The Case Against the Case Against Bernie Sanders

Bernie SandersOver 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:

But if we’re imagining both of their agendas as opening bids in negotiations with Congress, why fault Sanders for not negotiating with himself? Ask a future Democratic Congress for single payer and a $15 minimum wage and you might get laughed at… but you also might get the public option and a bump to $12. Ask it for the public option and a $12 minimum wage, as Clinton might do, and you’ll get a fair hearing from the outset, but you might end up with advancements barely worth fighting for. President Obama, as Sanders is fond of noting, negotiated with himself, and progressives paid an unknowable price as a result.

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.

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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.

24 thoughts on “The Case Against the Case Against Bernie Sanders

  1. The one thing I really worry about with Sanders is his age. Clinton is getting up there, too, but Sanders will be older than Reagan at the start of his second term. Either one of them would be the oldest first-term president ever (or would Clinton tie Reagan?). Now, Sanders seems pretty sharp, and he’s keeping a busy schedule, but his vice-presidential pick would be pretty important.

    • Also, no non-incumbent Democrat has beaten a younger Republican since before the Civil War, and Marco “The Future” Rubio is certainly banking on this principle. This may be a case of overfitting; it’s hard to know how seriously to take such patterns, and whether they represent causation or simply correlation. Dems do better with high youth turnout, but Sanders is getting young people excited despite his age.

      • Yeah, I don’t put much stock in it — especially when the young guy has all old ideas. The only thing young about him is his interest in Hip Hop, and even that’s pretty out of date.

    • Yep. I’ve mentioned many times that the age issue is bigger for me than the socialism issue. Politically, I think it is more potent. But thus far, Sanders has used it to his advantage.

  2. I recently found out he is not doing co-events with congressional candidates. If this is the case (I have to check) this is a knock against him since it means it will be that much harder to get more Democrats in office and how does he expect to get the ones who are in there to go along with his plans? Especially since in politics, candidates remember who snubs them.

    • I don’t know, I’m not sure that’s a valid complaint while the primary is still going on. A lot of other politicians will sit out the election until the party picks a nominee, and they might not want to be seen as being too close to one candidate or the other.

      • When you are running for any office, the bigger the star you get for rallies/fundraisers the better you do. If you have a primary, getting on stage with him gives you a certain appeal for voters. His refusal to share the stage while Clinton does share says a lot to the people he needs to get his agenda passed.

        Sanders draws a lot of people to his events which sucks up energy from the congressional races so this will be remembered in the event he wins the nomination.

          • The first evidence came in a news release barely 13 hours into the election year, when the front-runner announced she had raised the most presidential primary money of any nonincumbent in an off-year. Bringing in $38 million in 2015’s closing months, she raced past her $100 million primary goal for the year — all while bagging an extra $18 million for other Democrats along the way.

            Less than 24 hours later, it was Sanders’ turn to gloat. The underdog, trailing in national polls but leading in this early-voting state, announced he had raked in $33 million in the fourth quarter, part of an overall effort that reeled in more off-year individual contributions than any other candidate ever: 2.5 million.

            But just how much did Sanders raise for other Democrats? Nothing.


            Sanders is not a dyed in the wool Democrat. For those who don’t identify much with the party that is a good thing at best and completely irrelevant at worst. However any presidential candidate needs the local Democratic office holders to be proxy campaigners since no one candidate can be everywhere. The more popular the incumbent, the more the Presidential candidate will need them. I remember then Senator Obama coming out twice to Arizona, Arizona! for two candidates during his run for the nomination.

            People who run as Democrats-especially in red states-are doing so because they believe the party represents the values they believe in. That it means something more than just a convenient label on a form. Which means that they do pay attention to when someone at the national level does or does not show up for the campaign events that they hold. Who does nothing to help them raise money. Those office holders will return the non-favor by not bothering to mention the candidate at events, by not bothering to defend when the inevitable attacks come, and by not being willing to show up in Philadelphia.

            The office holders often have infrastructure in place that can proxy campaign as well-one of them here locally has an entire machine running so when he won his primary and essentially won his seat, he immediately converted it into a legislative campaign to ensure that when he runs again he has the support of more than his own wife (she sits on the city council.)

            The state parties as well will be less likely to make much effort on behalf of Sanders. President Obama was elected in part because of the 50 state strategy that Dean developed as chair of the DNC. Obama certainly was able to do more in the nine months of filibuster proof control because of the Dean strategy to get more elected Democrats into Congress.

            It is more than just about Sanders if you want change and with his refusal to do fundraising or at least some effort to party build, there will be no revolution. Which is sad since we need it.

            • I accept that. But this is just making me think if Sanders wins the nomination (which I still think he won’t), the party elites will act like the Labour Party is now. And that would be a mistake. But you are right. I’ve long been clear that I’m a Democrat because I think it is cowardly to not take a side. The Republicans are repugnant. There are a lot of Democrats I really like. As a party overall, it is passable. We don’t have a parliamentary system, or I would be something like a socialist. Given the choices, there is no choice.

