Bernie Sanders is a mensch – “a person of integrity and honor” – a person of “character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, and decorous” and so on. There’s no one-word equivalent in Standard English for that Yiddish term – so we borrow that word – and even those who disagree with everything Bernie says, or has ever said, admit that he’s basically a good guy. He’s a decent man, which is something no one has ever said about Ted Cruz.
Cruz is a nasty fellow, both calculating and dismissive, and smart as a whip, and vindictive. He sneers a lot and asks us to sneer along with him, which has propelled his campaign along. Sneering at others is fun – it feels so good – and unlike Joe McCarthy in the fifties, to whom he has been compared, because he looks just like him, Cruz is focused and disciplined in his nasty destructiveness. Unlike Joe McCarthy, he doesn’t drink – he’s a pious and proudly self-righteous evangelical – and he’s thoroughly unpleasant. No one wants to be in the room with him. His fellow Republican senators think he’s a total asshole, and there’s this:
Rep. Pete King (R-NY) went on a tear against the Republican presidential frontrunners in a blistering Tuesday interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” joking that he would commit suicide if Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) earns the nomination. “I’m not endorsing Ted Cruz, in case anyone is confused,” King said. “I think I’ll take cyanide if he got the nomination…”
There’s no Yiddish term for that – but that same evening, in the New York primary, Cruz got clobbered. He came in a distant third, as Donald Trump cleaned up. Cruz didn’t get even one of the ninety-five available delegates. Bernie Sanders got clobbered too – Hillary Clinton won almost two thirds of the vote. Cruz vowed to fight on, even if he now cannot win the nomination on the first ballot at that Cleveland convention. He’ll figure something out, something tricky and nasty and something vaguely within the rules – you don’t mess with him. He was back on the campaign trail the next day – but the mensch wasn’t. Bernie Sanders went back to Vermont to take a few days off and think about things. He’s been pretty much mathematically eliminated too, but he doesn’t want to be an asshole about this. Once a mensch, always a mensch – so maybe he should do the right thing, whatever that is.
That’s the problem. What’s the right thing to do? In the Washington Post, John Wagner and Dan Balz discuss the nature of that problem:
Hillary Clinton’s victory in the New York primary Tuesday has brought Sen. Bernie Sanders one step closer to a series of difficult decisions that can be summed up in one simple question: What does Bernie want?
How he answers that question will have a direct bearing on how united Democrats will be heading into the fall campaign – and whether Sanders will be able to leverage his success this year into lasting power and influence.
His campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination has been more successful than almost anyone had predicted. He has generated a sizable and enthusiastic following, including an outpouring among young people and a gusher of small donations that more than matched the mighty Clinton financial network. His bold agenda has pushed Clinton to the left, a testament to the strength of the party’s grass-roots progressive wing, which has made him its hero.
But as Clinton extends her lead in pledged delegates, Sanders must now confront the reality that he has almost no chance of becoming the Democratic nominee. Instead he must decide what he will do with what he has built – starting with how he conducts his campaign over the next two months, how he navigates the party’s national convention in July, what role he plays in the general election and, perhaps most important, what happens after the November results have been tallied.
Doing the right thing here isn’t as simple as it seems, although it might be:
His wife, Jane, offered a preview of the candidate’s thinking in an interview with The Washington Post just before New Yorkers went to the polls.
“If he’s president, he wants to keep this movement going,” she said. “If he’s not president, he’ll have to keep this movement going for a lot more reasons, because nobody else wants to accomplish what has ignited the interest of the voters.”
Asked what that might look like, she said: “We’ll figure that out, if and when… Honestly, we will continue no matter what. There are enough people that will continue it. We’ll keep that vision out there. I mean, he will not sit idly by. There’s no doubt about that.”
The two of them will figure out what that looks like later, but there’s this:
Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell (D), a Clinton supporter, praised Sanders for what he has accomplished, calling it “an incredible feat” – but he said the time is coming when Sanders will have to tone done his attacks on Clinton for the good of the party. But Rendell also said he understands how hard that can be.
