A Different Perspective About Bernie

Everywhere I look, I see pundits opining that Bernie Sanders is the worst possible choice for Democrats, that he is too far left, that moderates will never vote for him, that he cannot possibly beat Donald Trump.  It disturbs me to see even the democrats writing such drivel, but I hadn’t been able to come up with my own well-reasoned response, though I knew there was one somewhere inside this head, if only I could find it.  Well, once again Robert Reich comes to the rescue!

Calm down, establishment Democrats. Bernie Sanders might be the safest choice.
“Moderate” candidates won’t be electable if they can’t speak to middle- and working-class frustrations.

Robert Reich-4Right after Sen. Bernie Sanders’s big win in last week’s Nevada caucuses, Joe Lockhart, President Bill Clinton’s former press secretary, expressed the fear gripping the Democratic establishment in an op-ed for CNN: “I don’t believe the country is prepared to support a Democratic socialist, and I agree with the theory that Sanders would lose in a matchup against Trump.”

Like much of the party establishment, he is viewing American politics through outmoded lenses of left versus right, with Sanders (I-Vt.) on the far left and President Trump on the far right. So-called moderates such as former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg and former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg supposedly occupy the political center, appealing to a broader swath of the electorate.

This may have been the correct frame for politics decades ago, when America still had a growing middle class, but it’s obsolete today. As wealth and power have moved to the top and the middle class has shrunk, more Americans feel politically disempowered and economically insecure. Today’s main divide isn’t left versus right. It’s establishment versus anti-establishment.

Some background: In the fall of 2015, I visited Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Missouri and North Carolina, researching the changing nature of work for my book, “The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It.” I spoke with many of the same people I had met two decades prior, when I was secretary of labor, as well as some of their grown children. I asked them about their jobs and their views about the economy. I was most interested in their sense of our system as a whole and how they were faring in it.

What I heard surprised me. Twenty years before, most said they had been working hard and were frustrated that they weren’t doing better. Now they were angry — at their employers, the government and Wall Street; angry that they had not been able to save adequately for retirement, and that their children weren’t doing any better. Several had lost jobs, savings or homes during the Great Recession. By the time I spoke with them, most were employed, but the jobs hardly paid any more than they had years before.

I heard the phrase “rigged system” so often that I began asking people what they meant by it. They spoke about the bailout of the banks, political payoffs, insider deals and out-of-control CEO pay. The resentments came from self-identified Republicans, Democrats and independents; white, black, Latino and Asian American; union households and non-union. The common thread was that everyone was either middle or working class.

With the 2016 primaries on the horizon, I asked which candidates they found most attractive. At the time, party leaders favored Democratic former secretary of state Hillary Clinton or former Florida Republican governor Jeb Bush. But the people I spoke with repeatedly mentioned Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. They said Sanders or Trump would “shake things up,” “make the system work again,” “stop the corruption” or “end the rigging.”

The next year, Sanders — a Jewish, 74-year-old Vermonter and self-described Democratic socialist — barely lost to Clinton in the Iowa caucuses, beat her decisively in the New Hampshire primary, garnered 47 percent of the caucus-goers in Nevada and ended up with 45 percent of the pledged delegates from Democratic primaries and caucuses.

Trump, then a 69-year-old egomaniacal maybe-billionaire and reality TV star who had never held office and never had any previous standing in the Republican Party, won the GOP primaries and then went on to beat Clinton (though not, of course, in the popular vote), one of the most experienced and well-connected politicians in modern America.

It was seismic, and it cannot be fully explained by Sanders’s or Trump’s appeal to their core base voters. It was a rebellion against the establishment. Clinton and Bush started with all the advantages, but neither could credibly convince voters they were not part of the system.

A direct line connected decades of stagnant wages, the 2008 financial crisis, the rise of the tea party and the occupy movement and the emergence of Sanders and Trump in 2016. The people I spoke with no longer felt they had a fair chance to make it. National polls told much the same story: According to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of Americans who felt most people could get ahead through hard work dropped by 13 points between 2000 and 2015. In 2006, according to Gallup, 59 percent of Americans thought government corruption was widespread; by 2013, 79 percent did.

Trump galvanized millions of blue-collar voters living in places that never recovered from the tidal wave of factory closings. He promised to bring back jobs, revive manufacturing and get tough on trade and immigration. “We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country, and that’s what they’re doing,” he roared. “Five, 10 years from now — different party. You’re going to have a workers’ party,” he forecast. “A party of people that haven’t had a real wage increase in 18 years, that are angry.” He blasted politicians and financiers who “took away from the people their means of making a living and supporting their families.”

