary Clinton would be is damaging if she were to win the Democratic nomination.
I understand the political decision to stay broad and lofty, attack the Secretary and imply corruption, and rail against the money in politics — millions of Americans are frustrated with the status quo and traditional politics (that the Secretary represents to many of them), so Senator Sanders is playing to them. But, in doing so, he’s simultaneously turning off large swaths of Obama voters who 1) understand that George Clooney fundraising for you is a good thing; 2) respect Secretary Clinton; and 3) as mentioned above, value nuance and, to an extent, professorial, “I did my homework,” answers.
(While discussing President Obama and Secretary Clinton, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my frustration with the grip she holds on the President’s coattails. She clings onto him for dear life, smartly. More Americans now approve of the President than don’t. A large number of those who do approve of him do so vehemently — I know I do. But Secretary Clinton was not deemed by some higher power the heir apparent to President Obama’s legacy, and declaring herself as such, while politically smart, is a bit overreaching for my taste.)
Because of all this, and because the temperment of many Bernie supporters of late has been so antagonistic towards Secretary Clinton, I’ve grown annoyed with the campaign. I don’t like the tone of anger and condescension the Senator is exuding and particularly don’t like when some of his supporters act as if they own the moral high ground.
I still value Senator Sanders’ morals, history, and desire for radical change. It’s those qualities that still lead me to support him. But, whether or not he wins the nomination, he has made his mark on this campaign in lasting ways. He has helped usher into the mainstream support for free public college and a single-payer health care system, admonishment of our corrupt democracy and corporate greed and tax evasion, disgust about our criminal justice system and mass incarceration. He’s brought Secretary Clinton, and many Americans, farther to the left by talking about these issues with refreshing honesty uncharacteristic of typical politicians — in doing so he’s shaped political conversations around the country and brought important issues to the forefront of the campaign.
Ultimately, I miss the campaigns of Barack Obama. I miss the idealism, the positivity, the feeling of community, the sense of hope, and the desire for change (and, in 2012, progress). And, come January 2017, I will miss this President and the model of leadership he has demonstrated. I can only hope our next President and his or her administration can come close to reaching the high bar set by this President and his.