“He has candidate-itis, which we all who have run for office have had at one time or another,” Rendell said. “You look at the crowds, you think: ‘They love me. I’m going to win.’ You get the feedback from the crowds and you really think you’re going to win.”
But you’re not going to win – face it and step aside. That’s what Lara Brown, an associate professor and a program director in the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University, says here:
Bernie Sanders’s surprisingly successful presidential candidacy has achieved its ideological purpose. It’s also helped Hillary Clinton sharpen her admittedly “unnatural” political abilities and prevent the Democratic nomination from resembling a coronation. But it’s now time for Sanders to depart from the contest and provide Clinton a few months to win over his supporters before the convention in July.
Do the right thing for the party:
Bitter presidential nomination contests usually divide political parties, unless that political party has been out of power for a while. The voters whose party has been defeated most recently are often hungrier to win, which makes them more likely to rally around a candidate they aren’t excited by.
The question of who controls the presidency is salient in terms of gauging the potential damage wrought by bitter nomination contests. The out-parties – hungrier for the presidency than in-parties – tend to have a higher tolerance for ugly primary battles. On the other hand, incumbent presidents or heirs apparent (in this case, Clinton) who face stiff intra-party competition are more likely to lose. Senator Ted Kennedy’s challenge of President Jimmy Carter in 1980 and Republican Pat Buchanan’s challenge of President George H. W. Bush are but two examples of when the parties divided themselves to their own detriment since the modern nominating system got underway in 1972.
Consider history, and a possible Trump presidency, and be satisfied with a job well done:
Bernie Sanders has done all he can do and more than he was ever expected to accomplish. It’s time that he show that he cares about the Democratic Party, for whose nomination he has been running, but whose affiliation he has never claimed. Clinton needs to not only unify, but also excite the liberal coalition before the convention. She needs the next three months. Sanders should give them to her.
D. D. Guttenplan, an editor at The Nation, thinks that’s nonsense:
Now is no time for him or those inspired by his message to leave the field.
Yet while the struggle continues, the goal has changed. Winning the White House was a thrilling dream. Winning power – durable power, the kind that makes laws and holds elected officials to account – is a longer, more grueling fight. That, however, is the task we face now. In the coming weeks, Sanders and his supporters will need to make clear exactly what he’s fighting for, both inside the Democratic Party and beyond. As his campaign officials rightly point out, Sanders’s support keeps growing. He may well win more states, and will arrive at the convention with enough delegates to push not just for a progressive platform but for procedural changes – such as an end to superdelegates or a ban on PAC money in primaries – that could level the playing field for the next generation of insurgents. He could also demand the appointment of party officials less addicted to corporate cash. In the meantime, he could direct a lot more of his attention and money to candidates down the ticket who share his politics.
In short, keep the pressure on, and Matthew Yglesias argues that Bernie Sanders is (still) the future of the Democratic Party:
Sanders is the overwhelming choice of young voters, scoring 67 percent of voters under 30 in New York even while losing overall amidst a set of election rules that were highly unfavorable to his cause. National Reuters polls now show him with a large 56-38 edge over Clinton with voters below the age of 40.
The votes of old people count just as much, of course, but any young and ambitious Democrat looking at the demographics of the party and the demographics of Sanders supporters has to conclude that his brand of politics is extremely promising for the future. There are racial and demographic gaps between Clinton and Sanders supporters, but the overwhelming reality is that for all groups, the young people are feeling the Bern.
Whether the first Sanders-style nominee is Sanders himself or Elizabeth Warren or someone like a Tammy Baldwin or a Keith Ellison doesn’t matter. What’s clear is that there’s robust demand among Democrats – especially the next generation of Democrats – to remake the party along more ideological, more social democratic lines, and party leaders are going to have to answer that demand or get steamrolled.
Do the Democrats really want to be the party of old farts? And there’s this:
Though Democrats are certainly the more left-wing of the two parties – the party of labor unions and environment groups and feminist organizations and the civil rights movement – they’re not an ideologically left-wing party in the same way that Republicans are an ideological conservative one. Instead, they behave more like a centrist, interest group brokerage party that seeks to mediate between the claims and concerns of left-wing activists groups and those of important members of the business community – especially industries like finance, Hollywood, and tech that are based in liberal coastal states and whose executives generally espouse a progressive outlook on cultural change.
