Passion, not pragmatism fuels Sanders bid

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a town hall meeting at William Penn University, Monday, Oct. 19, 2015, in Oskaloosa, Iowa.
Associated Press / Charlie Neibergall

There’s an element of the Democratic Party apparently dead-set on pursuing a course of action driven by passion and bereft of pragmatism – a pursuit that is eerily reminiscent of Democratic misadventures with leadership choices in the 1960s and 70s, much to the party’s and indeed the country’s eventual regret. Talking about the heat they’re generating in the Democrats’ left wing over the candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders, convincing themselves and aggressively trying to convince others that Sanders is an electable White House prospect for 2016.

This run by Sanders should evoke for more sober-minded Democrats, if not the ginned-up crowd on the left flank, the names of Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern, presidential aspirants for the Democrats in 1968 and 1972 respectively. Strong anti-Vietnam War sentiment was the impetus for both their campaigns. McCarthy didn’t make it to the Democratic nomination, but McGovern did, losing out, as did the nominee in 1968, to Richard Nixon, who would go on to leave his own ignominious mark on presidential history.

For Sanders, who has described himself as a “democratic socialist,” the cornerstone plank of his campaign seems to be the lopsided wealth distribution picture in the country, where a tiny percentage of folk at the top control greater wealth than the remaining almost one hundred percent of us. But by no means is Sanders a lone-wolf Democrat in his focus on the hugely disturbing wealth pattern. Income inequality has become a core Democratic platform issue, robustly assailed by many Democrats who are perceived to be of more centrist orientation than is Sanders. Which gets to the heart of what’s concerning about the senator’s presidential ambitions.

Look, let’s cut to the chase and deal with some political nuts and bolts here. Even in the best of times, over the past 40 or more years, a Republican in the White House hasn’t exactly inspired confidence that the best interests of average Joes had a champion in the guy holding the nation’s top job. Republicans being unapologetically partial to the privileged set is the reality we’ve known. That situation has only incrementally worsened, with the Republican Party being today in as sorry a state as it is. It would be downright dumb for the larger population of Democratic voters to allow a fired-up insurgency during the primary process to dictate a nominee choice that has the party looking squarely at losing the general election practically by default. And that’s precisely what Democrats would be risking if anyone professing to be a “socialist” of any stripe is foolhardily anointed the Democratic nominee.

In the Democrats’ first debate the other day, Hillary Clinton was correct in responding with a more measured read of what’s required by way of reform in the business sector, to what came across as a take-no-prisoners hard line from Sanders. Clinton made clear that she was not about discouraging the spirit of entrepreneurship that had built America, while also insisting that the business class be made to pay its fair share. Clinton, in other words, firmly positions herself against the protectionist agenda where big business is concerned, that continues to be a Republican rally cry. The Republican notion that regulation of big business is a bad idea, that increasing the minimum wage is a “job killer,” that any tax increase for big business is a no-no, that basic workplace entitlements like pay equity or paid family leave are matters for protracted hemming and hawing — these are among the fundamental differences separating Democrats, as exemplified by Clinton, from their GOP counterparts. If the “revolution” Sanders is advocating means getting around Republican opposition to have those and other related issues satisfactorily addressed, Clinton would likely posit that she is every bit the crusader for revolution that Sanders purports to be.

But the major question about the Sanders campaign remains how electable is he. The answer to which, from where we sit, is not very. One can just imagine the salivating a Sanders candidacy would engender from Republican strategists and the non-stop network of right-wing chatter. Not unlike the red meat Republicans saw for George H.W. Bush, in 1988, in candidate Michael Dukakis’ furloughing, as Massachusetts governor, of a convicted killer later charged with rape while on furlough. The GOP opposition would do cartwheels over the opportunity falling right into their laps to paint a candidate Sanders as probably more left-leaning than he actually is, come to unravel the country’s social order.

The right wing’s frenetic targeting of Clinton, on the other hand, has entirely to do with how electable they fear her to be. And with her commitment to all those core Democratic principles, no less. Not to mention her being the wife of someone whose presidential record of accomplishment is unarguably one of distinction.

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