Before everybody jumps on me as a shill for Hillary Clinton, let me say that I’m not working for the Clinton campaign. I’m not even enamored with Hillary Clinton and not sure she can win next November. In fact, if Joe Biden got into the race I would have a hard time not supporting him. Somewhere in a drawer, I have a note Biden sent me in 1987 after I wrote him a letter urging him to run for president.
However, I don’t believe Bernie Sanders can win a general election. If he gets the nomination, I believe he will lose on a magnitude not seen since George McGovern in 1972. I come to that conclusion based on years of chasing the votes of swing voters in states like Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio, Virginia, and, yes, North Carolina. If Sanders’ movement becomes so powerful that those people start to join, I’ll jump on board because it means that a force is in place that will shift the entire country hard to the left. I’m not seeing evidence of that now.
Instead, I’m seeing continued polarization in this country that is bad for everybody. The chaos of the GOP Speaker’s race may be fun to watch, but it’s probably not good for people who need government to function. The Republican Party, and, hence, Congress, is being held hostage by the far right of their party who see compromise as weakness and government disfunction as a strategy to get what they want. If we make things bad enough, their reasoning goes, we’ll eventually get our way.
I’m afraid that’s the same mentality of many Sanders supporters. Reading the comments on my last post reminded me of reading Republican comments about Boehner and the once-future speaker Kevin McCarthy. A common refrain of both movements is that the establishment leaders compromise too quickly.
To hear activists on the left tell it, Barack Obama sold out the country to Wall Street because his reform plan was too weak and Obamacare isn’t single-payer. To hear the ones on the right, Boehner and company have sold out the future to rising debt and government take-over of the health care system. To the left, Democrats are always the first to cave. To the right, it’s the Republicans.
Somehow, a President Bernie Sanders is going to break through this log jam and push through a more progressive agenda than any president since Johnson. Nobody has explained how he will bring the House along with him.
I believe we’re at a time in history when we need leaders who are willing to compromise, not dig in. We face big challenges and the establishments of both parties should realize the source of the resentment driving both the right and left. Neither side trusts the traditional institutions that have sustained the nation. They don’t trust the government and they don’t trust corporations.
Much of the distrust is fueled by the very real perception that people with wealth and power are benefiting disproportionally from both our economic system and our political system. While the pressure to change both needs to, and is, coming from the grassroots outside of the system, the actual change will necessarily come from people who are very much inside the system.
Like only Nixon, who built his career as an anti-communist warrior, could go to China, only an insider can make the changes that will fix our broken institutions. Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden would have a far greater chance of reforming Wall Street or our campaign finance system than Bernie Sanders. If he were president, I don’t think Sanders would have either the temperament or the connections to cut the deals necessary to get our government working again. It’s up to the activists to make sure a Clinton or Biden would.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com, a website of commentary and analysis.