Sanders’s core proposition, separate from the details of the political revolution, is that for progressives to win they need to first organize and dominate an ideologically left-wing political party that is counterpoised to the ideological right-wing Republican Party.
In short, stand for something. The Republicans do, and also don’t worry about losing:
Especially in the context of the 2016 election, there remains the small problem that most experts think Sanders would be a weak general election candidate. Younger Democrats are hungry for a more left-wing, more ideologically rigorous Democratic Party, but after eight years of Obama the general public is not. This is a problem, and one the Sanders campaign hasn’t yet offered a particularly compelling or detailed response to.
But the more you think about the long term, the less compelling it seems.
After all, mainstream Democrats have no real plan to win Congress or state offices, so in terms of big schemes for change it’s a choice between two different flavors of wishful thinking, not between realism and impracticality.
And there’s this:
More fundamentally, the Sanders contention is that if liberals want to change America in fundamental ways, they need to start by creating an ideologically liberal political party. Once you have control of a party, the chance that your Reagan-in-1980 moment may arrive is always lurking out there in the mysterious world of unpredictable events. But if you don’t have control of a party, then you are guaranteed to fail.
Sanders may or may not be the right person for the job, and 2016 may or may not be the year it happens. But it looks clear that the rising generation of Democrats want to try to build that party, and that the future belongs to politicians who’ll promise to build it with them.
Don’t walk away from the future – that’s the idea here – and Salon’s Ben Norton carries that further, arguing that Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat and Hillary represents the very worst of the party:
A new strategy has emerged in the Hillary Clinton camp: No longer even try to match Bernie Sanders’ left-wing politics – which the Wall Street-backed multimillionaire war hawk Clinton is fundamentally incapable of doing. Instead, appeal to authority and accuse the democratic socialist of disloyalty to the corrupt Democratic Party.
Clinton’s campaign did just that this week, condemning Sanders for “trying to convince the next generation of progressives that the Democratic Party is corrupt.”
The notion that Sanders had to try to convince progressives of this in the first place is ludicrous. The warmongering, corporate-funded, pro-privatization Democratic Party leadership has long made it loud and clear that it is thoroughly corrupt and reactionary.
Yet Clinton and her supporters happen to be correct about one thing; they are just right for the wrong reasons.
Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat. And this is a good thing.
Yes, Ben Norton is one angry fellow, who is angry at his party:
Since the rise of the Clintonian “New Democrat” almost three decades ago, the party has moved so far to the right it has little in common with the base it purports to represent.
President Obama campaigned on the promise of change, but, in many ways, his presidency – particularly in the first term – was George W. Bush lite.
The Obama administration barely even slapped the banks and financial elites responsible for the Great Recession on the wrist. Not a single Wall Street executive went to jail while, today, the very banks responsible pose just as much of a systemic risk as they did in 2008.
The Obama administration killed thousands of people, including an unknown number of civilians, with its secretive drone war. It expanded the war in Afghanistan – twice – dragged its feet on Guantánamo, backed a right-wing military coup that overthrew Honduras’ democratically elected left-wing government and dropped 23,400 bombs on six Muslim-majority countries in 2015.
The Obama administration waged a McCarthyite crackdown on whistleblowers, using the World War I-era Espionage Act to clampdown on more than all previous presidential administrations combined, while drastically expanding the surveillance state.
This is the Democratic Party Americans have grown up with in the past nearly 30 years, since the rise of the Clintonism. And, in these same decades, wages have stagnated, poverty has increased and people have become more and more dissatisfied with the way things are.
Well, even if you missed that Honduras thing, that’s quite a list, and Hillary will, presumably, make that list longer:
Hillary Clinton, a figure greatly admired by neoconservatives (who are overwhelmingly backing her over Trump), represents a continuation of this status quo – a status quo millions upon millions of Americans have said they refuse to tolerate anymore.
