From The West Wing: In The Shadow of Two Gunman
“Josh: We’re not going to nominate another liberal, academic, former governor from New England. We’re dumb, but we’re not that dumb.
Leo: Nah, I think we’re exactly that dumb.”
Since this blog post is basically liberal porn, I thought that I’d start with one of the classics from Aaron Sorkin. What follows is simply a list of reasons that you can be optimistic about the Bernie Sanders campaign. I am, for the moment, ignoring the reasons to be pessimistic, and make no mistake, they are not trivial. However, the suggestion that Bernie has no chance or is an “issue” candidate is bullshit, and I’m all about dispelling bullshit.
1. Virtually any Democrat can defeat virtually any Republican in the Electoral College (The Blue Wall)
Take it away LOD:
Simply put, This isn’t the 1980’s, and I’ll be coming back to that a lot. Virtually any legitimate Democrat can defeat virtually any Republican in a general election for president with little effort, so if there was ever an opportunity for a true liberal reformer to win, this would be it. Don’t be scared Democrats. You don’t have to nominate a cynical, bible-thumping southern democrat to prove to the country that you’re not communists. Today’s United States is a country where conservatives have to prove that they’re not bigots, and so far, they are failing miserably.
2. Americans like change, and Bernie Sanders is not Barrack Obama
In the modern history of US presidential elections, Americans have had a tendency to vote for change. Presidents tend to see big losses for their party in midterm elections. More precisely, if we look at presidential elections following the retirement of a multi-term incumbent president, as we are now, we see a strong trend toward a change in party. The only exception was George HW Bush’s election following Reagan:
I find a similar quest for change when I look at nominees of the Democratic Party since FDR. I see an oscillation between southern and northern democrats when I account for the influence of incumbency. This bodes well for Bernie, because he embodies the successful narrative of a liberal challenge to Hillary Clinton, while having little in common with Obama personally.
The frustrations that democrats have had with the president are Bernie’s strengths: Steadfast, liberal principles, experience, and a belief in legislative leadership from the White House. Barack Obama is a young transformational figure who gives soaring speeches. His interviews are full of folksy but poetic rhetoric. His legislative agenda consists of good-faith, consensus building while leading from behind. In contrast, Bernie Sanders is an old white guy, terse and direct with a concrete legislative history and agenda. He doesn’t need to “evolve” in his beliefs to catch up with liberal Americans. For liberal democrats, even staunch Obama supporters, he can be seen as a breath of fresh air.
Bernie was not a member of the Obama administration, nor has he even been an official member of the Democratic party! He can distance himself from the president without difficulty, but in ways that don’t offend President Obama’s supporters. That is a significant superpower for a candidate.
3. Bernie will likely be the only legitimate Clinton alternative
Hillary Clinton has long been a divisive figure with high unfavorable ratings. At this time in 2007, she was seen as the clear front-runner for the nomination with a collection of “also ran’s” clipping at her heels. The fact that she lost in such a similar scenario simply shows that there is a significant part of the Democratic party that is interested in an alternative to her. During that campaign, it was young voters that turned out for Obama, and it’s eight years later. The young Obama supporters are 8 year older, with 8 years of voters that are younger still. The elderly Hillary supporters are older too. It’s difficult for me to imagine that the 2015 democratic landscape is any easier for her than in 2007. It also doesn’t seem plausible to me that her experience as Secretary of State does much to change that calculus. It wasn’t like she lost the nomination to Barack Obama because she wasn’t experienced enough.
One of the reasons that Romney won the last GOP primary is because there were so many non-Romney candidates that split the vote. Romney only won a majority of primary voters in 3 of the first 31 states. Speaking of splitting the vote, we often forget how many voters populist John Edwards took in the early 2008 primaries, averaging 17% before he withdrew, and yet the inevitable Hillary was still defeated by a divided left.
The way Bernie Sanders threads this needle is by being the only viable alternative to Hillary Clinton. Once the Elizabeth Warren people, favoring Warren’s honesty and reliability, believe her when she says that she is absolutely not running, Bernie is the obvious fall back. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren line up perfectly. If Bernie maintains viability, an endorsement from Elizabeth Warren could be all it takes to make this a close race.
Simply staying this course into the fall will improve Bernie Sanders’ favorables and name recognition. History shows us that campaign exposure only hurts Hillary Clinton. On the other hand, time will legitimize Sanders, the most important quality he needs to win the nomination, and we have a whole lot of time.
4. The thrilling GOP primary will motivate liberals and draw moderates away from Clinton
Holy shit the GOP nomination is going to be fun. Before this year, I couldn’t have imagined a campaign with all the entertainment of Republicans smacking each other around coupled with so much legitimate debate from serious candidates.
The GOP may have an incredibly difficult road in the general election, but their primary is riveting. Cable news might not have enough time in the day to cover it. The wall-to-wall coverage of these reactionary dipshits will motivate true liberals, which can only help Sanders. Conservative and moderate democrats will prefer to vote in the Republican primary, which will only hurt Clinton. To the extent that Sanders fails to prove a threat to Clinton in the polls, moderate democrats will be more and more interested in voting in the Republican primary so that their vote isn’t wasted on a Clinton coronation. On the other hand, Bernie’s voters won’t be going anywhere.
5. Americans don’t like dynasties, and Jeb Bush makes Clinton supporters even more uncomfortable
The better Jeb Bush does, the better Bernie Sanders will do. I think that the idea of a Hillary Clinton v. Jeb Bush election makes most Americans nauseated, even their respective supporters. I wouldn’t call Jeb Bush a front-runner, but he is a serious candidate with lots of money, so he won’t go away. A majority of Democrats may be willing to fall in line with Clinton if they have to, but the more they hear from Jeb Bush, the more they will be looking for a Clinton alternative to settle their stomach. Americans aren’t supposed to like royalty. I love it when Bernie says that Americans are tired of mainstream politics. It’s a great way to attack Clinton and emphasize the Clinton v. Bush dynasty without running a negative campaign.
