Bernie Sanders is very likeable, and even more unelectable, writes Mathew Kenneally.
I’m a US citizen, due to vote in the Connecticut primary contest between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders a little later this year. I’ve had a few people ask me about Sanders. The conversation should start and end here: socialist, Vermont, 74. This is not a description of a viable Presidential candidate.
I should “feel the Bern”. The online quiz On the Issues told me I’m a 97 per cent match with Sanders. Many of my closest Facebook friends feel it. I’m not feeling the bern, but anxiety that a Sanders candidacy is the road to Trumpocracy.
The Sanders canvassers I encountered in the US suffer from excessive optimism. Their response to questions about Sanders electability is indignation: “But just put electability to one side for a minute”. Um, no, this is an election. Or “Aren’t you sick of voting for the lesser evil” they cry.
Yes, I’m sick of voting for the lesser evil, but I’m an adult. Going to work is underwhelming. Doing laundry is a bore. Spending time with relatives can suck. The world does not revolve around me. I’m willing to accept that in an election for the President of a country of 350 million people, there might have to be a compromise or two.
I’m also unmoved by the “come on, just take a chance, Sanders may lose, but if he wins it would be revolutionary”. These people have never gambled. The thing about a chance is that you can win big, or lose big, and in this case real big.
The consequence of Sanders is a Republican. Think it’s worth the risk? Watch all the Republican debates back to back. Which Republican candidate would you like to watch beat Bernie?
The “Feel the Bern” people are not entirely bereft of arguments about electability. The first is the “revolution of consciousness” argument. Socially conservative working class voters abandoned the Democratic party in the 1960s, preferring the Republican’s love of guns, god, and no-gays. These groups vote against their economic interest. They have been suffering from false consciousness for 50 years. Dr Sanders has the cure: economic populism.
This theory works as long as you’ve never left your north-eastern bubble. If you’ve seen the “real America” you would know socially conservative voters believe the things they believe, really strongly.
In some regions the loathing for liberalism runs very, very deep. Southerners have railed against north-eastern liberalism since the 1860s. Frontier folk like those who occupied the Federal building Oregon, have loathed the Federal government for generations.
Apparently once Bernie tells them they are wrong, working class whites will dispatch beliefs tied to their identity, and realise their fears cannot be eased by guns or God, but by Scandinavian social democracy. Good plot to a Hunger games film.
Sanders people point to his favorability ratings being higher than Clinton. True. Also true people know the Clintons, nobody knows Sanders. Sanders is a likeable fellow, but he’s yet to take enemy fire, ever.
Sanders has won his elections in Vermont. Vermont is white, affluent, and socially aware. It has 600,000 people, and does great cheese and wine. It is also a sheltered workshop for progressives.
It takes real delusion to believe Sanders’ ratings will survive a barrage of attack ads drawing attention to his plan to cut defense spending, while raise everyone’s taxes to take over the health system.
The Sanders people protest: “The tax increases will pay for the health care and education”. I’m sorry, nobody can hear you make reasonable points after a 30 second advertisement of people waiting in line at a Soviet-era hospital to be euthanised. Or better still the 30-second ‘ISIS is coming and the only people left to defend us are elderly wildlife park rangers armed with infringement notices’ advertisement.
Further, socialised medicine just won’t pass. To pass any law in the US you need to win the Presidency, the House of Representatives, and 60 seats in the Senate. These stars rarely align. The Democrats did it in 2008 off the back of a GFC and with a fellow called Barack Obama. Even then, within the Democratic Party there was no support for socialised medicine.
So instead, they passed the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The answer of Sanders people: “We know, that’s why Bernie is talking about revolution.” Fucking Hunger games.
This belligerent commitment to socialised medicine captures why I cannot feel the Bern. It displays an audacious and reckless lack of political nous. Do not re-litigate your wins.
Obamacare has been a success. It was initially deeply unpopular. Republicans successfully demonised the plan, launched multiple court challenges, and sought to starve the plan of funds. In spite of resistance the ACA has rapidly expanded health insurance. It has redistributed wealth from rich and healthy to the poor and sick. The ACA is gaining in popularity as more Americans access affordable health insurance. In this election Democrats can now advance the compelling scare campaign, “vote Republican and you will lose your health care”.
Instead of defending Obamacare, making it an untouchable institution, and then building upon it, Sanders insists on gambling on a politically untenable overhaul.
What infuriates me is the “feel the Bern” folk have no skin in the health care game. Sanders’ base is white, elite, and educated. Whatever happens this election they will access quality health insurance. I’m sure the slow process of building a welfare state is uninspiring for Sanders supporters. But for disadvantaged communities, that slow process delivers real benefits, like being able to see the Doctor.
It took 60 years to pass health reform, why put it at risk?
Nor do I feel anything for Hillary Clinton. It’s hard to feel for someone who has used her entrenched wealth and power to ensure no other credible candidate entered the democratic race.
I won’t buy the Hillary commemorative plaque, or the rainbow t-shirt. However, Hillary promises to expand the ACA, reform the immigration system, raise the minimum wage and appoint pro-choice Judges. Compared to the entire Republican Party, that makes her a liberal zealot.
I’m not against progressive candidates, or even socialists. Elect them to Congress, the Senate, or Governor where possible.
If an electable progressive runs for President, I’ll by the t-shirt. Talk about single-payer at cocktail parties.
But in the biggest and most important political race I’m going to feel the Clinton, even if it leaves me underwhelmed, because I’m grown up.
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