Trump’s populist pose, of course, was one of the biggest cons in American political history. Since his election he has given the denizens of C-suites and boardrooms almost everything they’ve wanted and hasn’t markedly improved the lives of his working-class supporters, even if his politically incorrect, in-your-face style continues to make many feel as if he’s taking on the system.

The frustrations today are larger than they were four years ago. Even though corporate profits and executive pay have soared, the typical worker’s pay has barely risen, jobs are less secure, and health care less affordable.

The best way for Democrats to defeat Trump’s fake populism is with the real thing, coupled with an agenda of systemic reform. This is what Sanders offers. For that reason, he has the best chance of generating the energy and enthusiasm needed to regain the White House.

He will need a coalition of young voters, people of color and the white working class. He seems on his way: In Nevada, according to entrance polls, he won with Latino voters and white voters, women and men, college and non-college graduates. He was the first choice of every age group except for over-65. Nationally, he is narrowing former vice president Joe Biden’s edge with African American voters.

In a general election, Republicans would surely do everything they can to tag Sanders with the “socialist” label. But that hasn’t hurt him so far, partly because it doesn’t come with the stigma it once did.

And worries about a Nixon-McGovern-like blowout in 2020 seem far-fetched. In 1972, the middle class was expanding, not contracting. Polls currently show Sanders tied with or beating Trump: A Quinnipiac poll released last week shows Sanders beating Trump head-to-head in Michigan and Pennsylvania (but shows Trump beating all Democrats head-to-head in Wisconsin). A CBS News-YouGov poll released this week has Sanders beating Trump nationally.

Instead of hand-wringing about Sanders’s electability, maybe establishment Democrats should worry that a “moderate” Democrat might be nominated instead.

Think about it …

65 thoughts on “A Different Perspective About Bernie

  1. I definitely agree with this. Although, it isn’t looking like Bernie will win anymore. What I’m worried about is if Joe Biden wins, his “moderate” stance will hold us over for 4 years, and then in 2024, we’re going to have a rerun of 2016 times 100. Perhaps 2024 will provide fertile ground for a progressive Sanders-like candidate again… or it could provide grounds for someone like Trump, but even worse. I really believe Sanders is a once in a life-time candidate…

    Not even Warren. I was a fan of hers until she started using PAC funding and that whole debacle with her accusing Sanders of a comment made a year ago that a woman couldn’t win on public television…especially when Sanders called on Warren to run in 2016….. I don’t know. Warren is great in many ways, but in many others, I don’t have the same passion for her as I do for Bernie, especially after those two incidences. I think ultimately what appealed to me about Sanders was his integrity… which is sadly lacking in many politicians.


  2. I definitely agree with this. Although, it isn’t looking like Bernie will win anymore. What I’m worried about is if Joe Biden wins, his “moderate” stance will hold us over for 4 years, and then in 2024, we’re going to have a rerun of 2016 times 100. Perhaps 2024 will provide fertile ground for a progressive Sanders-like candidate again… or it could provide someone like Trump, but even worse. I really believe Sanders is a once in a life time candidate, and I don’t think anyone will ever match up to his integrity/honesty. Not even Warren. I was a fan of hers until she started using Pac funding and that whole debacle with her accusing Sanders of a comment made a year ago that a woman couldn’t win on public television…especially when Sanders called on Warren to run in 2016….. I don’t know. Warren is great in many ways, but in many others, I don’t have the same passion for her as I do for Bernie.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I share your concerns, and take it a step further. Biden (much as I hate to, I think we can write Sanders off at this point) will have to spend four years cleaning up the mess Trump made. That will mean environmental regulations put back into place even more strict than before, among other things. It will likely mean a loss of jobs (which is inevitable anyway) in the fossil fuel industries, though new jobs will be created in the renewable energy markets. It will also mean at least two Supreme Court Justices appointed with more liberal views. All good things, but perhaps not seen as such in the eyes of the evangelicals and others who ardently support Trump. So, Biden will be making some unpopular decisions which will likely hurt his re-election chances in 2024. Hopefully, he will opt not to run for a second term and pave the way for a more popular democratic candidate, one with more humanitarian views and less concerned about the corporate giants, but … who knows?

      Liked by 1 person

    • I agree. Trump garnered his base in 2016 from people dissatisfied with the status quo, people excited by his more radical ideas. I think Bernie has much of the same momentum, but obviously far more humane ideas, and might well be the answer. That said, I don’t anticipate that he will get the nomination. Sigh.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I know too little about US politics to be taken seriously, unlike Robert Reich who seems to have his finger firmly on the pulse. I hope he is right and that the Democrats put their weight behind Bernie. Except – the UK had an equivalent to Bernie and lost spectacularly in December’s election. Brexit, of course, complicated that election, but, to the extent that Boris/Jeremy is a reflection of Donald/Bernie, I fear the worst.

