Stopping Bernie

After Mike Bloomberg imploded onstage pretty much throughout the entirety of Wednesday night’s Democratic primary debate in Nevada, panic set in among the Party establishment. Keep in mind that Bloomberg was the perfect candidate for the pooh-bahs that run the Party machinery. (More on that later). On paper, Bloomberg checked all the right boxes. He is a climate fanatic, an abortion rights fanatic, an experienced executive in both the private and public sectors, and he is a technocrat with a record of competence. Plus he has a lot of money that he can spend on a campaign. A real lot. 

Bloomberg was supposed to be the Party savior who would rescue it from the clutches of Bernie Sanders, the likely nominee. And Sanders isn’t even a Democrat. But he effectively owns something like 25% to 30% of the Democratic’s primary electorate and he is almost certain to waltz into the Milwaukee convention with a plurality, and maybe a large plurality of the delegates. The game plan was (and is) for Bloomberg to consolidate the “moderate lane” behind his candidacy  and snatch the nomination away from comrade Sanders, whom the party is convinced is going to lead to a McGovern like debacle once November rolls around. 

There are a couple of problems with the plan. In fact there are lots of problems with the plan. To begin with, Sanders is rapidly moving the Party very far to the left. In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, 62% of Democratic-leaning adults said Sanders is “about right” ideologically. That result is not statistically distinguishable from the support given to Biden, Warren or Buttigieg. In addition, 72% of Democratic leaning voters say they believe Sanders would beat Trump. Nothing wins like winning. 

Polls in February are kind of fluid. It’s pretty hard to imagine that when the voting public actually begins to focus on the election that they will be quite so friendly to a socialist. Despite all the whining from the Sanders campaign, he has gotten relatively friendly treatment from the press. After all, he says he is a socialist, but his friends among the punditocracy take the edge off by insisting that he really isn’t a “real” socialist. 

Paul Krugman for instance says that Sanders socialism is just branding, the evidence being that Sanders hasn’t yet called for government to own all the means of production. I wonder if Krugman would characterize a candidate who carried around a dog eared copy of Mein Kampf as just working on his branding strategy. Somehow that’s pretty hard to imagine. We are not talking about dog whistles here. People who march around with swastikas do so for a reason. They are Nazi sympathizers or possibly outright Nazis. 

Let’s face it. Bernie Sanders is a socialist. At every opportunity he says he is a socialist. He advocates policies that only a socialist would advocate. Putting the qualifier “democratic” in front of the word socialist is a meaningless exercise. Communist dictatorships were always called “People’s Republics of…”. The end game is always the same. Occasionally people turn the boat around before it’s too late, as in the Nordic countries. (Memo to Bernie: they are arguably more capitalist than the U.S.)  Mostly however, the body count piles up before the citizens have a chance to recapture their freedom. That would be in places where Bernie has a lot of trouble criticizing the regime. Places like, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela not to mention the former Soviet Union where he spent his honeymoon and then waxed effusive about the subway system. 

So the question is this: Is there any realistic hope that the Democratic Party establishment can stop comrade Sanders from capturing the Democratic Party nomination? 

The answer is: No. 

There are two reasons why the Democratic Party establishment can’t stop Bernie. First the party establishment no longer exists as an important force. The same is true of the Republicans. The party establishment imploded when it faced Donald Trump during the 2016 primary season and the party has been thoroughly Trumpified since then. Sanders is doing to the Democratic Party pretty much what Trump did to the Republicans. 

A second reason why the party establishment is incapable of stopping Sanders is that the party is ideologically incapable of countering Sanders socialism. Four years ago Convention Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz tripped all over herself trying to explain the difference between socialism and progressivism. She couldn’t explain the difference because there isn’t any. Face it: there is no progressive limiting principle other than “trust us”. It is all government all the time.

American progressives have been attacking foundational American values for at least half  a century, and arguably longer, beginning with Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Those are the foundations upon which the basic institutions of civil society depend. They have been so weakened that it is going to take a long time to rebuild them.  If ever. It is not merely a question is who is elected to what post. What is needed is structural reform, a change in the culture and the rebuilding of fundamental institutions. Progressives are the ones who led “the long march through the institutions” that resulted in today’s dismayingly relativistic culture and its dysfunctional politics. They are hardly the ones to rebuild civil society.  

It is certainly possible that Sanders may be denied the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. That said, it is hard to see how the Party’s nearly powerless establishment would go about it. Any steps they take to block Sanders will certainly embitter Sanders partisans, whom the Party desperately needs for the general election in November. On the other hand, the nomination of Sanders would very likely lead to the re-election of Donald Trump. 

As awful as another 4 years of tweeting idiocy would be, the key question in politics remains: “Compared to what?”. A crushing defeat of socialism at the ballot box would be something to celebrate. It might also prompt the Democratic Party to seriously re-evaluate itself so it could spend its energies thinking seriously about public policy instead of having tantrums  about intersectionality. 

There is the small, but truly awful possibility that Bernie Sanders could actually win and bring in a big progressive wave along with him. Then New Zealand would be a pretty good place to move to for a couple of years. 

JFB

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Joe Benning