Who’s Afraid of Bernie Sanders?

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by Gallagher & Schleicher

We get that many Americans — including portions of the Democratic establishment — are profoundly frightened by the rise and persistence of Bernie Sanders. There’s anxiety he’ll cause the loss of an election that the Constitution — not to mention the most vulnerable among us — can’t afford to lose.

Others dread the democratic socialism he promises. Pundits warn of 30-second attack ads replaying his honeymoon in what was then the Soviet Union. From other corners we hear still-simmering anger from Hillary supporters. Others just loathe frat-boy “Bernie Bros.”

We’d much prefer an alternative — say Elizabeth Warren or Amy Klobuchar — who would err on the side of reform rather than burning the system down and starting over. On the other hand, that’s part of why we won’t buy into the theory that there’s no way Bernie could win the presidency. The “system” is not working for many people. They voted for Trump to give a middle finger to the existing power structures. Bernie’s election would also give a “f- — you” to the status quo, just from the left hand rather than the right. So those who voted for Obama, then Trump, might just come back for Bernie.

As for old videos of Bernie in Russia, are the voters really so daft as to worry that Bernie might be an old-school communist when President Trump daily serves as toady to Russia’s present dictator? We think not.

But are Americans truly ready to give up on raw, unrestrained capitalism? From discussions with those 30 and under, we’d say, yes, many of them are. Years of Wall Street greed, feeding only those at the top of the food chain, while launching endless wars and ignoring climate calamity, leave them dubious of how the system will reward them, regardless of how hard they work. Add $100,000 in student debt that chokes dreams of home ownership and of having enough to provide for raising children and we are unsurprised the next generation finds the status quo intolerable.

If Bernie can persuade the public that he wants us to be a Finland, Norway, Sweden or Denmark, voters may decide he’s not the devil after all. Trump and friends are sure to spend a billion arguing he’d instead give us an economy like Venezuela’s or Cuba’s. But while America’s unemployment rate is lower and growth rate higher, places like Finland do have healthy economies, benefit from longer life expectancies and — dare we admit it — show higher levels of overall happiness. Perhaps it’s because they can afford their insulin.

Even Bernie would not entirely kill off capitalism. It endures in many European countries. Their idea of a safety net is just something much stronger than ours has been. And they’re willing to pay an extra 5% a year in taxes not to have to worry a hospital stay will mean bankruptcy. We propose someone with the policy chops of Sen. Elizabeth Warren can fix what’s wrong with our economic system without having to burn it down.

Evolution means progress.  Revolution generally results in guillotines and worse pain for those already highly vulnerable. We trust the Beatles’ advice on that choice.

We’ll confess we may be at least a bit “establishment Democrats.” We’re grateful for what the party has done for workers and the oppressed over the decades. So we’d rather not have a president who, elected as a Democrat, sees the party as expendable in the way that Trump sees the GOP as expendable. But changing debate rules or convention procedures to unfairly block Sanders or aid his primary opponents would be suicidal for our party. We’d not only lose the “it’s rigged!” election, we’d lose a whole generation of potential Democratic voters.

Let the primaries play out. If Sanders wins, he wins. If you’re alarmed about Sanders’ rise, then get online and donate to Warren, or Buttigieg, or whoever else floats your boat. Then show up to vote.

We fear a Sanders victory might cost further Senate seats, and so prevent meaningful rebalancing of the Supreme Court, but then again we were among those who thought surely Trump could not win and Brexit would not pass. We’ve been humbled a bit. Whatever else proves true, we expect voters will continue to demand change. We fear a “safe” candidate will get the nomination and lose the electoral college. We must have a change candidate, whoever she or he might be.

We’d prefer it not be Sanders because we suspect his decades of not changing his mind a wit on things and willingness to be a loner in Congress — beguiling though these traits may be — will translate to an inability to get things done in Washington. We want reforms that don’t merely get proposed but get passed into law.

But the reality is that the Democrats could nominate just about anyone with a pulse and a conscience, and we’d still vote for him or her as a significant upgrade. We think back on authoritarians who won their final democratic elections with less than a majority and are grateful that Sanders is not (yet) running in a third-party endeavor. A few more Trump Supreme Court appointments and it will be game over for our democratic republic.

We just watched what was supposed to be a protective Senate barrier against authoritarianism blow over like a Trump border wall. While Bernie’s true believers do worry us at times, nothing compares to the crowds gone mad at Trump rallies whom we do not doubt would follow him on a trip to Nuremberg and beyond.

In short, Bernie’s not the end of the world. We can do better. But we can also do much worse. In the meantime, welcome the energy he inspires and let’s put it to use in defeating Trump. And, dear God, please stopping reposting memes regurgitating the Hillary v. Bernie battles.

David Gallagher is a transplanted Texan, living and working in London and tweeting at @TBoneGallagher. David Schleicher is an attorney splitting his time between Waco and D.C., blogging at ContranymTimes.com. This piece originally appeared in the February 6, 2020 Waco Tribune-Herald, where the Davids are on the Board of Contributors.

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