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Wednesday, July 08, 2015

JVL: Who is Bernie Sanders?

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July 8, 2015
No. 179
By Jonathan V. Last

On the one hand, if I told you that 10,000 people came out to see a socialist speak in Madison, you might wonder, Where was everyone else? I mean, the University of Wisconsin has 43,000 kids all by itself, not to mention all of those charming state government workers. If a commie can't pull U2 numbers in Madison, then socialism really is dead in America.

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On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is running the worst campaign money can buy and at her giant, "Hillary Power Roosevelt Island Don't Call It a Re-" launch event, she drew 5,500 people. So when Bernie Sanders pulls a crowd of 10,000 in Madison, it's kind of a big deal. Couple that with the news that Sanders raised $15 million in the first three months of his campaign, and it's an even bigger deal. For a sense of scale, in 2012 Mitt Romney raised $18 million in his first three months.

It's all got the left so excited that is predicting that "Hillary Clinton Is Going to Lose: She doesn't even see the frustrated progressive wave that will nominate Bernie Sanders."

She doesn't see that wave, of course, because it doesn't exist. Nothing is impossible, but I'd put the odds of Sanders winning the Democratic nomination only slightly higher than the odds of Donald Trump being the GOP nominee. So . . . basically impossible.

Even so, what Sanders is doing is pretty interesting and has us casting about for a historical analogue.

The obvious one is the 2004 Howard Dean. What fed Dean's candidacy was his willingness to take positions, especially on Iraq, that the rest of the Democratic elite wouldn't. These weren't majority positions by any means-not even within the Democratic party. But enough people in the base held them that Dean was able to raise tons of money and get to a reasonably strong position in the polls.

You can certainly see this element with Sanders. The Democratic party-as much as, and perhaps even more than, the GOP-is now the party of crony capitalism and Wall Street. Their march through the institutions has culminated with the capture of big business, and the party base is somewhat conflicted about this fact.

But Dean was running in a large field with no clear favorite. And while his campaign was an insurgency against the party establishment, the other campaigns were also positioning themselves as insurgents against a sitting president.

So a better analogy might be Eugene McCarthy in 1968.

In the broadest strokes, this is a useful comparison. McCarthy was a radical who was out of step with his party's establishment, but very much in-step with the base. He was the lone Democrat willing to battle President Johnson for the nomination. And his campaign began as a protest movement, focused entirely on New Hampshire. Johnson beat McCarthy in the Granite state, but it was perilously close: 49 to 42 percent.

McCarthy was never going to defeat Johnson head-to-head, but by exposing him, he lured a more formidable candidate into the race-Bobby Kennedy. And it was Kennedy's presence that convinced Johnson to drop out just a few weeks later, leaving his VP, Hubert Humphrey, free to run.

Using the power of the party establishment to make up for lost time, Humphrey used a series of "favorite son" candidates as his electoral stand-ins in primary states (such as Sen. George Smathers in Florida and Sen. Stephen Young in Ohio). And then, on June 5, Kennedy was shot.

In the chaos that followed, Humphrey won gotten, by far, the most delegates even though McCarthy had gotten, by far, the most votes. Humphrey took the nomination, but was so wounded that he never recovered.

Sanders-as-McCarthy is helpful for three reasons: (1) Like McCarthy, Sanders was the first Democrat with enough sand to run against the presumed-inevitable heavyweight. (2) Like McCarthy, Sanders had almost no chance to win the nomination at the start of the race. (3) Like McCarthy, the real danger Sanders poses to Clinton is that he might lure another big dog into the race. And happily enough, the big dog Hillary probably fears most right now is a sitting VP.

My guess is that at this point, Team Clinton has decided that Elizabeth Warren isn't going run, no matter what. They've also decided that Deval Patrick is taking a pass. Which leaves just one serious threat lurking out there.

Joe Biden can literally run as a stand-in for Obama's third term. He would have access to whatever infrastructure hasn't been picked up by the Clintons. And he's already polling at 17 percent nationally, despite the fact that he hasn't so much as hinted he might run. If Biden jumps in, I'd give him fair odds at being the nominee.

But if Clinton succeeds in keeping Biden on the sideline, then there might be an even better historical analogy for what Bernie Sanders is doing. We'll talk about it down below.


"On June 14, President Clinton launched his highly touted "conversation" on race at the University of California, San Diego. The initiative was months in the making but, as the president would have it, a lifetime in the preparation. "If there is any issue I ought to have credibility on," he said, "it is this one. It is part of who I am and what I've done."

The president has committed himself to at least one conversation-related "event" per month over the next year. Then, after conferring with members of the special commission he has created, he will issue a report to the nation. This will conclude the formal phase of the conversation, but the president hopes that its impact on the hearts and minds of the citizenry will continue.

_James Ceaser, "Bill Clinton, German Romantic," from our July 14, 1997 issue.

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"According to the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, there are approximately 29,000 religiously-affiliated pre-schools, elementary schools and high schools in the United States. In addition, there are more than 1,700 religiously-affiliated colleges and universities in our country, the majority of which hold to religious traditions that celebrate sexual intimacy within the bonds of marriage between one man and one woman. These institutions will not abandon these convictions for any tax benefit.

"Because the Court found a constitutional guarantee to same-sex marriage, will faith-based institutions be faced with a decision to deny their convictions or lose their tax-exempt status? Will their students be denied Pell grants and other forms of direct-to-student government aid? The consequences could be catastrophic for private, faith-based education, secular education and the common good."

_Samuel W. Oliver on the future of religious education, July 2, 2015


What if Bernie Sanders is actually Pat Buchanan in 1992?

In some ways, 2016 already looks like 1992. Hillary Clinton isn't an incumbent president, but she's as close to a known-quantity as anybody in politics since H. W. Bush-she's been part of public life for most of her adult life and a national figure for three decades.

She's about as dominant a figure in the Democratic primary polls as President Bush was. In November of 1991, President Bush was at 56 percent among New Hampshire Republicans. Up until a couple weeks ago, Clinton was at 51 percent.

Sanders has gotten traction in New Hampshire faster than Buchanan did. Even in November of 1991, Buchanan was only at 20 percent in polls; he didn't hit 30 percent until early January. Which is where Sanders is right now.

Like Sanders, Buchanan had the field more or less to himself. And like Sanders, Buchanan was a protest candidate who was pretty much unelectable-either in the primary or the general election.

There are differences, though. The first is that the closest Buchanan could come to Bush was a 53 percent to 38 percent loss in New Hampshire. His support in primaries bounced around the high 20s through April, and dropped to the teens afterward. At this point, there's no reason to believe that Sanders isn't capable of winning New Hampshire outright.

So who is Bernie Sanders? Is he McCarthy, who drew a bigger, better challenger into the race, won the most primary votes, and, in the chaos following Johnson's withdrawal and Bobby Kennedy's murder, might have won the nomination? Or is he Buchanan-an overmatched protest candidate who exposed the frontrunner as being vulnerable, but whose threat was able to be contained until the nomination was secured?



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