What Risk Is Bernie Sanders Worth?

Bernie SandersNot to beat a dead horse or anything, but have you noticed how many people who call themselves social democrats or democratic socialists seem to be terrified at the prospect of Bernie Sanders winning the Democratic presidential nomination? It reminds me of a line from the musical 1776, “Maryland would welcome independence if it were given, but is highly skeptical that it can be taken. Maryland says nay.” It is as if they are only dedicated to this ideal as long as it doesn’t risk anything — as long as it doesn’t require a fight. And I’m afraid that it does require risk and a fight.

I understand the counterargument: if the Republicans get in, it will be a catastrophe. But this is how we find ourselves far, far to the right after 40 years of this kind of thinking. The Democratic Party establishment decided that it lost the 1972 election because George McGovern was too liberal. That’s such a vague claim as to be meaningless. There were a lot of reasons he lost, of course. A big one was that the south turned against the Democratic Party because of the civil rights laws passed under Johnson. Another was that McGovern was painted as weak on crime and “those people.” None of that should have caused the Democratic Party running to go running to the right on economic issues.

Matt BruenigBut in 1976, they ran a very conservative man for his time, Jimmy Carter. He barely won. Then in 1980, he lost by a lot. This was followed by Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis. All of those elections were classic economics-trumps-all elections. They were the Republicans’ elections to lose. Similarly, Bill Clinton didn’t win in 1992 because he was conservative but because the economy had tanked. All these moves to the right, have only pushed the Republicans further to the right. So the whole idea that the Democratic Party must move to the right only means that when Republicans do get into power they are even worse than they were before.

Matt Bruenig asked a really good question recently, What is the Left Supposed to Do Electorally? He considered Jeremy Corbyn in the UK primarily, but also Bernie Sanders. Here, all good Democrats know that Ralph Nader cost the Democrats the election in 2000. (I don’t know; that may be a myth; but it is what all good Democrats know.) So Sanders is not running a third party candidacy, and has been very clear that he will support whichever candidates the Democrats nominate. But running inside the party is apparently only acceptable if the leftist loses, as we are seeing with Corbyn. “Similarly, if Sanders manages to win the Democratic primary in the US, you can be sure the same centrist Democrats screaming at Nader to run in the primary will immediately sour on the idea of left-wing primary challenges.”

I truly do not know where I stand in this election. I support Sanders because he is the closest fit to my major issues, which are economic. But if I think he has little chance of winning the general election, I will not vote for him. I am a pragmatist. But I haven’t seen any information to indicate that this is the case. If I think that Hillary Clinton has a 55% chance of winning the general election and Bernie Sanders has a 45% chance, then there is no question: I’ll go with Bernie. If Bernie has a 10% chance, I’ll go with Hillary. But it is worth some risk to get the extra gain that is Bernie Sanders.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

7 thoughts on “What Risk Is Bernie Sanders Worth?

  1. I don’t see Sanders as having many more negatives in a general election than Clinton. He’s kinda goofy in his appearance and speaking style (his laugh is bizarre.) But being an out-front “socialist” probably helps him, as opposed to Clinton being thought of as a Secret Socialist Illuminatti member by the wackadoodles.

    Can Sanders win primaries in big states? His appeal is on policy, not personality and name recognition. I still assume Clinton will kill him with bigger money. But if Sanders could somehow get the nomination, the interests that fund Democrats won’t turn away from him; there are some capitalists (too few) who don’t want utter collapse.

    • I tend to think that if Sanders can win the primary, he can win the general. But I don’t know. Just the same, I could see a situation where Clinton ends up losing to Donald Trump and hearing all the Democrats who complain about Sanders today, saying, “We should have run Sanders…” My point is not that Sanders is so great (although I do think he is about as good a politician as America can produce), but that all these people claiming that Sanders can’t win don’t actually know what they are talking about.

  2. What you are saying is absolute truth. We on the liberal side are in great fear of another Republican president especially if they also control Congress.
    Having just survived eight years of Bush only increases our fear. Nader didn’t cause Gore to lose. He hurt him it’s true. Gore should have been more aggressive and still only lost due to bad luck and a terrible Supreme Court ruling. I am sticking to Bernie as long as he is close. I am sick of right-of-center Democrats.

    • Absolutely. And I share the fear! General election chances really will be very important to me. But 5 months before a vote we’re being told Sanders can’t win?! It’s madness.

  3. Two interesting viewpoints on Sanders perhaps of interest to some. First, Chris Hedges, angry as hell (as usual, and as usual with cause) that Sanders isn’t a true socialist:


    Then, William Greider on why Sanders isn’t a populist:


    What’s interesting to me is both writers — correctly, I believe — think movements outside of the two-party system are historically needed to push America to needed change. Both note that Sanders is not outside the system. Hedges sees Sanders as a sign the left is utterly broken, Greider sees Sanders as a sign that the left is getting closer to embracing radical change.

    Personally I like Greider’s take better — I tend to believe optimistic old guys. Plus, I think Hedges’s preachy anger works better in his wonderful books than in his columns. And what’s with how he squabbles about “socialism” and sets forth pretty much everything he thinks a socialist should be besides, um, worker control of the means of production? Clearly the word is becoming increasingly vague (although I agree with everything Hedges stands for.)

    I’ve no doubt a President Sanders would make compromises. I trust that whenever possible, he would push liberal policies. And I’ll help out with his campaign.

    • I will check those out right away. I think Sanders support is largely a reaction to the New Democrats. It doesn’t matter that we win elections when the entire playing field moves further and further to the right. And for those people who are saying that we must support Clinton because we can’t allow the Republicans to win because they would destroy everything: when have the same people ever not make that same argument? It’s always catastrophic when the Republicans win the presidency. I don’t see this time being any different. It would be worse than the last Republican president, but that’s to be expected. The only exception to that is Bush Sr, and the party is determined to never let that happen again.

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