Americans are desperate for actual change, and Sanders has offered a new path. Clinton has flatly insisted that Americans cannot have basic things that much of the world takes for granted – single-payer health care, free public higher education, environmental policies that don’t rely on fossil fuel corporations that destroy the planet. Bernie Sanders says otherwise.
Norton goes on and on for many more paragraphs, and then settles here:
The fact that a 74-year-old, bald and frankly unattractive man, a Vermont senator with a Brooklyn accent whom most Americans had never heard of until this year, has been doing so incredibly well is a testament to just how popular – and one might even say correct – his socialist ideas are.
Amanda Marcotte disagrees, because the Sanders campaign has stopped being about winning and is now mostly about whining:
Things have been getting sour for Team Sanders for weeks now, but, in the past week, the campaign took a decisive turn away from positive campaigning and actually trying to win towards focusing a baffling amount of energy on a futile narrative about how his losses don’t really count.
I wish it were otherwise, but there’s simply no nice way to put this. The Sanders camp has decided to focus on stoking half-baked complaints about process, complaints that don’t serve to win a single vote to their side. Instead, it seems about Sanders and his supporters insinuating that Clinton is winning by cheating. The behavior is not the behavior of people trying to win. It’s the behavior of someone who lost a hand of poker and is throwing his cards in his opponent’s face and screaming about how unfair it is that the other guy drew a better hand.
She goes over all the mind-numbing details of what Hillary did that Bernie didn’t like – the list is long – and settles here:
The Sanders campaign did a lot of good for a long time, pushing Clinton to the left and drawing attention away from the Republican campaign. But now all he’s doing is sowing pointless animosity. If he can’t get back to productive work, it’s time for him to retire this campaign.
That’s what he’s probably mulling over in Vermont. A mensch doesn’t sow pointless animosity. That’s Ted Cruz’s job. He has a gift for it, and Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir considers them both:
Both political parties are going through intense internal turmoil, not to mention a refusal to acknowledge their own increasing irrelevance. Independents have been a larger group than either Democrats or Republicans for most of the last 25 years – and the day when they outnumber both parties put together is not far away. Both parties have now picked their nominees, in effect if not in fact, but that will do nothing to resolve their internal struggles.
If the conflict between Republican leaders and the party’s electoral base is more obvious at the moment, a similar split among Democrats is not far behind. Bernie Sanders will not be the Democratic nominee (in large part because he isn’t a Democrat), but he has exposed an immense generational and ideological gulf within the left-liberal coalition, and has channeled or galvanized a reborn activist consciousness that is fundamentally opposed to the Hillary Clinton model of top-down, incremental, organization-based politics.
On the other side of the ledger, we see a funhouse mirror image: Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee, in large part because he isn’t a Republican – which might be all we need to say about that party’s confusion and dysfunction. After decades of luring the white working class with trumped-up cultural issues (ha ha!) and thinly veiled racism, only to deliver trickle-down, CEO-friendly economics that drove those people further into poverty, the GOP’s Georgetown leadership caste has encountered one of the great karmic laws of the universe: Payback’s a bitch.
Yes, we should have seen this coming:
Clinton and Trump remain on course for first-ballot victories at their respective conventions. All other scenarios require an elaborately constructed alternate universe worthy of Philip K. Dick. Both frontrunners hold big leads over their opponents both in terms of pledged delegates and popular votes. There is no longer any plausible pathway in which either Sanders or Ted Cruz can overtake his party’s frontrunner in pledged delegates before the convention. No such pathway existed even before the New York votes were counted, and now its last traces have been obliterated. There is no example in modern political history of an underdog staging a come-from-behind victory late in a primary campaign. This isn’t a baseball pennant race, where a team might unexpectedly reel off a dozen wins in a row. The mysterious commodity known as “momentum,” in this case, is a matter of media perceptions and mass psychology, both of which are firmly cemented at this point.
