The strange saga of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ quixotic presidential campaign came to its inevitable inglorious end on Tuesday, and we have to admit that we’re sorry to see the series finale of such a compelling reality show. Sanders is a self-described socialist and an absolute kook whose policies would surely be the Venezuelan-style ruination of America, and it’s slightly discomfiting to our red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalist souls that his campaign went so far into the July of an election year even in the Democratic Party, but there was a certain endearing quality to his kookiness and it was always great fun to see him bedevil that awful woman who had been picked by the party bosses before the battle even began.
All kids dug the balding and white-haired 70-something throwback to an Old Left that they didn’t even know had been supplanted by a New Left, even the gray-haired New Left throwbacks we know from the local arts and hipster scenes were “Feeling the Bern,” and our atypically homosexual and Democratic neighborhood here in an otherwise reliably Republican city in a reliably Republican state has long been sprouting “Bernie 2016” yard signs like dandelions, and even we found something endearing even if discomfiting about him. The best explanation in every case is that Sanders is indeed “authentic,” something that both parties and much of the rest of the country seems quite enamored of after so many years of politicians reading from poll-tested and focus-grouped texts, and neither we nor any of our more liberal friends ever once doubted that he quite sincerely believed all that nonsense he was shouting. He’d long been poor and never been conspicuously rich, despite a long career in politics he was so cleanly outside the party system he wasn’t even a Democrat until he sought the party’s nomination, and despite all the wacky anecdotes about his dirt-floor days and a family history that used to be considered scandalous and of course those ruinous policies no one has come up with anything on him that smacks of hypocrisy.
Which we’d like to think is the main reason he so long bedeviled that awful woman whose victory was already determined when Sanders started tilting at those Democratic windmills. Presumptive Democratic nominee and former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the epitome of a politician reading from a poll-tested and focus-grouped text, and she’s never been as poor as she likes to brag about and she’s become very rich from her long tenure in the political process, and at this point even most Democrats will admit she might or might not believe any of that slightly-more-mainstream kookiness she’s spouting. It endears us to our Democratic friends that they still take such character issues in account, even as if discomfits us that they prefer a self-described socialist.
We can well imagine our Democratic friends’ pain as they watched their anti-establishment hero formally endorse the nomination of the establishment’s pre-ordained candidate on Tuesday, siding with a woman he had rightly denounced as aligned with the nefarious Wall Street sorts at the uppermost tier of every Democrats’ demonology, and accurately pointed out had voted for the Iraq War that the arch-demon George W. Bush had lied us into, and so far they seem rather sore about it. The “comments” section on our former employer The Kansas City Star’s story features people so miffed about it they’re vowing to vote for presumptive Republican nominee Donald J. Trump, and other media have logged similar threats by the rank and file, and for the now the storyline even in the most Democratic outlets is that there’s party disunity afoot. Trump is already talking and “tweeting” about the undeniably rigged process that handed Clinton the nomination, even if she did win a majority of the primary and caucus votes, and making explicit appeals to the disgruntled supporters of a self-described socialist. He can legitimately make the case that he’s on board with that storyline about Bush lied and people died and sticks to his illegitimate claim that he knew better, but the self-described billionaire will be harder pressed to make an economic case to a bunch of kids who liked all the free stuff that Sanders was offering to be paid for by awful billionaires without exacerbating the disunity in his own formerly conservative party.
Our best guess is that some of those Sanders supporters will wind up voting for the Green Party’s admittedly authentic and scandal-free-except-for-being-a-kook Jill Stein, some will wind up voting for Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, whose economic platform is the antithesis of the self-described socialist’s but is for legalized marijuana, which is likely to come in handy during the coming years no matter how this all turns out, few will vote for Trump and most will wind up glumly voting for Clinton. Sanders has volunteered his efforts to Clinton’s campaign, and if his fans aren’t so loyal that they’d vote for him even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue they’ll probably follow him to the polls to vote against Trump. The possibility of a Trump presidency strikes the same terror in the soul of a Democrat that the possibility of a Clinton presidency does in a Republican soul, and that’s how the race is shaping up despite Sanders’ best efforts.
Even in the abject defeat of that awkward appearance with Clinton Tuesday, Sanders’ quixotic campaign has slewed a couple of windmills along the way. He’s dragged Clinton and the rest of the party to the left on such kooky ideas as free college education, the by now bi-partiasan consensus for protectionist trade policies, ever more profligate deficit spending, and henceforth being a self-described socialist and admitted agnostic won’t be immediately disqualifying traits in at least one of the country’s two major parties. It’s not much of a legacy, but it was interesting to watch.
— Bud Norman