Monday, January 25, 2016

On Not Feeling The Bern

As the primaries approach, I have a sinful admission to make: I’m not feeling the Bern.

Don’t get me wrong, I will gladly vote for him in the primaries, barring some crazy occurrence between now and then.  I am glad to have the chance to pull the lever for an actual social democrat whose platform probably comes closest to my point of view of an candidate for president has in my lifetime. 

That being said, it is difficult for me to muster enthusiasm or to identify myself strongly with Sanders.  I don't plan on buying any bumper stickers or signs.  I have almost been completely bled of political idealism.  Perhaps it’s due to some disillusioning life experiences I’ve had in the last ten years, or maybe it’s just the inevitable hardening of outlook that comes in middle age.  There is a naivete to Sanders’ campaign and in his supporters that puts me off.  It’s the same naivete on the Left that has been irritating and frustrating me for most of my adult life. 

If Sanders beats the odds and is elected president, he will be dealing with a Republican House dominated by conservative ideologues, and maybe also a Senate containing the likes of Ted Cruz, who can use his (ridiculous) Senatorial privileges to block legislation all by himself.  None of Sanders’ sweeping proposals have much of a chance of succeeding in an environment where Obamacare repeal resolutions are submitted and voted up on a monthly basis.  To get things done will require Democratic supermajorities or a canny ability to use what power and leverage he has, which Obama has managed to do.  Sanders' style doesn't show much capacity for the nitty gritty work of politics.

Beyond that, does anyone seriously envision him as a world leader?  Whether we like it or not, that's actually the most important aspect of the modern presidency.  Foreign policy is the place where presidents have a lot of authority and control.  At the debates he keeps with his message reducing inequality and the power of money in politics, but he seems to display a lack of thought or reflection about his potential role as a world leader.  (This issue doesn't make me support, Hillary, by the way. She is most definitely a liberal interventionist and as such too hawkish for me by half.)  Just because a lot of his supporters don't care about foreign policy doesn't change the fact that it is absolutely essential.  

Deep down I think the big issue behind all of this is that when Sanders decided to run he did so without any actual desire to be president.  I think he conceived of his candidacy as a way to get certain issues of inequality front and center, and to energize the left wing of the Democratic Party, and in that he has been very successful.  He has done that job so well that he is able to seriously challenge Clinton, at least in Iowa and New Hampshire.  Now with changing fortunes maybe he is actually running as if he seriously wants to be president, as a friend theorized to me recently.  He may be right.  That still doesn't inspire confidence in me.

Now of course I am still voting for him because I am of the mind that I ought to vote for the candidate who best represents my interests and viewpoints.  This reflects, to my mind, my own version of political pragmatism.  What bothers me is that so many Sanders supporters seem to act as if politics is an exercise in pure idealism.  When people like Paul Krugman say things very similar to what I have said, they get upset.  When Ta-Nehisi Coates criticized Sanders' unwillingness to acknowledge the intersection of race and class, they were even more upset.  When Clinton's campaign started Red-baiting Sanders, they grew apoplectic.  Now there are legitimate critiques of what Krugman and Coates had to say, and Clinton's Red-baiting is just wretched, but responding to critiques of your candidate with a "how dare you" tone shows a remarkable lack of political intelligence.

Politics is a blood sport.  It always has been, it always will be.  If you are upset Clinton's allies are Red-baiting Sanders, you HIT THEM BACK, not whine about how the game isn't being played fairly.  Politics is about getting shit done for you constituents, period.  I can't eat ideals.  Ideals don't pay the rent or put my kids though college.  This is why New York's old Tammany Hall, as corrupt as it was, stayed in power.  It brought home the bacon to its poor constituents, and they rewarded it with their votes.  Anyone in their position who wouldn't do so would've been an idiot.  Sanders proposes all kinds of things that I think would be great for me and for most of the people in this country, but if he doesn't propose these things in the context of current political realities, what's the point?  

The Left needs to end its juvenile cult of the beautiful loser.  The point of the political game is to WIN dammit.  It's not to be a better person than your opponent.  I don't like writing that, but that's the damn truth.  I love Sanders' ideas and his passion, but what would a Sanders presidency actually accomplish?  As of now, I would have to say not much.  That, ultimately, is why even though Sanders has my vote, I am not feeling the Bern.  That doesn't make me a reactionary, it makes me realistic, and the Left could use a hefty dose of realism.


Terry said...

I'll be voting for Bernie in the primaries for sure. I'm pleased he's doing so well, and energizing so many people. But like you, I don't think he can even win the nomination. I'm voting for him because it's the closest thing to a GREAT BIG YANK ON THE REINS I can give to the goddamned Dems who have either been so weak-kneed or so eager to get to/stay at the trough with the Repugs that they have been every bit as guilty of shitting our Constitutional rights away as the Repugs. Hey, guys, there are a LOT of us out here who are TOTALLY FED UP with your idiocy and cowardice. Get back to what we put you in DC for, dammit. I sign all these e-petitions and instantly am rewarded with another plea for money - nuh-uh, assholes. I'm one of the people MY taxes have been paying you to HELP and you ain't been doing your job.

Ahem. I do try not to start these tirades.

Recovering Historian said...

I would feel the Bern much more if there was a clear LBJ-type as his 2IC. But the Democrats essentially lack that person, which is why their control of both the House and the Senate in 2009-10 was a dreadful failure.