So on one side there’s this:
Sanders’ brain trust may wish to claim, as of Wednesday, that they knew all along they probably wouldn’t win New York, and always thought the Pennsylvania primary next week was more important. Evidence suggests otherwise. New York was Sanders’ last chance to turn the tide, and his last chance to prove that he could win a closed-primary state where only registered Democrats vote. He fought hard, and didn’t even come close.
Sanders held numerous large and enthusiastic rallies from Buffalo to Brooklyn; over the course of the past week he drew his two biggest crowds of the entire campaign, first in Washington Square Park and then in Prospect Park. If primary elections were decided by fervor, he’d have won easily. In the end, he failed to make significant inroads in the African-American community and lost badly in New York City. A statistical tie or near-miss, in the mode of Iowa, Nevada and Missouri, would at least have been spin-worthy, and might have sustained his apparent momentum a few more weeks. Instead, Clinton won roughly 58 percent of the Democratic vote, and the long, strange trip of the Sanders candidacy is just about over.
On the other side there’s this:
Ted Cruz never thought he could beat Trump in New York, and John Kasich didn’t either. But they both got obliterated, and even the moral victory that Kasich was hoping to score among affluent suburbanites in Westchester County and Long Island didn’t materialize. Cruz has now pretty well run through all the states where he can win, having been revealed as a Bible-Belt candidate with an exceedingly narrow demographic. Kasich never won any states in the first place, except the one where he happens to be governor. His story is one of the most bizarre in this year of bizarre events: Polls suggest that if the whole country were voting Kasich could beat Trump or Cruz or Clinton easily, but he has no shot at the Republican nomination. (Sanders, who polls by far the best among all five people still running for president, faces a similar predicament.)
That leaves Sanders with this:
We don’t know what the Bernie Sanders endgame will look like, or what it might hope to accomplish – either in terms of short-term strategic gains or long-term political objectives. There was a moment, a few weeks ago, when Sanders could have withdrawn from the race and forged some sort of backstage political alliance with Hillary Clinton, dragging her a bit further to the left and extracting some more or less meaningless promises about cabinet officers or specific policy proposals or whatever. I’m not suggesting that would have been a great idea then, and there’s surely no advantage to either of them now that the race is effectively over.
In the immediate aftermath of the New York blowout, Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver and strategist Tad Devine are still insisting they’ll push on to the convention, in hopes they can deny Clinton enough delegates for a first-ballot victory. After next week’s primaries in Maryland and Pennsylvania, they may have to shelve that dubious theory, but it’s probably not the real goal. Beyond giving Bernie one last chance to speak on national TV before he goes back to the Senate, and offering his supporters a chance to blow off some steam in public, what’s the point?
That, then, leaves this:
If you can show the world that the forces of Clintonism may have won this battle, but in the fullness of time may yet lose the war, then you’re making a statement that goes beyond symbolism or political vanity. For that matter, as symbolism and political vanity go, offering Bernie Sanders a big sendoff in what will surely be his final moment in the national spotlight seems worth doing. Even in this extraordinary year, it’s been clear from the outset to anyone who can count that Sanders had virtually no shot at the Democratic nomination. I have argued all along that the central question was his legacy: What becomes of the Bernie Sanders movement after Bernie Sanders is defeated?
The usual answer, at least in American politics, is that nothing happens: The insurgency dissipates and the Democratic Party gets back to business, i.e., shining the shoes of the rich, apologizing for endless war and endless surveillance, recoiling in horror from any talk of class-based economic justice and, of course, losing every possible election from coast to coast except the quadrennial White House tournament.
That’s depressing. What’s a mensch supposed to do, fight on with intensity and decency, as well as the two can be managed together – to fight the long losing battle, because sometimes the only battles worth fighting are losing battles – to dream the impossible dream?
That sounds familiar. In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella tossed all the Jews out of Spain, the same year they sent Christopher Columbus our way, but later, in 1605, Cervantes gave us Don Quixote, a real mensch – a good, decent man, doing the right thing, no matter how absurdly hopeless. Perhaps Bernie Sanders becomes our Don Quixote – the Jewish one, from Brooklyn. There may be no other alternative now.