Can Bernie Sanders Win? Maybe, If You Vote For Him

Maybe it’s because I’m from Philadelphia, where losing is a way of life, but I hate it when people say they aren’t voting for Bernie because he can’t win. They say they are using their heads, not their hearts.

He can win.

Last night Bernie Sanders nailed  it in New Hampshire, beating Hillary Clinton by a resounding 22 points — seven points better than the polls had predicted. How did Clintonland respond to this?  With political attacks unveiling Sanders as a fraud, of course, because the political attacks a few days earlier had worked so well. One charge was that in 2007 Sanders had chatted with lobbyists on a Martha’s Vineyard retreat run by the Senatorial Campaign Committee.  These lobbyists, it appears also have ties to the financial industry, and Sanders took $7500 from the SCC campaign fund, a fund that has Wall Street donors. Anonymous sources told MSNBC reporter Alex Seitz-Wald that “they were surprised to see the populist crusader at these lavish events and suggested he was probably in it for the free vacation.”

Here is, as they say, the narrative we are supposed to believe: Sanders has had contact with those who have contact with Wall Street and received less than $7500 in campaign money, which it is exactly the same as Hillary Clinton having taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees  form Goldman Sachs. This is a bit like telling me I am a hypocrite for claiming I was against the Iraq war, when in reality I used to eat breakfast with Robert Kagan when I was eighteen. Which I did. Once, freshman year, he even invited me and a group of other classmates to his father’s house for a midnight sandwich. Now you know the truth! This is the kind of person who supports Bernie Sanders.

The other factoid that Clinton supporters were cheering themselves up with last night was that in raw votes, Hillary beat The Donald. Which is true, and will comfort me should she be the candidate. But wouldn’t that mean that if Sanders beat Clinton by 22 points, he really took Trump to the cleaners and might be the best person to nominate? I haven’t been in grade school math for a while, but it seems so. And how do we explain Clinton’s putative attraction to the electorate “as a woman,” when New Hampshire women came out on record numbers — for Sanders? This victory was driven by young women: although the overall margin was 11%, Sanders won the 18-29 demographic by 60%. I know Madeleine Albright threatened to send them all to hell, but all I can say is she had better watch out that no one drops a house on her.

What the Clinton campaign should worry about is that after Sanders’ victory was called there was such a rush on giving those $27 contributions that many of us sat watching the “processing wheel” spin for 5 minutes or more.

But enough with the numbers: this time next month I could be weeping into my Feel the Bern tee-shirt. Should Clinton become the candidate, I will vote for her,  but I remain unconvinced that she would make a better President than Bernie Sanders. I have lots of friends who do believe this. But I have a second set of friends who claim to prefer Bernie Sanders’ vision, but are voting for Clinton “with their heads not their hearts” because Sanders can’t win. His political vision is “unrealistic,” they say; Sanders  doesn’t have the “experience;” Hillary Clinton is more experienced, more practical, and a better political operator. They don’t think she has to get better to win — and actually, signs point to the fact that she does have to get better, and even that may not be enough to give her the nomination.

One of Clinton’s chief enablers is my beloved New York Times. They have not only endorsed Clinton, they have decided to help her by constantly explaining away her shortcomings, by accepting her excuses that all setbacks are someone else’s fault, and by not covering the Sanders campaign in any substantive way at all. In fact, they would rather write about Donald Trump than write about Bernie Sanders, even though there is really nothing to say about Donald Trump.

It is also the case that the Times has a history of throwing shade at Hillary’s Democratic opponents for being too idealitstic, inexperienced, and wanting to lead a social movement instead of waging a mature political campaign with concrete goals. Take their skepticism about that skinny African American guy with the funny name who thought you could run a political campaign like a social movement. For example:

Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleney, “Obama Formally Enters Presidential Race,” (February 11 2007) doubted that an Obama candidacy was viable because its political vision was idealistic, and not realistic. “Speaking smoothly and comfortably, Mr. Obama offered a generational call to arms, portraying his campaign less as a candidacy and more as a movement,” they wrote. “`Each and every time, a new generation has risen up and done what’s needed to be done,’ he said. `Today we are called once more, and it is time for our generation to answer that call.’” Nagourney and Zeleney continued: “The formal entry to the race framed a challenge that would seem daunting to even the most talented politician: whether Mr. Obama, with all his strengths and limitations, can win in a field dominated by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who brings years of experience in presidential politics, a command of policy and political history, and an extraordinarily battle-tested network of fund-raisers and advisers.”

