Clinton might be the candidate—but Sanders has won the battle of ideasby Sam Tanenhaus / June 8, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
Elections are virtuous as well as necessary, we’re often told, good for the health of the democracy. How, then, can we explain the curiously corrupting effect vote-seeking has on politicians? Some of it is owed to the presidency itself. “We elect a king every four years,” Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State said during the Civil War, when Lincoln did indeed assume despotic powers.
Presidential aspirants are Caesars in training, treated like mini-gods: the dizzy circuit of prime-time television appearances, the magazine covers, the queuing throngs. You try giving it up.
Just don’t ask Bernie Sanders to do it. After a string of surprising victories, “Bernie” has fallen short. Hillary Clinton has won—15.7m votes so far to Sanders’s 12m, including an impressive win in California, the nation’s most populous state. She has amassed all the “pledge” delegates she needs and has a bonus of 500 free-floating “super delegates” in reserve. Sanders’s job is to salve the party’s wounds as it prepares to meet Donald Trump and the Republicans in November.
Democratic bosses are telling him to pack it in—not this minute but, please, before the national convention (in Philadelphia in late July). After a violent clash at the Nevada state convention, Sanders, instead of rebuking his supporters, blamed the party bosses, and the system they’ve rigged.
Too bad, Clinton supporters reply. Clinton has been there, too. She waged a much closer battle against Barack Obama in 2008 than Sanders has done this year. But she also knew when to quit and when to throw all her support to Obama.
Sanders will too, in all likelihood. But it’s true the two cases are very different. For one thing, he is not a party-line Democrat. On the contrary, he is “the longest-serving independent in congressional history,” as his campaign website points out. Add to this the polls showing Sanders, unlike Clinton, trouncing Trump in a head-to-head competition. Of course, Clinton has been under siege for months, while Sanders has had a free pass. Wait till the blizzard of negative ads begin. We’ll hear all about the honeymoon visit Bernie and his wife, Jane, made to the Soviet Union in 1988; about his “freelance” effusions in the “alternative” press; about his days as the Socialist mayor of Burlington, Vermont, feted in verse by a besotted Allen Ginsberg: