Photo Credit: Marc Norell
Today’s right wing lives in an absurd alternate universe of fantasy and denial. Like Nancy Reagan, they just say no. But I’m beginning to wonder whether progressives are the right’s next-door neighbors.
Young progressives have fallen head over heels in love with Bernie Sanders, and I can understand why. The system is indeed broken, and Bernie stands for things I and most liberals have longed for. He’s an idealist despite his years, especially to a left-leaning youngster under 30. Unfortunately, they're letting their hearts overrule their minds.
First, a bit of history. I’ll never forget my wife and I standing outside a Safeway supermarket in the richest community in America, Los Altos Hills, CA, leafleting for George McGovern. We were young and idealistic, too, in 1972, especially about ending the Vietnam War. Revolution was at hand. But McGovern didn’t stand a chance against Nixon, and he lost in a landslide.
I know what you’re thinking: Bernie is no George, and besides, President Obama showed that a real progressive/liberal can indeed be elected president, erasing the McGovern debacle from the history books. You’re wrong. Obama had at least one thing going for him that McGovern didn’t: He’s black, and in being so he motivated a huge African American and Hispanic turnout determined to make history. I doubt Bernie can manage the type of minority response that helped push Obama over the top. His connection with those demographic groups is tenuous at best.
Like McGovern, Bernie cannot be elected. Sure, many or most Americans actually agree with his policies. But despite the fact that we’re all socialists via Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other safety-net programs, they’re scared stiff of the word. That fear may be more than enough to overcome our loathing of the Republicans vying for the nomination, except perhaps for the odious Ted Cruz. By nominating Bernie, Dems would be handing the election to Marco Rubio or John Kasich, the so-called moderates of the party who are only slightly less conservative. To make matters even worse, an idealistic young Bernie reportedly spent time at a Stalin-oriented kibbutz in Israel. If true, the right wing will have a field day insinuating he’s a communist and not-so-subtly questioning his loyalty.
There’s another, more distasteful argument why Bernie can’t be elected: He’s Jewish, like me. Did you catch the crude Cruz reference to “New York values” a few weeks ago? In many places west of the Hudson and south of D.C., that’s code for Jews. Contrary to what many believe, anti-Semitism is alive and well in America. Cruz was dog whistling to many evangelicals who love Israel not so much because of its Jews but because it signals the impending return of Jesus. That Sanders may have spent time at a Stalinist kibbutz will also revive in some the McCarthy-era effort linking Jews to communism.
But let’s say that by some miracle Bernie does make it to the finish line. He has less than a snowflake’s chance on a summer day of getting any of his programs enacted by a far-right-ruled House of Representatives. Nothing will happen in his favor legislatively until after 2020, when the next Census and redistricting take place. If you think the Republicans gave Obama a hard time, what would be the prospects of a self-proclaimed socialist?
I can’t say I’m super excited about Hillary Clinton. Her links to Wall Street bother me. Then again, she’s not about charisma. She’s a tough pragmatist who gets things done. Remember how she stared down the Republican misogynists during the phony Benghazi committee hearing last year? Hillary won’t make Obama’s first-term mistake of thinking the Republicans will cooperate if only they’re wooed fervently enough. Many progressives don’t like the compromises Obama made with health care reform, but remember Hillary’s push for universal health care during the first years of Bill Clinton’s presidency. It was so important to her, she continued to push for Obamacare during her tenure as Secretary of State. As for gender equality issues, Hillary is a pro. She’s more than ready for the Oval Office.
What scares me a lot now are the boos and cries of “liar” at the mention of her name at Bernie rallies. Why would progressives mouth the garbage thrown at her by the far right? All that will do is give the Republicans more ammunition and further alienate Democrats who might otherwise vote for her if she wins the nomination, again helping the far right win an election they thoroughly deserve to lose.
Finally, another reason to not support Bernie: If Hillary is nominated, she has a decent chance of a wipeout against her Republican adversary, and a runaway victory can have profound down-ballot fallout. Meaning, she can bring lots of Dems with her for every office from councilwoman to senator. Do we want Dems to regain control of the Senate? You betcha. On the other hand, if Bernie wins, the vote will be much closer, eliminating the down-ballot advantage. If he loses… Oy. Think of all the progressive advances under President Obama, including his many executive orders. Most could be swept away by a Republican president.
My advice to fellow progressives is to do what we’ve been wishing the right would do for decades: Use your head, not your heart. Choose reason and reality over ideology and wishful thinking.
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