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    • Sometimes … often, in fact … I find that you guys in the UK see our situation more clearly than we ourselves do, and I’ve come to respect your opinions, as well as Roger’s, David’s and Gary’s. Reich is one of the most astute political analysts I know, so I take some hope from his conclusion. But, I also hear the voices of the fools and idiots in this country who are so shallow-minded that they are saying they will only vote for a democrat if it is the one of their choice. Or, worse yet, who say they are making a statement against corruption by not voting at all. I like to think Sanders has more staying power than Corbyn did, but … sigh … time will tell. Meanwhile, I shall keep trying to convince my relatively small readership to vote … anybody but Trump! Attila the Hun even looks good compared to Trump!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Fascinating post, and despite not being American, it gives me hope. After our own [Australian] election in May last year, I was convinced the con artists of both hemispheres would win and continue wrecking the world. When Boris won in the UK, I was sure of it. Now…there’s hope.

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    • It seems that both our countries, and others as well, take one step forward and two steps back. I can’t even begin to predict where this wave of populism that has wracked your country, the EU, UK and U.S. will end, or even if it will. Nor will I likely be around to see how it plays out, but like you, I’m grateful for any signs that people still have some good sense. Yes, my friend, there’s always hope, though sometimes you have to go looking for it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • One of the hardest things I’ve had to get my head around is that everyone isn’t like me. I know how utterly ridiculous that sounds, but we all do it. We all think that the things we believe are the ‘true reality’, despite any tricky arguments to the contrary. We ‘feel’ it to be true.
        I’m still convinced that our version of reality is the most authentic one, but I’m starting to understand why so many people, worldwide, don’t share it.
        Unfortunately, that understanding doesn’t bring any comfort. Society only survives because we all ‘share’ some kind of common idea of what society should /be/.
        What happens when that vision becomes fractured? tRump will leave the Oval Office eventually, as will Boris and Australia’s ScottyFromMarketing, but the society they leave behind may continue fracturing until there’s nothing left.
        Sorry, it’s a grey day and my mood matches the weather.

        Liked by 1 person

        • A couple of things here. First, no, everyone isn’t like you … BUT … the world would be a better place if they were, for you have a kind heart and a good head. Second, you hit the nail on the head when you said “Society only survives because we all ‘share’ some kind of common idea of what society should /be/.” If we are all working toward different and opposite goals, nothing can get built. Yes, Trump will eventually leave (hopefully sooner than later), but he will have changed the entire structure of our nation … already has … and not necessarily for the better. We will not just automatically go back to the way we were when he walks or is carried out of the White House. No worries … it’s been nothing but grey days that matched my mood for weeks now. Sigh.


          • Thanks, Jill. It’s a dreary old prospect isn’t it? Our world wasn’t perfect, but we were safe, and comfortable and could live our lives without fear.Most of us, at any rate. That world is almost gone. The tech has progressed. I’m not sure that we have.

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  5. Normally I would agree with the very reasonable, rational Mr Reich. However the solution is not that simple. There are very powerful factions dividing the Democratic party right now, it’s literally life and death for the future of Democratic establishment elites. They will do everything in their power to hold on to it, witness oligarch Bloomberg buying his way in, with full support of the DNC. Bloomberg is taking over the role of Hillary in maintaining power and control over the party heads.
    Right now the US plutocracy are unifying against the working class by focusing their unlimited resources, money, connections, influence trying to convince the moderate LEFT & RIGHT to vote Trump. They have much to lose, in order to preserve their way of life, their cushy positions, access, connections and control over the political, social and economic systems that define this country, rest assured they MUST do everything in their power both legally and illegally to fix this election to their advantage. Bernie most likely will not win unless by some miracle the entire establishment supports him… which they won’t of course. Bernie is seen as the game changer spoiling their comfortable rigged system of governance. Why would they willingly concede what they’ve built over the decades?!
    A party divided is a party lost… and that’s exactly what they want, the DNC most certainly want to manipulate the win for Trump while sabotaging Bernie every step of the way. It would be so blatantly transparent and vile that they willingly risk destroying the Party forever. This will leave room for future viable 3rd party candidacy to take hold b/c the voting public will have no doubt that the system is broken beyond repair and change is the only option.
    This is like the fall of Rome all over again.

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  6. I am all for Bernie! He will beat Trump. I have no doubt! He is exciting the youth. My 18-year old neighbor and his friends are Bernie Sander’s fans and those are just a few. Even m y Republican neighbors, who voted for Trump because they couldn’t stomach Hillary, will vote for Bernie, as they would have in the last election.

