I really wanted to write one of the background type articles I mentioned last time, but every time I tried, I’d hear this loud ‘thunk’ as another piece of gold-plated tin fell off the statue of Bernie that I used to keep in the back garden of my mind. I knew I had to write my own, detailed ‘case against Bernie’ and could only hope to bring a few different perspectives as I got it out of my system.
(I really did admire the man, even when I didn’t agree with his positions, and as late as early February it seemed like the problems I was seeing were coming from his supporters, and, if I had a problem with him, it was more a matter of his apparently not having thought things through. And it probably wouldn’t matter that much, that weakness on details. His campaign seemed mostly symbolic, a way of keeping Hillary pointed left. I didn’t like the gutter language and pure viciousness that some of his supporters were aiming at Hillary, but they were a small fraction of his supporters, and so many of them seemed so young, too young to have even learned to read when Bill Clinton left the White House. – It is both scary and helpful to remember that a new, 18 year old voter was only 3 years old when the World Trade Center fell. -- They were just made noisier and seemingly more important by the echo chamber of the Internet. Or so it seemed until he got the idea he could actually win.)
I thought of him as honest, dedicated, maybe a little cranky, but hard-working and someone who believed in those ideas he was fighting for. I believed his expressions of admiration for the other candidates. If I understood the need for Super Pacs (and the rules they operate under) more than he did, I was glad to see him put the spotlight on them. I wished he’d talk more about foreign policy and his ideas in that area, but assumed he would in short order.
He’d never be the candidate Hillary would, but as the Republican choices narrowed, and the tension between the Trumpeting elephants and the rest of the Cruzing herd grew, I assumed that, if by some chance he did win the nomination, he’d be an acceptable one-term President – his age ruled out re-election – and would at least position himself to bring in a Democratic Congress to work with. I couldn’t see him working as hard for state legislative contests as Hillary could, but since he wanted to be President, he had to understand how limited his own power would be without a strong, friendly Congress behind him.
(He was even a Senator himself, he was right there to watch as the new rule -- that 41>59 – was being formed as Republicans tried to filibuster everything. He knew there might be a chance to correct or change the rule, but only with a strong majority of Senators on his side.)
He was adamant about the evil of Citizens United, that symbol above all symbols of the corruption of the political system that it seemed he’d never shut up about. (And make no mistake, he was entirely right about the decision, except for his slight ignoring of the fact that his Democratic opponent was as adamant against it.)
And how do you change a Supreme Court decision? Ignoring the Amendment process, only by appointing new Justices that will ‘revisit’ the decision and either ‘distinguish it’ or flat-out overrule it. (Perfectly legitimately, or Plessy would still be the law instead of Brown v Board.) Which again meant he needed the Senate to be Democratic to confirm the nominations.
Then every President runs into the situation where he needs to tell a Congressperson “I need you to vote with me on this, even though your District or State hates it. But I stood up for you, I was there when you needed my help, and I fought for you. You know I will again, when you get flak for this, and you know supporting it is the right thing to do.”
Now none of this is beyond the grasp of a 10th Grade Civics class, and Bernie has been in Congress longer than those students have been alive. I understood he had to establish his Independent credentials, even when running as a Democrat. (Of all the years I have been voting, this is the one above all where the argument that ‘both parties are the same’ is, simply, the silliest – it deserves no more serious a word than that. But when I heard it from the Sanders camp I assumed that this was only coming from the supporters, and only the youngest of them.)
But I knew he couldn’t stay aloof, with his army of contributors, his supposedly revolutionary followers so loyal to him. I waited for him to begin to realize the importance – perhaps above almost anything else – of having a Democratic Congress to have any chance of getting any of his ideas passed.
(At one point he announced three candidates he’d support, maybe even sharing some of those millions of contributions with. The problem was that every one of them was attempting to primary the incumbent in a blue seat. If they actually won the primary and held the seats, the Republicans would not have their hold on the Speakership weakened even by one vote.)
(It really wouldn’t be that hard to say it. “If you believe in my program, you need a Congress that will pass it. Next time we can concentrate on improving the quality of Representatives, now we just need enough quantity for us to have a chance to get the first steps through.”)
Of course, he explained, on the rare occasion a reporter could pin him down, his ‘revolutionary – but democratic – army’ would take care of that. He even suggested – at an interview, not a rally -- that ‘of course’ his supporters would help elect Democrats when they came out to vote for him. (Does anyone know if he has EVER said this at one of his rallies? Certainly the loudest and proudest of his supporters have shown little evidence they have ever heard him.)
And it was a wonderful army he conjured up, uniting minorities – until he found he couldn’t win in the South – angry blue collar workers so screwed by the system that they couldn’t even afford the red hat they really wanted, college students who wanted free tuition, people who still thought we should have tried for Single Payer even after they saw how difficult it was to pass the ACA. And people who might even be okay with waterboarding, but only if bankers were the target.
