Over the last few days, I’ve written two articles about liberal attacks on Bernie Sanders. First, there was, Erik Loomis Is Wrong About Sanders and Politics. And then there was my not so serious, The Complete ‘Bernie Sanders Can’t Win’ Liberal Pundit Article Kit. My point has not been that liberals are attacking Sanders. That’s a given. There are perfectly acceptable reasons that one might not want to support Sanders. But the arguments have been bad — from Loomis’ “liberals will be disappointed like they were with Obama” to Krugman’s argument that Sanders is campaigning too much like Obama.
I was pleased to see Monday morning that Brian Beutler is thinking the same things I am, Is Nominating Bernie Sanders a Worthwhile Gamble? Because that’s the question. Back in September, I wrote an article with an almost identical title, What Risk Is Bernie Sanders Worth? My point was that Sanders was worth some risk but not a lot of risk. But those were the days when the liberal establishment wasn’t afraid of Sanders. So they didn’t care. But now that it looks like Sanders is an actual threat, the liberal establishment’s answer is not only that Sanders is worth absolutely no risk, but also that Clinton represents no risk whatsoever.
Beutler’s argument is summed up in his subtitle, “Hillary Clinton’s supporters have yet to make a persuasive case that Sanders is too great a risk.” And that is quite right. In all the writing about the subject, the unstated assumption is that Clinton — the ultimate Wall Street insider — will easily destroy Donald Trump — the ultimate populist demagogue. On that one issue, I think that Sanders has a distinct advantage. But you would never know that from the garbage that is coming out of the “practical” wing of the party.
The Case For Bernie Sanders
Beutler made one of the stronger practical cases for Sanders. It goes back to something that I was complaining about for years under Obama. And it is, interestingly, something that Obama learned. But Clinton has regressed on it:
He went on to note that although the Clinton camp wants to paint Sanders as a pie-in-the-sky idealist, “He’s been a relatively effective and pragmatic legislator.” What’s more, “This is Sanders’s strongest non-idealized appeal to progressives: he would appoint tougher regulators and conduct a more cautious, dovish foreign policy than Clinton.” It may be true that Clinton knows everyone, but what does it matter if she turns to Goldman Sachs to help regulate Wall Street? And finally, “But in a party that has become increasingly dovish and alarmed by increasing concentrations of income and wealth, he would have a strong claim to being a safer bet than Clinton — if he were to ever push the point.”
The Case Against Bernie Sanders
I think there is a strong case against Sanders. And it is a practical one. Sadly, it is not the practical case that Clinton supporters suppose. It is the case that Glenn Greenwald touched on in a recent article, The Seven Stages of Establishment Backlash: Corbyn/Sanders Edition. I have been amazed that so many Labour Party leaders seem to think that it is better to destroy their party than to support Jeremy Corbyn. And given the increasingly hysterical claims that we’ve heard from Clinton surrogates, I fear we would see the same thing here if Sanders won the nomination.
This makes me angry and not at all inclined to switch to the Clinton camp. If a Sander nomination destroys the party, it won’t be because people like me voted for him, but because party elites just couldn’t deal with our preferences. But apart from that, I think Clinton is a marginally stronger general election candidate than Sanders. The question is how big that margin is. Thus far, I’m not hearing much in terms of arguments about that — probably because it is really hard to say.