I ran into my friend J. on Wednesday, mordant Irish wit, labor organizer, ardent Bern-feeler, and, I suppose unfathomably to many of you, faithful Tomasky reader. It pained him a little, he said, to read my most recent column, in which I argued that the calendar and the math very strongly favored Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders should by all means continue to press his case for as long as he wants to but should pull back on criticizing her, since it looks very much like she’s going to be the nominee.
It pained him, he said, because try as he might he couldn’t really argue with it. Well, I said, if it’s any consolation to you, I’m getting hammered by Bernie people on Twitter. He looked at me with surprise. Really, he said; for that column? What was so objectionable about that?
The real-life answer is, nothing. Yeah, yeah, the headline; Bernie needs to “get in line.” I don’t write the headlines, usually (I sometimes do but didn’t write that one, or this one), but I’m not distancing myself from it either because good headlines do slightly oversell the copy below and get people to click and read. So I can see how that headline got people worked up.
But look. People feel passionately about Sanders. Fine. I can appreciate that. What I cannot appreciate is the imputing of foul and malevolent motives to those of us who don’t feel passionately about him. And I just don’t. I don’t have anything against him, and I’m glad he jumped in. But to me, his politics are much more gestural than concrete. He doesn’t get his hands dirty.
News flash: There are people in this country, of whom I am one, who think Hillary Clinton has plenty of flaws but also just honestly think she’s a more electable candidate than Sanders. And even more heretically, here’s news flash number two: There are people in this country, of whom I am again one, who just honestly think that Hillary Clinton would be a better president than Bernie Sanders would be!
I don’t think Sanders could withstand a billion-dollar onslaught from the right, as I’ve written before. I think they’d just murder him on the tax increases he’s proposing, and honestly, Sandersfolk, if you don’t give consideration to this question, you are doing yourself and your preferred candidate no favors. I’m open to hearing a smart argument against my position, but I haven’t heard one yet. “But the current polls say…” sure isn’t it, and “people’s revolution” isn’t it either, at least until he wins some primaries in some big, important states.
As for governing, well, it’s true that a Republican Congress would oppose both of them equally implacably. But running the executive branch is about a lot more than trying to pass big legislation. Big legislation isn’t even half of what the executive branch does. Sanders’s portfolio of issues that he cares about is far narrower than Clinton’s, and I have utterly no doubt that she would be more engaged in the minutiae of energy policy and land policy and what the FDA decides and all kinds of things that the executive branch does. And fine, they’re not breaking up the banks, but they’re really important things, and she knows them inside out, and he hasn’t shown any evidence that he’s very interested in them. On the Flint water situation, for example, she kicked his ass—she had like 10 ideas about things that needed to change, and he just growled that the governor had to resign.
The fact is that he hasn’t been an active senator. Here is his 2015 report card from govtrack.us, a nonpartisan website that tracks all matters legislative. Sanders’s “leadership score,” his ability to get others to cosponsor his bills, was the second-lowest in the Senate among senators serving 10 or more years. He got zero bills out of committee. On writing bills that won bipartisan cosponsors, he was dead last.
Now you might argue, indeed I might argue, that given the nature of that crowd, that’s actually a feather in his cap. But the man is running for president. He’s going to have to work with those people. And he wasn’t 41st or 59th or 76th. He was last. Mike Lee and Ted Cruz had better scores. Bernie’s score was 0. Yeah, yeah, I know. None of this matters. He speaks truth to power. And such clean hands!
On foreign policy, I agree with him, not her, on Iraq, and I think she cast a cowardly vote on Iraq, which I’ve written many times. But foreign policy is a lot more than that one vote, and I don’t think he cares very much about it, and he’d be in over his head. And anyway, many actual leftists regard Sanders as an imperialist hypocrite. Read this, if you dare.
So that’s my take. It has nothing to do with loving Hillary Clinton or getting DNC talking points (by the way, I think Debbie Wasserman Schultz, payday-lender enabler, should resign from the DNC) or pining for invites to those mythic Georgetown cocktail parties that I get invited to maybe three times a year and go to maybe once. It’s just my take.
But wait, here’s yet a third news flash, and something I can guarantee you you’d never hear from my Berniebro critics, so adamantly certain that their way of thinking is the one true way: I could be wrong! She could win the nomination and be a terrible general-election candidate. Or she could become president and be an ineffectual one-termer. Or he could turn out to be able to out-Trump Trump. Or maybe he could win and be the greatest foreign-policy president in history. I haven’t the slightest idea. But none of you Sanders supporters has the slightest idea of what the future holds either. We just have our opinions.
But don’t tell that to most Sanders people. They know. No—they know, in italics. What bullshit. This is just a disagreement. Raising it to anything greater than that is childish.