6. Are Democrats really swayed by TV ads the way they used to?
The electorate, especially liberal democrats, is watching TV less and less. The internet is virtually free, and it’s ruled by secular liberals, Bernie’s people. Hillary Clinton wants to raise 2 Billion dollars… for what? The vast majority is spent on media, which young liberal democrats barely see. The rest is administrative costs and research. Sanders can get plenty of mileage out of free media until legitimacy and a good showing in Iowa and New Hampshire can catch him up.
7. Unions: The classic sugar daddy for Democrats is bound to love Bernie Sanders
Hillary is far and away the big money democrat in the race, but this, her greatest strength, is also her biggest weakness in my opinion. She literally embodies the wealth inequality that will be central to this election. However, I don’t think Bernie will be as poor as first thought.
The democratic “equivalent” of the corporate bankroll of republicans is labor unions, which have heavily funded Hillary Clinton and other democrats in the past. They don’t need more of a reason to do so than she is a democrat who can win. However, Bernie Sanders is an extreme union supporter, and the more he is considered a serious candidate, (he already is) the more he will draw money from union members. It’s in the best interests of union members to have his message be heard.
As debates about the TPP and TPA have raged, party lines have gotten awful confusing. However, there is one category of support that is anti-TPP across the board: unions. There is only one candidate who is passionately anti-TPP: Bernie Sanders. Sanders is going to get more money from labor than a lot of people think. The New England socialist bureaucrat can legitimately be the candidate of the working man.
8. Real data: Polls and campaign energy
Ignore all the national polls. We know that voters in Iowa and New Hampshire give zero fucks about them. Hillary Clinton has all the name recognition, and Bernie Sanders is the new kid on the block, so most of the polling rests on this difference. All an underdog candidate needs to establish legitimacy is a strong showing in Iowa and/or New Hampshire. (See Bill Clinton, John Kerry, and John McCain)
Despite the gulf in recognition, in only a few weeks of the young campaign, Bernie is pulling neck and neck with Hillary in New Hampshire. This is the New Hampshire where Clinton won in 2008. This isn’t merely due to Bernie’s increased name recognition in the northeast because his rise is very recent. Even if it was, is it so bad that the people who know him, like him? New Hampshire is hardly a liberal state.
Though lower than in NH, Bernie’s numbers are climbing steadily in Iowa and South Carolina as well, though polling is pretty old, and we’re just getting started. I predict that Sanders will lead Clinton in New Hampshire polls before the first debate. That’s when shit will get real. He has a good chance to win New Hampshire outright.
No one is even touching Sanders in the turnout and energy department. He drew over 5,000 people in Denver with only last-minute notice on social media. He’s pulling these sorts of insane crowds with routine, while every other candidate’s crowds look pathetic. Meanwhile, Rick Santorum is having lunch by himself.
9. Throw away the 1980’s and 1990’s playbook. It’s not your mom’s Democratic party.
During the heart of the cold war, tumultuous domestic politics, and cultural revolution, conservatives have enjoyed great success since the mid 20th century. Nixon, Reagan, and the Bush’s creamed democrats in national politics. The democrats responded by shelving their northern liberalism for southern moderation. The strategy proved to be a good one for the time as Carter and Bill Clinton won close elections while Mondale, McGovern, Dukakis, and Kerry were thoroughly beat, hence the West Wing quote I started with.
Guess what? No one is afraid of communism anymore. Reagan Democrats are now enjoying the Social Security and Medicare they once tried to destroy. The religious right is waning and secular liberalism is growing fast. Marriage equality and Obamacare are now the law of the land and aren’t going anywhere. The Democratic Party and the country as a whole is significantly more liberal than even in 2008. You’ve heard it before, but it’s worth repeating: C’mon Democrats, grow a pair. It’s ok to be liberal. We are the liberal party, not the moderate Republican Party.
10. Bernie was Bernie before it was cool to be Bernie
Clinton can “evolve” toward the liberalism that today’s Democrats embrace, but she can’t erase history. She voted for the Iraq war and the Patriot act. She used to oppose marriage equality. She fought hard for NAFTA. She opposes single-payer health care. She’s taking huge, corporate, dirty money and playing the super PAC game.
The Clinton war room of the 90’s may have been able to spin their way out of a pickle jar, but Millennials aren’t that gullible. When she took those conservative positions, she didn’t do it in private. She’s on video. On the other hand, a younger Bernie Sanders can be seen furiously fighting a lost cause for what is now mainstream public opinion. Barack Obama probably won his primary almost entirely on his early opposition to the Iraq War, based on a speech he gave as a state senator. There wasn’t even video of that speech! Next to the shady, flip-flopping, conservative, cynical Clinton, we know who Bernie is because he did what was right before it was remotely popular. He is as forthright today as he ever was.
To quote more West Wing…
“I’m tired of it: year after year after year having to choose between the lesser of Who cares. Of trying to get myself excited about a candidate who can speak in complete sentences. Of setting the bar so low, I can hardly bear to look at it. They say a good man can’t get elected President. I don’t believe that. Do you?”
I have no idea how this shakes out. Is Bernie Sanders simply Howard Dean 2.0, bound for demise? I don’t know, but I think he’s smarter and more capable than Howard Dean. I think that the country is ready for a true liberal now more than anytime since FDR. I wish there were more true liberals running in the democratic primary rather than putting all our eggs into one basket, but then again, how appropriate for a democratic socialist?