Bernie’s moment

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at a rally in Greensboro, NC, on September 13, 2015. Photo: Bernie Sanders'  Facebook page.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at a rally in Greensboro, NC, on September 13, 2015. Photo: Bernie Sanders’ Facebook page.

This week, Bernie Sanders finally achieved what many of his supporters believed all along: He became a serious contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. By pulling out a narrow win in the large Midwestern industrial state of Michigan, Sanders proved that a significant chunk of America’s center-left voting population wants a different Democratic Party.

That’s huge. The party of Sanders would be more liberal, more apt to occupy Wall Street than take its donations, more aggressive in its attack on income and wealth disparity and more unrelenting in fighting to reform the nation’s campaign finance system. Tuesday’s primary vote was a direct challenge to the Bill Clinton-era realignment of the Democratic Party, which established the organization as decidedly moderate and incrementalist.

That sounds like an easy sell to Bernie fans, many of whom think NAFTA was a deal with the devil and economic growth is secondary to economic fairness. A lot of his followers share Sanders’ conviction that Barack Obama was too timid, too willing to cozy up to bankers and traders. They’re baffled that this primary is even a contest.

But the jury is still out. Barack Obama and Bill Clinton remain hugely popular among rank-and-file voters and a lot of “Main Street” Democrats remain uncomfortable with Sanders’ talk of European-style socialism and revolution. It’s safe to say that the Vermont Senator’s campaign has already re-energized the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. But unless he wins this fight, the shift to the left will almost certainly be modest, far short of the full-scale realignment he’s calling for.

So here’s the question as we push into mid-March: Can Sanders capitalize on this moment by finding a way to shift the narrative fundamentally? That’s necessary because, as of right now, he’s still on the losing side of the delegate race by a significant and stubborn margin. In fact, Sanders fell even further behind this week, thanks to Clinton’s close second-place finish in Michigan combined with her whopper of a victory in Mississippi.

He picked up bragging rights. She gained 21 more delegates.

It’s important to point out, as an aside, that Sanders is losing not because of dirty tricks or Democratic Party shenanigans or wily superdelegates. My in-box and my Facebook wall are full of these claims. They are, so far as I can tell from a lot of good reporting, complete nonsense. The painful irony for Bernie’s team is that he’s losing in exactly the same way that Hillary Clinton lost eight years ago. The rules of the Democratic primary make it hard to make up lost ground, and he lost a lot of ground early on.

Here’s the reality. The proportional system used by Democrats to allocate delegates means that Sanders needs some big wins in some big states. Big wins in little states won’t cut it; neither will narrow victories in big states, like the one he just achieved in Michigan. He needs a blow-out and it needs to come in a place like California, New York or Ohio. And that’s a tall order. Right now, it’s still easy to find states where it seems likely that Clinton will pick up a big net gain of of delegates. It’s much harder to find states where Sanders will do so.

Which brings me back to my main point:  This is Bernie’s moment, but he needs to translate it into an even bigger, fundamentally narrative-changing moment. He needs to find a way that the next big primary vote on March 15th doesn’t turn into another day of pyhrric victories, where he captures some meaningful and symbolic wins, but still falls a bit further behind.

In short, he needs to make it clear to a lot of Democrats very quickly that he is the new face, the new leader of a rapidly changing party and that Clinton’s brand of steady-as-she goes is yesterday’s news.

This is the test we’ll see playing out in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio next week. Has the momentum shifted in this race in a way that will carry Sanders to a victory? Are Democrats really ready, eager, impatient for their party to step significantly to the left? Or will Sanders and his followers find themselves stuck in the same role that Clinton and her camp played in 2008, when she ran an agonizingly close second-place campaign but was forced in the end to step aside and cheer for Barack Obama?

In many ways, the stakes are much higher for Sanders and his supporters. When Clinton lost in 2008, she was in her early sixties. It seemed plausible, perhaps inevitable, that she would run again and have a second shot at the White House.  Her bid was also less transformational, less of a fight for fundamental change.  It’s reasonable to assume that Clinton would have governed the country more or less in the same way that Obama tried to do.

As Sanders fights for the nomination, however, he is, by his own account, reaching for a revolution. He is also 74 years old. If he fails, the Democratic Party will certainly feel his influence for years to come. But this is his one bid to redefine liberalism and realign the nation’s politics. We’ll learn very soon — perhaps as early as next week — whether he pulled off that historic feat or came shockingly, tantalizingly close.

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16 Comments on “Bernie’s moment”

  1. Pete Klein says:

    You need to figure out why people are voting for Sanders.
    I don’t believe for a moment that most of his supporters are voting for him because he is more “Liberal” than Clinton.
    I do believe many of his supporters are people who don’t like the establishment. In some ways, his supporters have something in common with Trump supporters.

