1. Bernie has a unique message
2. Bernie focuses; Hillary does not
3. Bernie has the enthusiasm
4. Bernie has our youth
5. Bernie is our nation’s educator in chief
6. Like it or not, Bernie is the Dems’ actual current leader
7. Bernie’s persistence will make the Dems stronger
8. Bernie rides the anti-establishment tide
The President reportedly
has advised major Democratic donors that it’s time for the Party to coalesce around Hillary as candidate. Yet there are at least eight reasons why Bernie’s staying in the race, whatever its outcome, would be good for the Party and the nation, and maybe even good for Hillary:
1. Bernie has a unique message.
Bernie’s message has three parts. First, the 1%, including Wall Street, have stacked the economic deck against the rest of us. Second, Citizens United
has given the 1% the power to deceive and delude us politically, and they are exploiting that power as much as they can. Third, the 1% are largely responsible for moving American factories and industries abroad, and they have profited exorbitantly from doing so.
No one else in American public life is making these points as persuasively as Bernie, let alone as often. They are valid points. They ought to be in the forefront of political discourse for as long as this agonizing campaign season lasts.
2. Bernie focuses; Hillary does not.
Hillary may well be our next president. But she doesn’t know how to focus. Her message is diffuse and unmemorable: experience, competence, and empathy, plus innumerable unspecified “comprehensive plans.” Unlike Bernie, she doesn’t go for the jugular at all, except sometimes when attacking Bernie.
Although Donald Trump is capriciously inconsistent, he and Ted Cruz both know how to focus. Each has a clear message. Trump’s is “I’m the boss. Don’t mess with me. I’ll fix what’s ailing us.” Cruz’ is “I’ll make us great again by turning us into the type of theocracy we’re fighting in IS and Iran. If you can’t lick ’em, join ’em.” While these messages send chills up the spine of anyone having a passing acquaintance with history, they are clear and focused. The Democrats need someone on their side who can focus and punch back.
3. Bernie has the enthusiasm.
The worst raps against Bernie are that he and his plans are unrealistic. But his diagnoses of what ails us are spot on. Anyway, a political party must have goals. Doing better and being more competent with “comprehensive plans” are not goals. For all I can tell after watching her carefully since 2007, Hillary has no clear goal except becoming our nation’s first female president.
As I’ve often written on this blog, I will support Hillary if she wins the nomination. Given the horrible alternatives, I will even support her with some money and enthusiasm—at least that of a condemned man who sees hope of reprieve. But at the moment, Bernie is setting all the Democratic Party’s goals, and Hillary is slowly accommodating to most of them. Bernie is a one-man Party platform committee and a one-man cheerleader for the moderate left. He deserves to continue in those roles.
4. Bernie has our youth.
Paradoxically for a 74-year-old, Bernie has our youth in the palm of his hand. He wins the 18-to-29-year-old votes by margins as great as eight to one. That’s not surprising. His platform directly addresses the most pressing concerns of our youth: massive student debt and no or inadequate jobs after completing the higher education that caused the debt.
For a generation and a half—since Ronald Reagan—the right wing has been on the ascendancy in America. Now it has captured two of our three branches of government and so has emasculated the presidency. But it also has lost its way: it is split, leaderless and utterly without ideas. The public dimly perceives that its outmoded and terminally vague policy mantra (lower taxes, less regulation, less “political correctness” and more “freedom”) hasn’t worked and won’t cure our growing ills.
So the Democratic Party is poised to retake the ascendancy, and perhaps all three branches of government. But it can’t do that without our future: our youth. Bernie has them. So his continued candidacy means closer engagement with youth and a better future for the Party.
5. Bernie is our nation’s educator in chief.
In the four generations since Social Security and Medicare began, our right wing has demonized social programs as “socialism.” It has deliberately confused democratic socialism with Communism, including the now-vanished Russian and Chinese varieties. It has conditioned American voters, like Pavlov’s dogs, to think of pedestrian social programs as “socialism,” and to growl whenever the word “socialism” is mentioned.
