Well, now we've gone and done it. We—I'll call us insurgent Democrats, though in truth many of us are Democratic-leaning independents—are backing Bernie Sanders in alarming numbers and with too much enthusiasm. We thus threaten the status quo that they—I'll call them establishment Democrats—think is going pretty darn well, thank you, and will continue to do so if Hillary Clinton is elected president.
So here's Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, a Hillary surrogate, warning that if Sanders is nominated, the Republicans will brand him a communist by showing "ads with a hammer and sickle."
Bernie's a democratic socialist, see, which to McCaskill means that when the Republicans start lying about him, right-thinking Democrats such as herself will have no choice but to run the other way—game over.
"It seems bizarre for Democrats to risk losing the presidency by embracing a politically radical doctrine that stands zero chance of enactment even if they win," Jonathan Chait wrote in New York magazine.
Paul Krugman, in The New York Times, lectured Bernie supporters about the limits of idealism. "Sorry, but there's nothing noble about seeing your values defeated because you preferred happy dreams to hard thinking about means and ends," Krugman wrote.
All this because, with the Iowa caucuses coming Feb. 1 and the New Hampshire primary eight days later, polls indicate that Bernie could win both.
And if you don't believe the polls, believe Hillary, who's gone on the attack. "I am not interested in ideas that sound good on paper but will never make it in the real world," Hillary jabbed in Iowa. If Bernie's elected, she added, "You'll get gridlock."
Sorry, but the problem isn't Bernie's happy dreams or his supporters' hopes. It's the stoicism on Hillary's side that says what's "real" is unchangeable—not for the better, anyway.
A brief history: From the 1930s to the '70s, the New Deal until Jimmy Carter, the Democratic Party was dominant in American politics. It achieved that status by presenting itself as the party of working people and by using government to employ people and pay them. Republicans believed in private enterprise and opposed government expansion.
The 1980 elections were a watershed. In the primaries, Ted Kennedy offered an orthodox Democratic alternative to Carter's more conservative approach. Carter's victory left the party in tatters. In the fall, Ronald Reagan beat Carter, and Republican notions were in the ascendency.
Democrats then moved to the right, adopting a "Third Way" politics espoused by pro-business southerners like Bill Clinton. Instead of government or business, Clinton's Democratic Leadership Council advocated government by business, with corporations doing the work of government agencies.
This system gave us for-profit prisons, charter schools, investor-owned toll roads and trade deals written in corporate boardrooms. It didn't spawn the military-industrial complex, but did allow it to mushroom and control foreign policy. Health care was already an industry, but now the insurance companies and Big Pharma were cemented into it, causing costs to zoom out of control—except for Medicare, which was government-run.
Meanwhile, a private banking Goliath grew to finance the plunder, displacing the U.S. Treasury or, to be more exact, blending into it. Finance tripled its share of the American economy, grabbing 30–40 percent of domestic corporate profits in recent years. Money that used to go directly to workers from taxes now flows through a web of bankers who take their cut.
It is this system—and the poisonous campaign-finance committees it spun off, which control both political parties—that Bernie Sanders dreams of destroying. I do too. I despair of the endless wars we fight that bring nothing but more bloodshed, more enemies—but also more weapons sales. I despair of paying for health care that is no better than in other countries with government systems, but ours costs us twice as much. I despair that members of Congress would rather take money from the oil industry than save the planet from climate change. I despair that so many are poor, while the rich hoard their billions in gated communities.
I have no illusions that Bernie can wave a wand and make this go away. I do, however, hope that the Democratic Party, which was once a bulwark—or said it was—against private predators, will cease being in league with them. Democrats have so lost the public's confidence that, according to Gallup, just 29 percent of voters identify as Democrats, only slightly more than those who say they're Republicans.
A whopping 42 percent of voters identify with neither party, because neither party identifies with them.
Bernie's campaign is about fighting the profiteers and sparking a process by which the Democratic Party can reform itself and, in so doing, help the people rise to reform the nation. A Bernie presidency would be about changing public opinion and, ultimately, trying to change the Congress we elect.
By the way, it's not a new process we seek. It's the same one that carried Barack Obama to the White House on a wave of hope and change and allowed him to make any progress with a Congress that was Democratic at first, then Republican, but always corrupt.
Final thought. Older voters prefer Hillary, but the millennial generation is for Bernie. Why? Because the young are dreaming of what the future may hold for them.
If you can't imagine change, how would you ever achieve it?
This article appeared in print with the headline "Believe in Bernie"