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  2. Elaine Sunde says:

    “He needs to translate it…he needs to find a way…”

    That, quite simply, is the Bernie problem. Democrats share Bernie’s concerns; they believe what Bernie is saying (over and over he says it). But Democrats are also aware that he has spent decades saying it (over and over). And Democrats also know that, despite decades in public office, Bernie has yet to find a way to translate his handful of principles into a single piece of transformational legislation. Never. Not a single time, despite
    years and years of ranting at his largely indifferent colleagues.

    Now he insists that he has found a way: millions of kids and their parents will march on Washington and Mitch McConnell will hide behind the drapes, cowering before their might. Ridiculous. Find a single member of the Million Man March who believes any of that.

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  3. Ken Hall says:

    Pete, I do believe you have sussed out the core concepts of we Bernie supporters in that we are FED up with the establishment.

    My question for you is: which parts of the establishment SNAFU are you most drawn to?

    1. Human wealth disparity such that <10% control/own 93% of the wealth in US and World
    2. Human trashing of Earth at an exponentially increasing rate
    3. Human caused global warming at a rate 100's to 1000's of times (not %, times) faster than nature past
    4. Humans over populating the Earth at an exponentially increasing rate (5 born/sec, 2 die/sec)
    5. Human economics based upon an exponentially expanding rate of debt creation thanks to "capitalism"
    6. DoD expenditures approaching $1Trillion/year
    7. US Infrastructure experiencing near step function collapse
    8. US and World economies teetering on collapse (again)
    9. US purportedly out of recession via slight of hand statistical analysis of employment versus unemployment figures which conveniently ignore folks who have given up and count employment at fast food establishments as equivalent to lawyering or brain surgery
    10. US pockets of economic misery (such as North Country, NY) vice pockets of economic excess (such as Wall Street, NYC or K Street, Washington D.C.)

    The TIP of the iceberg.

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  4. Pete Klein says:

    Ken,
    All of the above. The insiders view the public as pawns in their quest for power and money.

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  5. Ken Hall says:

    Pete, Are you telling me that you are in favor of every one of the 10 items that I listed as repugnant to Bernie and folks such as me who favor his stance against such?

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  6. Ellen B says:

    The math just doesn’t add up. Even though the polling was way off in Michigan, he won by less than two points. If that is his best margin of victory in a hard-fought state, it won’t be enough. He needs to win by a lot to a) close the gap, and b) convince the superdelegates to switch allegiances. The party faithful aren’t about to jump ship unless it has truly run aground, and despite what some want to believe more people have voted for Clinton than for Sanders so far.

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  7. Pete Klein says:

    Ken,
    Against, not for.

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  8. Agnes M says:

    Bernie 546 Earned (pledged) after Ten Month campaign and little press and little people donating more money than her.. Hillary 760. pledged after Ten Year campaign (basically) and $$millions $$ from Super PAC anonymous special interests and grooming of Super Delegates for 7 years since her loss to Obama. Quid Pro Quo of status quo supporters. Three Months To Go in 28 more states. Ten hardest states are behind Bernie, Hillaries least favorable demographic states are yet to come! 2,383 needed to get nomination. July 25 is convention. Super delegates will have their eyes Bernin’ with Sander’s light as the people will light the way for him to win in these 28 states. See more at Huffington Post 3/9 “5 Reasons the C-S Race is much closer” Media is finally catching on. Ignore the Super delegate count for now. Ignore CORPORATE $ controlled mainstream media. Check into Democracy Now, The Young Turks…Read former Labor Secretary Robert Reich’s excellent history of the roots of rigged economy-income equality/systemic failure for middle class at http://prospect.org/article/…titled ” The Political Roots of Widening Inequality”

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  9. Ken Hall says:

    Pete, I assume you did not understand my initial question as stated. Here is another question. If you are against all of the items in my list that I, and I assume other Bernie supporters are against, why would you belittle his ideas and his supporters ideas as “anti establishment” as in common with Trump and his supporters of greed, conspicuous consumption, egregious ego, racism, ….. and not be a Bernie supporter yourself?

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  10. PirateEdwardLow says:

    I’m not sure how the DNC setting up a framework with a path to the presidency for Hillary Clinton.
    The DNC is filled with ex-Clinton folks.

    I don’t know if this is ‘dirty tricks’ but it is a fact that is not pointed out.

    The media has done much the same — It was pointed out by The Young Turks that in the last debate that NPR has swallowed hook line and sinker Hillary saying: “I am not a politician”

    She might not be as good as her husband, but for all over adult life she has been a politician, how can any reporter covering the election not understand that ?