Strange that those advisers don’t actually seem to do so well when it comes to elections, right? Does this worry anyone but me?

To continue: on October 28, 2007, three months before the Iowa caucuses, Nagourney and Zeleny wrote another article, this time portraying the Obama campaign — which was gaining significant traction by that point, particularly among the young — as disorganized, ineffectual, and with little support from established Democrats committed to the Clintons. Interviewed over breakfast, Senator Obama spoke plainly about his opponent’s vulnerabilities in a way that is oddly familiar:

…Mrs. Clinton had been untruthful or misleading in describing her positions on problems facing the nation. He accused her of “straddling between the Giuliani, Romney side of the foreign policy equation and the Barack Obama side of the equation.” He said that she was trying to “sound or vote” like a Republican on national security issues and that her approach was “bad for the country and ultimately bad for Democrats.”

Mr. Obama suggested that she was too divisive to win a general election and that if she won, she would be unable to bring together competing factions in Washington to accomplish anything.

“There is a legacy that is both an enormous advantage to her in a Democratic primary, but also a disadvantage to her in a general election,” he said. “I don’t think anybody would claim that Senator Clinton is going to inspire a horde of new voters. I don’t think it’s realistic that she is going to get a whole bunch of Republicans to think differently about her.”

Here’s what I want to know: How does Hillary Clinton, her campaign staff, or the New York Times think that Clinton has addressed these vulnerabilities? What would make her more effective in a general election than Bernie Sanders? How has she become a better candidate since Obama took her to the cleaners? That Hillary Clinton is a great general election candidate is an entirely unproven argument. Furthermore, although the claim that Sanders has no plan to accomplish his goals seems believeable to many, the Clinton campaign is entirely unforthcoming about how her “practical politics” (and I am all for pragmatism under certain circumstances) will work better; how she will persuade large numbers of voters to support her given the many questions the campaign refuses to answer; or how she will work with the GOP Congressional caucus who seems to like nothing better than to appoint special prosecutors to investigate her.

I guess we will see. I’m still voting with my head — for Bernie.

6 thoughts on “Can Bernie Sanders Win? Maybe, If You Vote For Him

  1. No one is a great general election candidate — in a vacuum. The question is who will be the candidate against the poisonous weeds growing on the other side of the presidential divide. What does your head say about his foreign policy which embraces the Obama policy of targeted drone assassinations?


  2. That *anyone* is a great general election candidate is entirely unproven argument–until she or he gets a party nomination and runs and wins the presidency!

    If it’s so right-wing, unexciting, un-Revolutionary and status quo to elect a woman president, then why hasn’t it happened in 228 years? Is Clinton really more of a liar and more corrupt and more beholden to Wall Street than every other major party candidate to run for the presidency in the past 228 years? I don’t think so, and I’m troubled that so many people aren’t thinking about what 25+ years of right-wing messaging has done to induce us to “feel” that Clinton is untrustworthy and unlikable.

    It’s true that “I will fight to preserve the Obama admin’s achievements” is a more difficult and less sexy message than “Revolution!!!,” but is it really less necessary? (And isn’t it more practical, given the fact that Congress is now run entirely by the Republicans, and the SCOTUS is by 5 to 4?)

    It feels like ’08 Dem primary all over again, with a portion of the Democratic party projecting fantasies onto a male candidate and denigrating every achievement of the woman candidate. My main concern with Sanders is that 1) he only became a Democrat last year so he could run for the nomination, and 2) what the party needs is a prez who will engage in some major party rebuilding to re-take congress if she wants to get anything done, and I think Clinton can and wants to do that. Obama was entirely uninterested in doing this, and it really has showed & now imperils his legacy.


