This article is part of the Debatable newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Senator Bernie Sanders — the septuagenarian Jewish democratic socialist who wants to remake the American health care system, end public college tuition and give workers partial ownership stakes in the companies they work for — has officially emerged, at least for now, as the Democratic Party’s front-runner in the race for president.
Anyone who remembered Mr. Sanders’s improbable insurgency in the 2016 Democratic primary and the breadth of his support knew better than to write him off entirely. But four months after a heart attack seemed to endanger his candidacy, his continued momentum is spurring a more serious reckoning with the possibility of his nomination.
Would he be savaged as a “mouth-frothing, business-destroying commie,” or would his firebrand populism actually stand the best chance against the rich “crook” “who doesn’t care if you live or you die so long as your boss gets paid”? Here’s what people are saying.
‘How Trump wins again’
Mr. Sanders’s version of populism can’t win against President Trump’s, writes Timothy Egan, a contributor to The Times. Mr. Egan gives the senator credit for mainstreaming progressive ideas like higher taxes on the rich and a more aggressive climate policy, but stresses that socialism is popular only among young people. “The United States has never been a socialist country, even when it most likely should have been one, during the robber baron tyranny of the Gilded Age or the desperation of the Great Depression,” he says, “and it never will be.”
Mr. Sanders’s electoral strategy remains unproven, writes the Times columnist Michelle Goldberg. Mr. Sanders’s supporters have argued that he can expand the electorate to include enough of the country’s tens of millions of nonvoters to more than make up for any suburban moderates he might lose. But while the senator won the popular vote in Iowa, the much-anticipated surge in turnout was nowhere in evidence. Mr. Sanders himself expressed disappointment with the voting numbers, as The Times reported. What’s more, those disaffected suburban moderates would be a significant loss, since they were responsible for many of the gains Democrats made in the 2018 midterms.
Mr. Sanders also faces liabilities from his past, Ms. Goldberg adds. She concedes that polls show him defeating the president in some swing states by greater margins than other candidates, but worries that his lead wouldn’t survive sustained Republican attacks.
“There will most likely be spots showing the 1985 Sandinista rally Sanders attended in Nicaragua, with the crowd chanting, ‘Here, There and Everywhere/ The Yankee Will Die.’ The country will see Sanders, speaking after a trip to the Soviet Union, effusively praising its state-sponsored culture,” she writes.
“When they’re done,” Mr. Egan contends, “you will not recognize the aging, mouth-frothing, business-destroying commie from Ben and Jerry’s dystopian dairy. Demagogy is what Republicans do best. And Sanders is ripe for caricature.”
The upshot is a double bind for the Democratic Party, writes the Times columnist David Brooks. In his estimation, Mr. Sanders would struggle to win over its moderate wing. But at the same time, only 53 percent of Mr. Sanders’s supporters say they will certainly vote for whoever is the Democratic nominee, according to one poll. “Democrats may wind up in a position in which they can’t nominate Bernie Sanders because he’s too far left, and they can’t not nominate him because his followers would bolt from a Biden/Bloomberg/Buttigieg-led party,” Mr. Brooks writes.
‘The unity candidate’
That Mr. Sanders inspires a unique fervor among his supporters only bolsters the case for his candidacy, the Times writer Elizabeth Bruenig argues, since fiscally conservative Democrats may be more likely to support the general election candidate no matter what. But Ms. Bruenig views the panic over Mr. Sanders’s rise as proceeding less from average Democratic voters, who view him more favorably than any other candidate, than from centrist party insiders, who fear losing control. “If he won the nomination, I think obviously he would take over the party,” a professor of history at Georgetown University told Ms. Bruenig.
The political class and mainstream media underestimate Mr. Sanders because they don’t understand his campaign, writes Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, a professor of African-American studies at Princeton. That is why, for example, the “Bernie Bro” narrative of his candidacy persists even though a majority of his supporters are women and people of color. “Under normal circumstances, the multiracial working class is invisible,” Ms. Taylor writes, but Mr. Sanders “has tapped into the anger and bitterness coursing through the lives of regular people who have found it increasingly impossible to make ends meet in this grossly unequal society.”
His appeals to a multiracial working-class coalition could pose the best challenge to Mr. Trump in swing states, argue Matt Karp and Meagan Day. “The truth is that many people in swing states — including many otherwise loyal Democratic voters — were not sufficiently excited by Hillary Clinton, who they rightly associated with business-as-usual politics,” they write. By contrast, they say, a contest between Mr. Sanders and Mr. Trump would present a starker choice: “the populist who wants to win you health care and cancel your debt” versus the rich jerk “who doesn’t care if you live or you die so long as your boss gets paid.”
In the end, Mr. Sanders could be just what the party needs to keep from fracturing, writes Matt Yglesias. Despite his revolutionary brand, Mr. Sanders is less radical than people think.
While he’s taken some positions as a legislator that were unpopular at the time, such as opposing the Iraq war and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military, he also has a dependable record of compromising when it counts.
Congress will hamstring any Democrat’s agenda, but that’s a reality Mr. Sanders’s supporters will tolerate better if he’s at the helm.
A Sanders presidency, Mr. Yglesias says, would simply mean “an emphasis on full employment, a tendency to shy away from launching wars, an executive branch that actually tries to enforce environmental protection and civil rights laws, and a situation in which bills that both progressives and moderates can agree on get to become law,” he writes. “That’s a pretty good deal, and you don’t need to be a socialist to see it.”
Do you have a point of view we missed? Email us at [email protected]. Please note your name, age and location in your response, which may be included in the next newsletter.
THE BERN: TO FEEL OR NOT TO FEEL?
“Bernie can’t win.” [The Atlantic]
“Too Close for Comfort”: Why do so many of Mr. Sanders’s fellow travelers — older Jewish leftists — balk at supporting him? [Jewish Currents]
“Is It Bernie’s Party Now?” [Politico]
“Coverage of Bernie Sanders suffers from a lack of imagination.” [The Columbia Journalism Review]
WHAT YOU’RE SAYING
Here’s what readers had to say about the last edition: Four more years of Trump?
Glenn from Queens: “People on both sides vote with their guts far more often than with their heads, and right now many guts have Trump indigestion, but one senses not enough to regurgitate.”
Anthony from New Zealand: “Three years of corruption, mismanagement and gross incompetence on a scale never before seen from this administration, yet one problem with the Iowa caucus tally and suddenly it’s Democrats who are seen as unfit to govern.”
Go to Source
Author: New York Times