Not necessarily, and I sure hope not. But …
“I’m sure he’s very angry. … He’s even more competitive than I am. He couldn’t stand to lose a pickup basketball game in Burlington. He doesn’t apologize. He doesn’t back down. It’s not in his nature. This is going to be a hard transition for him.” — Howard Dean (almost Bernie’s twin*)
Robert Reich is telling Bernie’s army of trolls to “Get a grip,” and “tone down negative characterizations of Hillary.”
Reich is Bernie’s most influential backer. He’s MoveOn’s big-name spokesperson (was Sec. of Labor under Clinton), and MoveOn is Bernie’s main base of support. Even Reich sees the danger.
Bernie and his followers all claim they are more “left” and by implication more righteous than the rest of us, but that’s just holier-than-thou hogwash. In fact Bernie’s independents are more conservative than Hillary’s Democrats! (See Nate Silver).
- Bernie says: $15 not a $12 minimum wage. So he’s more left.
- Bernie says: 4 years of free college, not 2 years like Obama. So he’s more left.
- Bernie says: Tax the rich lots and lots, not just lots. So he’s more left.
Well I say set a $20 minimum wage, 6 years of free college, and tax the rich lots and lots and lots, so Bernie’s just a right-wing establishment sellout! Can we get any more childish?! Any more divisive?
What matters to a serious progressive is what you can get done, and Bernie’s only plan for getting anything done is “to have millions rise up” and have a “political revolution.” Brilliant! He never says how to do this so Reich had to explain it for him. Here’s the secret revolutionary plan:
“Millions who call themselves conservatives and Tea Partiers will join with millions who call themselves liberals and progressives.” — Robert Reich, March 25, 2016.
That’s it. That’s the whole Sanders-Reich plan for doing everything Bernie wags his finger about. So Bernie can’t win over most Democrats, but the conservatives and Tea Partiers just love him! This is pure insanity.
All he’s ever done is a few moderate (but good) reforms in Burlington and some very bi-partisan ammendments to other people’s bills in Congress. And, oh yes, he started the Vermont Progressive Party which, 30 years laters, now gets 3.5% of the vote — about 1/7 of what Republicans get. Some revolution!
OK, end of rant. We have a very serious situation in the Democratic Party and we are not dealing with it. So let’s think this through carefully.
“In 2008 after Hillary lost North Carolina, she made it clear that our days of attacking Obama were behind us and that we were not to do anything that would make it more difficult for Obama to win a general election.” — Geoff Garin of Clinton’s 2008 campaign team.
Will Sanders now do the same? Let’s hope so.
But unlike Clinton, Sanders is no Democrat. Bernie is consistent on his fundamentals. He has always despised the Democratic party, and reversing that would be deeply inconsistent. On the last possible day to register for the New Hampshire primary he said he was a Democrat, but he has never said he’s no longer an independent. So what is he? We’ll get to that shortly.
Robert Reich Tackles Bernie’s Trolls
Bernie’s attacks on Clinton and the party are becoming such a problem that even some of his closest supporters are getting worried. MoveOn, with its seven million members, is probably Bernie’s main base of support, and Robert Reich is its best-known spokesperson and an ardent supporter of Sanders.
On April 19 he wrote, “I want to urge that Bernie supporters tone down negative characterizations of Hillary, and Hillary supporters do the same with regard to Bernie.” That sounds like he’s seeing the same problems on both sides. But on April 12 he reported two of the “characterizations” he was referring to. Being a Bernie supporter himself, he would certainly not want to make Bernie’s supporters look like unhinged trolls and Hillary’s supporters look moderate. Yet this is what he came up with from his overflowing mail bag:
Hillary supporter: “I’m so disappointed in you for supporting Bernie Sanders.”
Bernie supporter: “Glad you feel the bern. Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt politician in recent American history.”
The Hillary supporter made absolutely no characterization of Bernie, while the Bernie supporter called Hillary “the most corrupt politician in recent American history.” I admire Reich for tackling this problem, but treating a non-characterization as equivalent to a Trump-style smear is disingenuous at best. I can only assume he felt he had to chastise the Hillary supporter in order to be taken seriously by out-of-control Bernie supporters.