              Just the same, Sanders isn’t doing so well because people hate Hillary Clinton. What the Democratic Party is seeing is what the Labour Party saw: its turn to the right is not what the base of the party wanted. As I have written about exhaustively, the Democrats didn’t lose in 1984 and 1988 because the candidates were liberal, and they didn’t win in 1992 because Clinton went all anti-Sister Souljah on us. “It’s the economy, stupid.” If I had been a Democrat in 1992, I probably would have picked Brown. But if the revolution depends upon fund raising, there will be no revolution. It’s a catch-22. But it isn’t Sanders that is important. I think the Democratic Party needs to seriously consider what it stands for. At this point, it is actually the more pro-corporate of the two parties because the Republicans are so unhinged.

              • I suppose on the party establishment being shook up by Sanders however he still needs those people for the general. He still needs them in office on Jan. 3rd so he can get started with that ridiculous hundred days we are still using as a yardstick on Jan. 21.

                The Democratic Party needs to be able to split in two-which is something you have mentioned before and this is why we have such a difficult time at the moment. The Party is dealing with a split personality since so many Republicans have had to leave the Republican Party from how insane it has gotten.

                Regardless though, Sanders refusal to help down ticket is an issue that he will have to contend with if he gets the nomination.

                • My idea about the Democratic Party splitting in two is predicated on the elimination of the Republican Party. The Republican establishment and the New Democrats would become a new party and and the old Democratic Party would bind together over economic populism. But since the rise of Trump, I don’t see that happening because clearly a majority in the Republican Party care more about hating “those people” than anything else. Anyway, the Republican establishment and the New Democrats actually represent a very small group at this point.

                  James’ source is wrong — the two campaigns have about the same (massive) amount of cash on hand. But you keep mentioning Sanders refusal to help down ticket candidates. This seems to me more a Clinton/DNC talking point than anything else. Check out the article I just linked to. I agree that Sanders should do more. But it is also the case that the DNC has had it out for Sanders. It seems disingenuous for the DNC to say that Sanders should be helping it out after it has done everything it can to destroy his candidacy. I don’t think Debbie Wasserman Schultz has had the time to try to work with Sanders given all the time she has had to dedicate to slandering him. Also, exactly which politicians that have endorsed Clinton should Sanders be doing robo-calls for?

                  But my concern is not that the party will not support Sanders after he is president but after he gets the nomination. That’s where the Labour Party analogy comes from. Regardless, I still expect Clinton to get the nomination.

                  • Oh I saw that too. It doesn’t really satisfy my concerns to be honest. His claim that he needs dates has some validity but the DNC knows about candidates’ limited time so his scheduler should be able to give them a series of dates he would be freed to do some effort on their behalf.

                    Candidates are the same thing-there are plenty of people who are running that agree with his ideas and he presumably would know at least some of the ones going from House to Senate and have primaries. If he doesn’t then his staff should be identifying them and and making the connections to arrange for them to be on the stage in advance for the rallies. They should be giving him a list of people they have vetted for him to agree to support in primaries. I don’t expect him to recruit candidates to slate with but there are things he could be doing and he isn’t.

                    I am willing to chalk it up to his not having been a Democrat until May though and not thinking the way a candidate in the party thinks.

                    • I don’t know. He’s also from a tiny state (second smallest population, as I recall) where he really doesn’t have to raise money or fight too hard. I don’t know if you remember William Proxmire, but one of his things was that he didn’t take PAC money. Overall, I admire the man. (But not completely.) But that claim didn’t mean that much given how safe his political position was.

                    • There is that and just another reason to chalk it up to lack of experience.

            • To play Devil’s Advocate — and I’m not saying you’re wrong — I just talked with people who attended the Sanders gig in Saint Paul the other day, talked to some insiders, and were told the campaign is cash-desperate. It’s broke. They are getting so outspent they don’t have a dollar to spare.

              So, in that case (you have to take what campaign insiders take with a grain of salt), Sanders has to spend his travel/organizational budget, when he’s not spending it on IA/NH, on rallies in solidly blue states where he can raise dough. He can’t afford stops in red states where primary contenders could use his star power. It would help those candidates, no doubt, but you don’t get money from red states. You get it from appearances in places where people already love you, and you work the crowd for checks.

              If that’s true, this seems like a desperate endgame ploy by Bernie, but I can’t say if it’s true.

                    • You can’t leave that stuff to novices, Elizabeth!

                      But as I noted elsewhere, the Sanders campaign is currently sitting on close to $20 million, so James’ source was misinformed — or just working to get more donations!

                    • That source, a friend of mine, likes to claim how they know “insiders” in music, publishing, a zillion other areas, which is why I didn’t present it as gospel truth. But even a serial exaggerator is correct occasionally.

                      I do like the image of Bernie going full-Axl Rose on volunteers backstage, smacking people around because his coke straw was a rolled-up $10, not a $100. (Takes off belt, screams, “now you’re really gonna feel the Bern!”)

              • Since he raised $33,000,000 in the last quarter, there has to be someone mismanaging the funds since that doesn’t make much sense to be that broke into the month prior to the first four primaries. It is another sign that he is not going to be able to really compete with the billion dollars that the various Darths over on the right are getting ready to throw at whoever is the Democratic nominee.

                But how does that mean he somehow is unable to record messages for robocalls for down ticket races or put his name on email blasts? I also found out that his people were not recording attendance at his rallies for far too long (they are now but they missed about six months.) How many other candidates are being invited to warm up the crowd prior to his appearance? If there are none, why not? How is that going to help him?


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