On two separate occasions in the past six months I’ve sat down to write a succinct, snappy blog post in which I explain why Bernie Sanders isn’t going to win the Democratic nomination, and why that’s a good thing. And both times, I’ve spent a few days molding the massive jumble of opinions I have about the subject into something resembling a blog post, only to give up when I realize that I’ve written three or four thousand words and I’m only half done.
Because, really, who gives a shit what I think? More specifically, who gives eight thousand words worth of a shit what I think? I’ve got my polls and my links and my fancy charts of swing state voting districts to make my case for why Bernie isn’t going to be the guy, but at the end of the day my whole argument boils down to one very deeply held opinion:
Americans won’t elect a 74-year-old socialist as their president.
Yes, I’ve seen your polls, and your links, and your fancy charts of swing state voting districts to make your case for why Bernie is the guy. I love Bernie. I love his policies, I love his lifetime of activism for progressive causes, and I love what he stands for. The movement he’s started is extremely exciting to me.
But he’s not going to win the Democratic nomination. And that’s good, because he definitely wouldn’t win a general election.
1) Yes, polls now show Bernie doing better against Trump in a general election than Hillary. But general election polls conducted this long before Election Day aren’t worth dick. A few months ago, general election polls had Ben Carson beating Hillary by 10 points. Still think that's going to happen?
2) Yes, Americans do already love socialist programs like Social Security, Medicare and the Interstate. The problem is that many of them don’t consider these programs to be socialism, because generations that grew up during the Cold War largely equate socialism with fascism, concentration camps, and – scariest of all – significantly higher tax rates. There’s a lot of Americans who are way more scared of Bernie’s socialism than Trump’s racism, and no amount of earnest college kids with handlebar mustaches and #feelthebern T-shirts can convince them otherwise.
3) Yes, Sanders has either beaten or effectively tied Clinton in every state. That’s an incredible streak for a socialist candidate raising money from small donors. But the streak is about to end – not because of superdelegates or establishment trickery, but because the next slew of Democratic primaries are in Southern states, where most Democrats are black and most black people prefer Clinton.
Hillary is a weaker candidate than I thought she’d be. Fortunately, she is still the strongest candidate running for president in either party right now, which is really the most important thing. Yes, she’s in bed with Wall Street. Yes, she voted for the Iraq War. Yes, she's under investigation by the FBI. Yes, the Clinton White House was a source of all kinds of legislative and ethical jiggery-pokery.
And yet –
Hillary is a poised, articulate debater. Unlike Bernie, she can offer realistic, detailed policy proposals that could plausibly become law in a divided Congress. She’s a woman, which will motivate huge numbers of women to get out and vote. She doesn’t want to deport 11 million people, which, along with the hunky HUD secretary she’s almost certainly going to pick as her running mate, will motivate huge numbers of Latinos to get out and vote. She doesn’t identify as a socialist, which will motivate just about every centrist disgusted or frightened by Trump to get out and vote.
Hillary is the strongest candidate running because, for all her scandals and legal trouble and likeability issues, she still has the appearance of being the one adult in the room. On Election Day, when forced to choose between an eminently qualified politician with ethical issues and a racist real estate developer with more experience in pro wrestling than politics, it's my sincerest belief that the American people will hold their collective nose and choose the dirty politician to lead the free world.
Making a statement like that in liberal circles these days is a faux pas on the order of eating a Baconator in a mosque. I’ve seen plenty of earnestly written articles on Salon and CommonDreams and DailyKos and The Huffington Post swearing up and down that I’m wrong about this.
But you know what? To hell with your goddamn articles. I’ve read them, and I don’t buy what they’re selling – the arguments they make are based on wildly optimistic readings of inconclusive data. Articles with titles like “5 Reasons Why Bernie Sanders Will Win The Presidency In A Landslide” aren’t journalism, they’re clickbait sales pitches. If you think I'm full of shit, go get your own journalism degree and we can have a spirited debate about this in four years or so.
I’ve been following the state of our democracy with all the tiresome intensity and passion of a San Francisco Giants fan for the better part of five years now. (Not out of any sense of civic duty; I just love watching wealthy egomaniacs publicly humiliate each other.) I’ve stayed up past midnight for live results from a Mississippi Republican Senate primary, I have an app that buzzes my phone every time the House of Representatives holds a vote (it’s not often), and unlike a lot of Bernie Sanders’ die-hard supporters, I was actually familiar with the man before he ran for president.
I’ve been paying really close attention to this process for awhile, and in that time I’ve learned one thing: The most important quality for a candidate isn’t likeability, or an ambitious vision, or a sterling ethical record, or ideological purity.
In 2012, the Tea Party – a grassroots, populist rebellion against Wall Street and corrupt party elites – staged their own political revolution in Missouri and Indiana. In both states’ GOP Senate primaries, the Tea Party organized and successfully nominated two ideologically pure candidates who were considerably more conservative and outspoken than the establishment candidates.
Those candidates were Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, and both of them lost. Their views were too far outside the mainstream for general election voters, which is why two Midwestern red states now have Democratic senators.
You can be the most principled, honest, likeable and forward-thinking candidate in the race, but if you can’t get more than half of the country to vote for you, you’re just another Average Joe with some really cool ideas. When the Eastern Seaboard floods because President Trump doesn’t believe in global warming, you have to stand in line for the FEMA evacuation bus just like everybody else.
Bernie Sanders has already won. A 74-year-old socialist without a SuperPAC fought Hillary fucking Clinton to a standstill. Nobody saw it coming – I sure as hell didn’t – and his campaign has sent a powerful message to Wall Street, Washington D.C., and the Democratic Party: People are sick of your shit, and if we don’t get a bigger piece of the pie we can organize effectively enough to threaten even your biggest and best-financed Chosen One.
The Party is well aware that socialism is a cause that motivates millions of potential voters – that’s why Hillary keeps moving to the left to try and poach Sanders’ support. In the next few election cycles, we’re going to see a proliferation of Democratic candidates at the state and Congressional level who take on causes like Medicare for all or free state college, because now it’s known that there’s significant support for those proposals in the Democratic base.
What I’m crossing my fingers for is that in ten years or so we’ll get some sort of socialist equivalent of Rand Paul – a young, charismatic democratic socialist who runs for president. (Preferably this candidate would be a woman or a non-white person or, ideally, both.) I feel like under those circumstances, when there’s fewer people who equate socialism with Nazism in the voting pool, America most certainly could elect a socialist president.
Bernie has shown that socialism isn’t a third rail issue in America anymore. That’s an incredible achievement, and like Bernie says, it signals the start of a political revolution. It’s just that this revolution is going to take a lot longer than one presidential election cycle. This is a huge country, and over 320 million people live here – change is a slow and incremental process, because the people who created this country wanted it that way.
So if you’re Feeling The Bern, here’s my challenge to you: Keep feeling it. Maintain this level of engagement and investment in our political process even after you vote for Hillary Clinton and she wins the election. Feel The Bern in the 2018 midterm elections. Feel The Bern in 2020, and 2022. Feel The Bern in your state and local elections and party primaries.
That’s what a political revolution looks like.