Bravely he goes on to say, “Can we all please get a grip? Hillary is the most qualified to the lead the political system we have today, and Bernie is the most qualified to transform it into the system we need. Both are a thousand times better than either of the leading Republican candidates.”
The first comment on his post says “I will not vote for Hillary if she is the nominee.” It quickly gained over 7,000 likes. Fortunately, perhaps a couple thousand replies to this comment sided with Reich. But Reich will have his hands full trying to undo the vitriolic mess Bernie has created.
Sanders’ Hostile Takeover Bid — Four Decades in the Making
To have a shot at winning the nomination, Bernie knew he had to convince the party that he was more electable than Clinton. Given that he loves taking unpopular positions, that was never going to be easy. So his only hope was to damage Clinton beyond repair. The result is a small army of what NPR’s Michael Krasny (a Bernie supporter) has called “Hillary haters.”
For Bernie, spawning Hillary haters makes perfect sense. And for Democrats, it makes perfect sense to tell him to stop attacking the party and its likely presidential nominee. It’s crazy for Democrats to let a non-Democrat come in and attempt a hostile takeover.
In 1986 Sanders said he had long considered the temptation to “walk into a party [the Democrats] that presumably has a lot of people, who contribute [and] will continue to contribute [a lot of money].” Back then he concluded, “It doesn’t work that way. That’s the temptation, but it’s a fool’s temptation. The goal there is to outsmart them.” Later he concluded it would “hypocritical of me to run as a Democrat because of the things I have said about the Party.”
He has now outsmarted many Democrats. And with help from a host of non-Democrats he has come close to taking over the party (in Ohio he won 66% of independents but only 35% of Democrats). And by the way, his non-Democrats are more conservative than Hillary’s Democrats. (See here and here.)
So Why Is Bernie Running as a Democrat if He’s Not a Democrat?
Recently, Bernie explained, “I’m not a billionaire. So the structure of American politics today is such that I thought the right ethic was to run within the Democratic Party.” He seems to think it’s “ethical,” because, if your motives are good, it doesn’t matter how you get your money. But doesn’t that sound just a bit hypocritical coming from Bernie? And isn’t this about as opportunistic as you can get?
So Bernie called himself a Democrat to get the Democrats money and media, not because he’s a Democrat. He’s not, or he would just have said, I’m running as a Democrat because I’m a Democrat. (A detailed discussion of his decision can be found here.)
As Sanders once said, “We have to ask ourselves, ‘Why should we work within the Democratic Party if we don’t agree with anything the Democratic Party says?’” He’s finally found the answer — to outsmart the Democrats and get their money.
Where Do We Go from Here?
Where we go now depends on Sanders. If he continues attacking Clinton’s character as if he was part of the Tea Party, he’s no progressive revolutionary and has become an accidental reactionary like Ralph Nader. Nader handed the presidency over to George W. Bush by taking 100,000 votes in Florida when Al Gore needed only 500 more to win the presidency.
In this case, real Democrats should do all they can to squeeze Bernie back out of the party that he despises anyway. Remember, for over 40 years, until he got his arm twisted by his staff, Bernie thought that was the ethical position to take.
But if Bernie is a true progressive, he will stop building his personality cult, join the Democratic Party, and announce he is no longer an independent.
He knows the history. When the Democratic Party was strong, as it was under Roosevelt and LBJ (both establishment Democrats), we made huge progress — Social Security, the Civil Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, the Voting Rights Bill, and LBJ’s war-on-poverty legislation. Even with a moderately strong Democratic Party, as Obama had in his first two years, we got an $800 billion jobs stimulus package (more than Bush spent on the Iraq war in six years) and we got another 20 million people (mostly young and poor) covered by medical insurance.
With the Republicans in disarray, we have a slim chance at gaining a strong Democratic Congress, but only if we all pull together as Democrats. It’s a big tent and there’s room for everyone — except backstabbers.
Sanders has the potential to do tremendous good. Let’s hope he makes that choice.
*Howard Dean Dean was the top fundraiser and front runner prior to the Iowa caucus in 2004, although he was labeled “extremely liberal” and his support was mainly from young activists. He pioneered grass-roots organizing and implemented the 50-state strategy (now advocated by Bernie) while he was Party President. He was Governor of Vermont. See him here.