And, of course, it included the people who lost their job through these awful trade pacts, like the people in Flint – despite the fact that Flint had lost its industrial base not only a decade before the pacts, but while the scheming Clintons were still in Arkansas. Were they so diabolical that they were planning this attack on the working man, so subtly they were getting Republicans to do their work for them, five years before they had any connection with Washington? Some of the more rabid Barnberners seem to think so.
(Digression time about those awful pacts. When I was growing up my mothers were Eisenhower Republicans, and liberal Catholics, but it was the fifties and it was hard to totally escape McCarthyism. The church was nowhere as political as it can be now, but anti-Communism was always something Claire -- and I (Billie wasn’t much of a church goer) – would get in Church and by reading Catholic papers and magazines. So while they also listened to Ed Murrow and the CBS news, one constant in our House was the daily radio broadcast by Fulton Lewis, Jr., a far right, paranoid, McCarthyite commentator, forgotten now but a fixture at 7:00 P.M. on WOR for years.
(The reason I mention him is that the bee in his bonnet was GATT, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade – the forerunner to all of today’s trade pacts. He even had a booklet that he advertised on every show, “A GATT in Your Ribs” (for those younger than me, ‘gat’ used to be a slang term for handgun). And while Lewis saw the pacts as a Communist Plot – literally – to destroy the American economy, impoverish the working man and make the triumph of Marxism possible, while Bernie sees them more as a Capitalist/Banker plot to destroy the American economy, impoverish the working man, and bring about a return to Feudalism as the only jobs left will be servant positions – the predictions, descriptions and castigations made by Lewis and Sanders are almost indistinguishable.
(And – again for those not as ancient – the economic disaster that this would bring to the United States was so severe that the minimum wage got raised to 250% of what it had been, there was enough money available to create the Interstate Highway System AND give every veteran a free college education on the G.I. Bill, and enough surplus that creating Medicare wasn’t even a strain – until Vietnam came along.)
There are supposed to be other groups in the Sanders Army. Women who cherish Roe, LGBTQ people who worry about ‘religious discrimination’ laws, people who worry about their Medicaid being cut before Bernie’s Revolution brings in Universal Single Payer Health Care, people on death row or unfairly imprisoned for minor offenses and other groups who share only one other characteristic – they don’t know enough about the US System to realize that these problems can only be dealt with on a state level.
But anyone deserves a chance to do what seems like the impossible. I was glad to wait and see if Bernie could bring that army to the polls. It would kick the turnout sky-high, with the establishment Democrats coming out for Hillary and all these new voters coming out behind the Bernie Banner, first-time voters and those Bernie had brought back to the political system they had rejected. It would be an easy question to test.
Only, in every single early election, primary or caucus, for the nomination turn-out actually dropped from the previous contested nomination – even though both population and number of Democrats had risen.
Of course, St. Bernard, the Patron Saint of honesty, would admit this, admit he needed to work on his message, so that, in later primaries we’d get a better feel for his true appeal and ability to draw in outsiders. He’d never claim that he was already producing the results he had been predicting, not when the numbers obviously contradicted him. That would be something that a Romney would do, or a Tom Cotton.
And, of course, he’d realize two of the reasons for the turn-out drop were his own supporters, discouraging voters with the lies they were telling about Hillary and for the general nastiness of their tone. But he’d put a stop to that, reminding his supporters that, despite some differences, he and Hillary agreed on their long-range goals about 90%, reminding his supporters of how much bigger the gulf was between either of them and any Republican in the field, and especially between them and the front-runners. Bernie would, as he did in the early debates, defend Hillary and tell his devoted followers to stop repeating disproven Republican propaganda about her being untrustworthy.
Meanwhile, his supporters’ devotion to him forced me to look more closely at him, and at that statue in the back garden that was still golden – from a distance, but you could see the chips, the broken pieces, the gilt flaking off the tin we thought was gold.
And then he crossed the line. One question, one answer, and the statue cracked wide, to show the gilt, the tin, and the hollowness inside. But that’s for next time, maybe even later tonight.
[As usual, when I start a piece, I can find myself surprised at where it meanders to. This was supposed to be a brief backgrounder followed by a discussion of the four latest thuds and thunks as pieces continued to fall off the statue. Only – and possibly because a dispute about Bernie on another favorite blog has gotten much nastier and I am less calm – it seems impossible not to discuss Bernie without going into considerable detail, especially if you are trying to find some rational reason for his irrationality – I AM trying, but so far not succeeding. So this will be a three-parter, hopefully all making it to the blog before tomorrow night’s posting. The next is the slow, mostly self-caused disintegration of Bernie’s image, and of the respect he had gained. The final (? – let’s be realistic, Prup) piece will deal with the four events last week that made this, in my eyes, necessary. And maybe some attempt to figure out if he is actually in favor of what he preaches, or if he is, like a Republican pregnancy-forcer, arguing for the impossible, knowing he’ll always have an issue.]
Jim "Prup" Benton