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  11. Brian Mann says:

    PEL –

    First, the DNC didn’t set up a framework with a path to the presidency for Hillary Clinton. They established primary rules nearly identical to the primary rules that were used to defeat Clinton eight years ago. This time, she’s managed to eke out a narrow advantage so far – using the exact same rules that Sen. Sanders is using.

    Second, it’s true that the DNC and various other parts of the Democratic Party have people in them with close ties to Clinton. Why? Because she’s a Democrat. She’s been a Democrat since the 1970s. Sanders hasn’t. As a fairly understandable consequence of that history, they support her.

    But I’ve found no evidence that anyone within the Democratic Party apparatus has used dirty tricks or unfair advantages to derail Sanders. If voters give Sanders a majority of votes and a majority of delegates, I haven’t found any source who thinks he won’t be the eventual nominee with the full support of the party.

    Finally, Clinton has had far more ruthless, aggressive and relentless coverage of her political history, strengths and weaknesses than any other candidate in this race. Suggesting that the press has somehow advantaged her after years of email, Bengazi and other stories is a stretch.

    –Brian, NCPR

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  12. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I think the actual Clinton quote is that she isn’t a natural politician like Bill or Obama. I think that is fairly obvious in her delivery of a speech and yes, I think NPR has fallen for her ploy of being uncomfortable on the stump hook, line, and sinker.

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  13. PirateEdwardLow says:

    BM

    Who established the primary rules that would… just by chance… be helpful to a ‘consummate’ politician? … with a background in politics?

    Do having people in position of power, with connections.. ties… let’s say former employees that you paid to work for you and might end up working for you in the future… does that make for a unbalanced primary?

    Did I say dirty tricks or did I say: I don’t know if this is ‘dirty tricks’ but it is a fact that is not pointed out.”

    This is a DNC primary that isn’t just unfair to Bernie Sanders… it wasn’t just unfair to Martin O’Mally.. it was amazingly rule changing was unfair to Lawrence Lessig (https://ballotpedia.org/Lawrence_Lessig_presidential_campaign,_2016), as well as all those who ran for the democratic party ticket or thought of doing so.

    Again this isn’t a dirty trick, it is the status quo supporting the status quo. This isn’t a suggestion, it is a fact.

    Saying Clinton has had ‘more ruthless, aggressive and relentless coverage’ is kind of true, but not so much if you take out fox news and the republican party coverage.

    I am not for a second suggesting she hasn’t been vetted by the media, or she hasn’t had people take her to task.. she has… she also is part of an unbalanced system that gives her and Donald Trump more face time, without a balance understanding of the process (this is no different than when the media covers climate change with the appearance of balance by pitting a body of scientific evidence against Ted Cruz.. That is not balance).

    Ignoring these points.. by the Media… which will and does include NPR and NCPR has long been fact. we are used to it.

    You could say, we can’t always point out facts because there isn’t space or time. Okay. But that is what is often done.

    The day of this post (if I recall right) NPR (and consequently NCPR) gave a Clinton worker/supporter about five minutes of time talking about how she is a sympathetic, honest person. She is a politician and she and her campaign play the media like tightly stretched drum.

    Moments of fairness does not make it a fair game.

    To say this system doesn’t offer an advantage to the status quo candidates.. with equal time for all those running is disingenuous

    Take a poll of your listeners of who Lawrence Lessig and see why he was not on the debate stage. Is it because they are non-intelligent? or is it is because they might be ignorant of something through lack of coverage?

    I am not saying this because I am a fan of Sanders (which I am), but because I am a fan of democracy. Mr. M, you write as if you are a fan of democracy, and it is your right to defend an unfair system. that time and time again favors those with money… but don’t say it is a fair system. It is the system we have.

    I could not imagine you writing a Hillary Clinton article that said:

    “The party of Clinton would be more more moderate and switching of policy day by day, more apt to meet weekly with Wall Street and take its donations, more supportive in its support on income and wealth disparity and less likely of fighting to reform the nation’s campaign finance system.”

    You, in this article, list the system that made her a near winner before the election started by pointing out each time Sanders wins, he loses in the delegate count. Take a minute and think about that: A candidate wins the populous, but loses the system.

    That is not dirty tricks, but that is unbalance. In a way that is fair to the status quo.

    There is no reason to be defensive about that. Or turn a blind eye to it.

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  14. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Sanders supporters are pretty agitated by the rules of the Democratic Party but the rules were not set up to stop Bernie, the rules were set up to have the party coalesce around a consensus candidate early in the primaries. That does not preclude Bernie from winning this thing. It did not preclude Obama from winning last time. The intention of the rules is to prevent the sort of circus that is happening on the Republican side this year. Of course they have their own rules which did not work when Trump was thrown into the mix.

