Reckoning with the rise of Bernie Sanders

Enamored with keeping the DEMS IN DISARRAY campfire lit and roaring, the Beltway press has rallied around Michael Bloomberg as story and debacle. But Bernie Sanders enjoys his best national poll numbers to date. And his numbers among POC under thirty-five remain impressive. Should he win the delegates and earn the nomination, I’ll support him in any way.

However! My objections remain. Supporters have shrugged at the first two — a mistake. As the campaign becomes more grueling past July, I can’t imagine the physical strain on Sanders’ body. They include:

1. His age. A man recovers from minor ailments and major trouble less well at seventy-eight than he would even in his sixties.

2. His heart condition. Dwight Eisenhower suffered a heart attack in 1955. Ronald Reagan’s condition in early 1987 spooked his advisors such that removing him from office under the Twenty-Fifth Amendment was under serious discussion. Medical technology has advanced. Sanders has a stent. Still, couple the heart condition and age, then add the stresses of a job that aged young and physically fit men like George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and it worries me.

3. He’s not a Democrat. This fact rankles many of the liberal anti-Sanders who otherwise recoil too from Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar. They wonder whether he’ll shirk his responsibilities as nominal party head should he win the nomination and perhaps the presidency (see below).

4. Staff instincts. Nina Turner, campaign co-chair, made a point of not voting for Hilary Clinton. His press secretary compared a demand to see a seventy-eight-year-old man with a heart condition’s medical records to birtherism. This tells me he may hire a White House staff loyal to him, not Democratic Party principles — reminiscent of Jimmy Carter, yes, but also Barack Obama and, well, Donald Trump (I could argue, I suppose, that this has worked better for Trump because his pathology meshes seamlessly with the GOP’s as the latter has degenerated over forty years).

I could mention fans, whom I won’t insult with #Berniebro tags because I know many people who don’t act like those Twitter Maenads. He attracts voters who believe the American party system, too cancerous to survive, must be destroyed. People for whom the Affordable Care Act has proven a failure even as it has suffered blows from the Trump administration and its judicial appointees that a Clinton presidency wouldn’t have allowed. Younger Americans with little or no experience voting whose commitment to iconoclasm — to avoiding labels — is a crucial adjunct to youth. These are the Sanders supporters most buoyed by a faith in Sanders’ messianic powers: he can talk past Congress, visit rural West Virginia or southern Ohio and convince them to vote blue — this despite the truth about Donald Trump’s awakening of a racism whose toxicity no political party interested in courting minorities should consider seriously.

Yet I see no evidence — yet — that my preferred candidate can do much better. She has the third most pledged delegates, and the putative strength of her “ground game,” as Chuck Todd types say, will get tested in South Carolina and Nevada. I won’t count her out yet.

One of the mild shocks of my political development is the degree to which I’ve embraced the Democratic Party. Nauseated by its submission to Bush in 2003-2004, I quit the party. I returned a dozen years later to vote in the Florida primary, heartened by the arrival of candidates like Sanders and the leftward movement of Hilary Clinton, not to mention the election of state and federal legislators shaped by Black Lives Matter, Occupy, and so on. To imagine an America allowing a third party is to imagine a country that has never existed. We have two parties: a center-left coalition comprised of people of color, women, LGBT, environmentalists, Wall Street people zealous about keeping tax rates low but supporting the party platform, and the young; and a radical party led by Jacobins with a commitment to destroying every remnant of the social welfare state going back to the New Deal and gutting the promise of the Reconstruction amendments even if these actions immolate their own voters and who would themselves set on fire. In my lifetime I’ve seen the Democratic Party shed its roots in Southern racism; it happened because younger voters, with generational worries to which satraps had shown indifference, backed candidates who even as symbols represented a break. Symbolism matters too. The Democratic Party is my political home, cancer and all.

I’m dying to be wrong. Maybe Sanders victories in states less homogeneous than Iowa and New Hampshire will still the clacking tongues of well-paid MSNBC choads, tsk-tsking over Sanders’ ability to excite voters over thirty. If he approaches the delegate count necessary for the nomination, perhaps he’ll pivot to urging grass level campaign teams to endorse endangered moderate House and Senate Democrats or at least give them the space to win elections in their own districts and states. I hope I’m wrong because I’m too queer, too brown, and too Floridian for Trump to be right.

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