    It’s the Democratic party who doesn’t want Bernie to win. There is much as stake…money wise and lobby wise. He would clean up on either side of the aisle and I cannot wait to see it.

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    • That’s what I use to think… support Bernie and win. It’s our naiveté that will hand the election over to Trump. We need a different strategy b/c the corrupt elites running this country are beyond party loyalty and politics. They are 10 steps ahead of us, the fix is definitely in. Maybe Putin will help our cause? 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • Wait … did you just say that even your Republican neighbors will vote for Bernie??? Now THAT gives me some real hope! Yes, it does seem to be the democrats who are doing the most damage … or trying to … to Bernie. Let’s hope for some unity in the Democratic Party soon!

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      • 2016, just before the election, I gave one of my older neighbors a ride. We talked openly about the election. We are old school, we agree to disagree and don’t hate each other for being on the “other side.” I asked him about Trump and he said -and I quote- “He is no good, I wait and see if Bernie gets the nomination, if its Hillary I have to vote for Trump.” Sadly, he wasn’t the only one. We have the same conversation four years later. They might vote for Biden too, but that’s about it. Bernie is their favorite, perhaps because. Beats me too. 🙂

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        • I love it when people can actually communicate without devolving into a shouting match, can as you say, agree to disagree. These days, there is far too little of that. I hope there are many, many more out there who feel like your neighbor, who have seen the monster that Trump is and would be willing to consider a vote for a democratic candidate, whether Bernie, Biden, or Bloomberg. Thanks for giving me a ray of hope!

          Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I’m not thrilled with his age or health, but all the younger candidates have failed to generate the excitement that Bernie is getting. Hopefully he chooses a running mate a bit younger than himself and highly capable. You know Elizabeth has long been my #1 choice, but … it’s looking highly unlikely. Now, if Sanders chose her for his running mate … I could be doing a happy dance!

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  7. I think you and Reich are right, and I suspect that Trump has been underestimating Bernie’s ability to beat him. Bernie has a solid base to the left, just like Trump has a solid base to the right. So they both have to win the moderate middle. I’m nonpartisan, and consider myself a moderate. I feel a little uneasy about some of Bernie’s ideas, but I do believe he’s sincere. I’ll vote for him any day, over the con-artist Trump.

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  8. Reich is spot-on, of course. I’ve been covering the rising populism story on my blog since well before the 2016 election, and it’s not just limited to the U.S. either. This phenomenon has been playing out across the world for many years, and extremist movements (mostly right-wing authoritarianism) have been pushing out the neoliberal establishment particularly in Europe and the Americas. Brexit in the U.K. is a perfect example.

    However, this populism has been routinely mis-attributed to xenophobia and racism which in fact are symptoms of the economic angst Reich detailed. In other words, it was anti-establishment sentiment which reignited latent ethnic resentments in the populace and not the other way around.

    Reich is also correct that Bernie Sanders is the Democratic candidate most able to tap into this populist energy by far. Whether that would be enough to defeat Trump in November depends on many factors, but the most important one is the most problematic – a unified Democratic Party. Last fall, the well-connected businessman and MSNBC talking-head Donny Deutsch set off an internal firestorm by publicly declaring that he would prefer Trump over Sanders as president. What kind of a Democrat is that?

    Liked by 4 people

    • Quite so … populism has been much misunderstood and I’ve long said that Trump is but a symptom of it, not the root as some would claim. After Biden’s admission that he lied about being arrested in South African, I think it’s a safe bet that Bernie is likely to be the nominee … unless Bloomberg makes a spectacular leap next Tuesday. I hope democrats can pull together and throw their support to Bernie … I seriously think this upcoming election is the last best chance to maintain some semblance of democratic foundation in this country.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Jill, I don’t know enough about Bernie’s platform policies, but it sounds to me it is time for Dems to stop browbeating him and to start looking at how to seriously adapt them into something everyone can live with. It sounds like a large number of voters are in favour of a more socialist government, so why not work to give it to them.

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    • You are right. Bernie is very much for helping humanity rather than tossing billions at a military that is already far larger than necessary. It is time for unity, for everyone to pull together instead all the fighting amongst themselves. At first I wasn’t sure if Bernie could inspire despite the ‘socialist’ label, but it seems he already has!


    • I think you may be right. I think the ‘socialist’ label will put off some, but I also think many will get over it if they listen to what he’s actually proposing. And let’s face it … the only real enthusiasm so far has been for Bernie.

      Liked by 1 person

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