    What Bernie supporters CAN do is become active in the Democratic Party. It isn’t hard and most parties are eager to have new members.

    Personally I find it offensive for people to talk about Democrats in general and including Hillary as being “status quo candidates.” While people may disagree with positions individual Democrats or the party in general may take the Democratic Party is simply not a status quo party. Let me point out just a few issues Democrats have been fighting for:
    Increase in the minimum wage. Dems are the ONLY party that has pushed this with any success.
    Rights for LGBTQ people including marriage and adoption rights.
    Women’s equality and pay equity.
    Ending the plague of sexual assault in the military.
    Worker protection and safety.
    Teaching Science in schools – okay, maybe fighting for reality is a status quo issue.
    Women’s health care rights including abortion services
    Universal health care – argue the details all you want, Dems are fighting for this.
    Environmental issues
    Saving Social Security

    Millions of Democrats and thousands of elected Democratic Party members have fought for these issues and more. It isn’t just Bernie, it isn’t just Hillary, it is all of us together pushing in a united front.

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  15. Elaine Sunde says:

    Two candidates are urging revolution. Both see economic disparity as the central threat to our country and both have identified a single enemy to be defeated– the Establishment. And whether that enemy has the face of Wall Street or Alien Invaders, neither candidate offers a coherent, much less legal, proposal to address the perceived threat.

    In fact, these two candidates boast that they have no experience in effective governance, no skills in building consensus, no record of accomplishment in righting “wrongs.”
    In a revolution, things are not fixed; they are defeated and thrown aside. And so, both candidates offer emotional, red-faced, and greatly over-simplified rhetoric. Scorning the “established” rules and tools of American governance, they urge their excited followers to march, to threaten, to push and shove, punch and shout. And, wow, it’s working.

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  16. PirateEdwardLow says:

    This is not the debate, the debate should be charged with the media and the candidates.

    This is a condemnation of people who want to ignore a reality. I might support Berniesanders.com , but look at my post, it isn’t Bernie against the democratic machine… it is people versus the democratic status quo and the republican status quo.

    No one is saying the democrats are not the most liberal, not the most people-centric party. To imply that someone is saying otherwise is just using the republican tactics of defining a narrative with things that aren’t true and repeating them until people think they are true.

    What people can do…

    Well they can point out we live in a system of the status quo… there is no definitive definition that is good or bad.. when the status quo is to not drink and drive; we benefit from good policy and caring policy. Koch Bros don’t have a problem with drunk driving laws.. not that I can see.

    They do have a problem with : [ See Mr. KnuckleHeadLiberals list]

    That list is not a democrat list, that is not a republican list, that is a people list… and ironically a list that corporations (aka also people) does not believe in.

    If anyone thinks the millions of dollars that candidates get from those ‘corporation people’ does not influence them, then why not abolish it because it doesn’t work.

    But this system benefits the status quo, even if you want to say, ‘the media isn’t part of the status quo,’ know that the most profitable time for any media (but maybe npr) is when candidates are paying lots and lots (often superpac) money to advertise. And when they advertise there is no filter, they can say what they want.. unchecked for facts.

    I don’t blame the Koch brothers or any other corporation for wanting more money… it might be immoral when it is done at the expense of people (think drinking water in America), but when corporations can and do write the laws because they fund (pay) the candidates: That act should be called out. The media isn’t calling it out… and now some democrats in a sense of fairness are also ignoring this with the logic of : it’s sour grapes because it is hurting berniesanders.com .

    Why isn’t the media calling out Hillary Clinton for getting $250,000, for speaking to GoldenTree Asset Management (yes they report on Sanders calling her how, but do they call her out. And it isn’t Hillary, there is a reason why republicans deny climate change and the cause. The certainly are smart enough to understand facts… they are less moral though and would rather be paid to portray falsehoods.

    Look it IS hurting Bernie Sanders.. but liberals and conservatives.. libertarians.. everyone. it is hurting you more than it hurts berniesanders.com

    I am not a communist, I believe in America, I tend to be more socialist because of [ See Mr. KnuckleHeadLiberals list] and while I think capitalism is not a bad idea.. I also know:

    “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”-John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton.

    At the top of the status quo are the powerful, seeking more power.

    And anyone who calls out Drumpf supporters for being stupid and listening/beliving to a list of lies, is a bit disingenuous when the democratic party boldly uses an unfair system and they use the old dog ‘it’s better than the other side’ because better is not good.

    Again: ask Lawrence Lessig if he thinks it is a fair system.

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