But Bernie knows a dirty little secret. Neither expanding Medicare and Social Security nor giving our youth free public higher education will destroy our free-enterprise system or capitalism in America. On the contrary, it will make them work better. It will give more ordinary people more money to spend on goods and services, and it will make sure our youth are properly educated to create the next
generation of transformative private industries. Bernie’s oft-repeated message that college is the new high-school, and that free public education has been the primary source of our nation’s greatness, is spot on.
Only Bernie makes these points. Only he has consistently debunked the lie that limited social programs will destroy our economic system. Only he has had the courage to call himself a “Democratic Socialist.” Only he has had the presence of mind to point out that virtually all of our developed-country rivals have that very same strain of politics—some among their current leaders—and that all are capitalist, prosperous and happy. None has crushed or even harmed free enterprise.
This bit of public education is almost as important as debt-free college. Only Bernie is providing it. That service alone makes his campaign worth while.
6. Like it or not, Bernie is the Dems’ actual current leader.
A “leader” is a person who leads, who takes us where we otherwise would not go. Bernie does that, or at least he tries to. He does it with national single-payer health care, and with tuition-free public college. He does it with overturning Citizens United
, getting Wall Street out of the businesses of gambling and swindling and back to honest capital formation, and keeping what’s left of our industry here at home.
Hillary may yet be a first, but she is not a leader
. Her inveterate traits are triangulating, temporizing, and seeking the middle ground. After eight years in the Senate, she has not a single law with her name on it. She followed, not led, in understanding what a catastrophe Dubya’s war in Iraq has been.
So Bernie is the Democrats’ leader, by default if nothing else. He has set the agenda, at least for discussion within the Party. He has set bold new goals. And even the New York Times
—as pro-Hillary a rag as at is possible to be—has recognized
his ability to move toward those goals incrementally when necessary. Unlike his caricature by Hillary, Bernie has been a clever, pragmatic and effective legislator, even while leading from the isolation of “independent” status and our nation’s only self-confessed “Democratic Socialist.”
7. Bernie’s persistence will make the Dems stronger.
While nothing in politics is certain, the Dems are highly likely to win the presidency this year. The opposition is split, leaderless, rudderless and in disarray. It has no clear message. Mitt Romney is still the GOP’s de facto
leader, if only by default. But he has just excoriated the party’s front-runner and promised to vote for an American Theocracy. How bizarre is that?
Under these circumstances, what the Dems need most is a clear message. Bernie provides that. Hillary’s reliance on “competence” and “comprehensive plans” is no substitute. John Kerry tried asserting competence against Dubya in 2004 and lost
. Democrats need a clear vision—something to fight for and to distinguish themselves from the GOP. Bernie has that; if Hillary has it at all, it is a pale copy of Bernie’s program.
8. Bernie rides the anti-establishment tide.
American voters are fed up with the “establishment,” which has brought them little but discord and bickering for seven years. Only complete and universal disgust with the establishment could have brought us leading GOP candidates as inexperienced and bizarre as Trump and Cruz. And only it could have given a Democratic Socialist a chance to put his case before the public, despite more than a half-century of Pavlovian conditioning.
With Trump or Cruz as the likely GOP nominee, Hillary would be the sole establishment candidate for president. As such, she would bear the entire onus of public disgust. Doesn’t it make simple campaign sense to link her with one of only two true rebels in the entire field, the other being Trump?
If anything can defeat Hillary in the general election, it’s her identification with the establishment and her past mistakes and scandals, including Emailgate. If she and her operatives are smart, they will figure out ways to get Bernie’s anti-establishment aura to rub off on her. Disposing of his campaign prematurely
is not one of them.
If Bernie’s campaign continues, if Hillary wins the nomination, and if he endorses her (as he should, if the win is fair), Hillary will have a good chance to capture the enthusiasm and devotion of Bernie’s followers. And Bernie, having continued his program of public education for another few months, will have brought the nation and its youth closer to a rational view of the function of government in the twenty-first century.
For all these reasons, it’s not now time to ask Bernie to leave the field. For Bernie, not Hillary, is giving the Democratic Party the clear goals, the focus, and the enthusiasm to win the presidency, take back the Congress and the Supreme Court, and ultimately take our country back from the Dark Side. Hillary would be wise to find a subtle and discreet way to jump on his bandwagon.