Friday, August 28, 2015
Why Bernie Would Make A Terrible President
As I write this, Senator Bernie Sanders is set to introduce a bill that would, if passed, end the for profit prison industry in this country. I say "if passed" because like virtually every other bill Sanders has introduced, it has zero chance of ever becoming law. For instance, back in July, Sanders introduced a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. To say it was dead on arrival would be an understatement.
And therein lies the big problem with Sanders. He is an idealist whose vision for America, if elected, will never see the light of day. Imagine if Bobby Kennedy hadn't been taken from us in '68. He'd be Bernie Sanders today. But unlike Kennedy, who, had he won, would've had Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, Sanders, if he wins, would face, at best, a divided Congress, with Democrats holding a slim majority in the Senate and Republicans holding the majority in the House or, at worst, both houses firmly under GOP control.
It would be the ultimate "no-win" scenario for a Sanders administration. A populist president stymied at every turn by a determined opposition and unable to get any of his political agenda through. Sound familiar? Can you spell screwed?
Now I know what some of you are thinking. All the Democrats have to do is win back the House and get to 60 seats in the Senate. Good luck doing that. This isn't 2008. Not by a long shot. The truth is, thanks to gerrymandering, there is no math that leads to a Democratic majority in the House for the foreseeable future. The Senate? As of now, Democrats would be lucky to get to 51 seats, and keep in mind, one of the seats they're counting on - Pennsylvania - shows Republican Pat Toomey with a 15 point lead over his opponent. Two others - Florida and Ohio - are tossups at the moment. Hardly reassuring if you're a Democrat.
Progressives always go apeshit when they hear this, but they're living in a make believe world if they think they just because they've had a few victories over the last several months that the world is their oyster. It's one thing to be on the right side of the history; it's quite another to govern a country in which roughly 45 percent of the population profoundly disagrees with your worldview. Make no mistake about it, the far Right is more than willing to go to the mat to stop the freight train that is coming their way. And with Republicans more worried about facing a primary challenge than losing a general election, Bernie Sanders could be the second coming of Christ and the results would be the same: a lot of great speeches with nothing to show for them.
Despite her many flaws, Hillary Clinton would likely be a more pragmatic president than Sanders. She learned a great deal from her husband, especially the way he was forced to work alongside Republicans after Democrats got creamed in the '94 midterms. She's also had first-hand experience serving both in the Senate and in the State Department all the while being in the crosshairs of the GOP. Assuming she survives this email scandal, she will be far stronger for the ware.
The one thing that progressives have in common with Tea Party conservatives is their contempt for compromise. They see Bernie Sanders as the perfect tonic for what ails a broken political system. And they may be right in their assessment. The system is broken and has been for quite some time. But being right isn't the same as being successful and, like it or not, success isn't measured by the things you want but rather what you're willing to do to achieve them. While I admire Sanders' principles, I just can't see him willing to negotiate with people he profoundly disagrees with. Can you see him dealing with John Boehner and Mitch McConnell on a budget, or the environment, or anything else for that matter? Me neither. But I can see Hillary Clinton doing that and coming out of that negotiation with most of what she wanted. And, no, not because she's principled, but because she's a political animal just like her husband was. It's no accident that 15 years removed from the Oval Office, Bill is still the most popular ex-president the country has had since the days of FDR. And conservatives can't stand that fact. It drives them nuts.
Look, I get it, progressives. Hillary rubs you the wrong way. She's Lex Luther and Bernie is the Man of Steel. But this isn't a movie; this is real life. And in real life, it isn't the charismatic hero who fills arenas that ends up saving the day. In fact, except for the rare instance, heroes rarely accomplish much at all. Jimmy Stewart played Mr. Smith in that movie we all love and cherish. But it was, after all, a movie.
I know the term career politician has gotten a bad rap and deservedly so. But since when did the term novice become so endearing? You may love Bernie Sanders just like you love Elizabeth Warren. There is nothing wrong with that. As progressives, we should never be ashamed to embrace those things that define us. I would much rather live in a progressive, pluralistic world than the xenophobic, backwards world most conservatives would have us live in. But if we don't choose the right candidates to lead us, we might never see that world come to fruition. I think Bernie Sanders would be so badly overmatched he would be a one-term president. He would make Jimmy Carter look like LBJ. And that is too much of a risk to take, especially given the stakes.
If Hillary Clinton is not your cup of tea, so be it. Ask yourself this question. Is Jeb Bush your cup of tea? Or Scott Walker? Or, Heaven help us, Donald Trump? Personally, the Republican candidate I'd be most worried about is Ohio governor John Kasich. To paraphrase the Rolling Stones, you can't always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need.
Food for thought, people.