  3. To me the question is not “can Bernie win?” but “is he likely to win?” And it doesn’t seem like he is. There are a lot of great things about Bernie. But there are also a lot of things that would make a Republican enjoy running against him, because they can target him the way they have done so often in the past–which is why they have been actually running anti-Clinton ads. Bernie’s baggage (things that may not bother you or me but may bother tens of millions) includes: that he calls himself a socialist and says he’s not a capitalist (his nuanced explanations will please only a small portion of us), he’s 74, he’s Jewish (I can remember country music stars cackling at the very name “Dukakis,” not Jewish but just foreign-ish) and maybe sort of an atheist, he wants to raise taxes (like President Mondale), he’s never run a campaign before anywhere bigger than little homogeneous Vermont (population 626k), he applied for conscientious objector status, he was kind of a hippie, and he had a kid without being married to the mom, and the last time he got married to his third partner (same # as Donald) he joked that a trip to the Soviet Union right afterwards was a honeymoon. There are reports that when running for governor of Vermont in 1976, he wrote an op-ed for a local newspaper and said the “U.S. Congress must institute public ownership, with worker control, of the major means of production.” In a 1988 interview he said he had “a vision of society … where human beings can own the means of production.” They had to lie about Obama to call him a socialist; with Bernie they’ll make him, despite the chronological problems, the love child of Jane Fonda and Ho Chi Min. In the aftermath of Citizens United, the billionaires whose preferential status he’s challenging will spend millions on radio and tv ads just with his own voice saying “I’m a socialist” and “I’m not a capitalist.” A Gallup poll last July showed that only 47% of Americans were willing to vote for a socialist; Bernie can work on that, but how much? It’s a huge disadvantage. And Bernie’s ethically admirable lack of giant donors and PACs could mean he cannot respond fully in paid media. On foreign policy, he’s been right on some issues, but can’t talk at length without wanting to change the subject, and there are reports that people he lists as people he consults are people he has had one or zero conversations with. He may have seemed in Oct 2015 like Obama in Oct 2007, but Obama made huge strides after that date. In December, Bernie said he would give a speech devoted to foreign policy before Iowa. That would have been a chance to show that he was like Obama. Still waiting. Was his speech about socialism as good as Obama’s on race? Does anyone remember it? His applying to be a conscientious objector and limited foreign policy experience can be exploited by the fear-mongers (baritone “Bernie Sanders once applied to be a conscientious objector, and now he wants to be the commander-in-chief?” on the radio every ten minutes). If you think none of these things matter, that seems like rose-colored glasses to me. And the American public at large has not heard much of this yet (while most ads against Hillary will be about old, well-discussed things), so current polling showing him doing well in the general election may not be reliable. It’s like you hear that Bernie and Hillary have the same time in the 400 meters, but then you learn that Hillary has been running the 400 meter *hurdles*, and the actual race will be the hurdles. How is Bernie going to respond to attacks? Right now his team (which seems much less impressive than Bernie himself) seems to respond to all criticism by attacking the messenger, rather than refuting the criticism. The campaign is going to be vicious, and Bernie will really have to step up his game to hold up under the barrage of ads. To me he seems like an incredibly risky nominee. And if loses, it’s not just someone terrible like McCain or Romney, but someone really really terrible, and possibly crazy. I was open to Bernie in October and November, but he hasn’t assuaged my fears at all. Now he scares me to death.


  4. re Historiann – “Is Clinton really more of a liar and more corrupt and more beholden to Wall Street than every other major party candidate to run for the presidency in the past 228 years”

    She is definitely more beholden to wall st & donor money than her current opponent (Bernie) which is what matters for this primary.

    “fighting to protect Obama’s achievements” isn’t just unsexy, it’s a horribly weak platform! If Clinton was outlining a fantastic achievable program for change that she could put her pragmatic skills and political weight behind would be something to consider. Its definitely not coming across like that at the moment. And using executive powers to veto anti-Obamacare bills & protect Obama’s legacy is also something Bernie can / will also undoubtedly achieve.

    Clinton represents the neoliberal / corporatist wing of the Democratic party. It’s the Warren / Sanders wing that has all the true progressive energy, that’s how the party will reconnect with working class and youth + rebuild for the future. Neoliberalism never had a place in leftist politics, it must be purged as a matter of survival, it’s corporatism that has lost dems control of senate / congress.


  5. How did Clintonland respond to this?  With political attacks unveiling Sanders as a fraud, of course, because the political attacks a few days earlier had worked so well. Where did you get this information?


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