Now we are forced to ask whether Bernie Sanders has decided he wants to destroy the Democratic Party. I’m sure he would say he wants to save it. The way we saved villages in Vietnam. You know the quote.
I don’t allege that he decided to run as a Democrat for this reason. He did so, I’m told by those who’d know, because he did not want to be the 21st-century Ralph Nader and because he knew that running against Hillary Clinton would give him a much bigger stage on which to inveigh against the parasites.
That was then. But now, after the Nevada fracas and his gobsmacking statement in the wake of it, it’s remorselessly clear that he wants to obliterate the Democratic Party. Revolutions take on lives of their own. Robespierre never thought back in 1790 or ’91 that the guillotine would be needed. But as the dialecticians like to say, historical circumstances change. By 1793, those little sheep who’d been misled by sellouts like Danton were part of the…corrupt establishment.
Consider the statement. Have you read it? You must. Remember the context: It had just been revealed, only hours before, that his supporters had hurled abominable epithet at Nevada Democratic Chairwoman Roberta Lange, threatening death and calling her a “c--t.” That word, especially thrown at a woman, crosses an obvious line.
In such a circumstance, a normal politician would say something like: I still think the process in Nevada last weekend was unfair to my delegates. However, there is no place in my movement for this kind of invective, these kinds of threats. I renounce and denounce them completely. And I tell my supporters now, refrain from that. Hillary Clinton is my opponent in this primary; she is not our enemy.
Easy peazy. But here instead is what he said. Oh—after, after he ducked a question about it from a reporter, walking away in mid-question. Now that’s courage! Presidential! So then he put out a statement. Which began:
It is imperative that the Democratic leadership, both nationally and in the states, understand that the political world is changing and that millions of Americans are outraged at establishment politics and establishment economics. The people of this country want a government which represents all of us, not just the 1 percent, super PACs and wealthy campaign contributors.
The Democratic Party has a choice. It can open its doors and welcome into the party people who are prepared to fight for real economic and social change—people who are willing to take on Wall Street, corporate greed and a fossil fuel industry which is destroying this planet. Or the party can choose to maintain its status quo structure, remain dependent on big-money campaign contributions and be a party with limited participation and limited energy.
What? Excuse me? Your supporters just threatened to kill a woman, called her a c--t, and this is how you open your official statement on that event? He did throw in a sentence about not condoning violence, but it was buried so that the effect of it was to communicate: yeah, yeah, I have to say this. Bitch.
Most things that happen in campaigns tell us something about people as politicians. This statement told us something about Sanders—and, I suspect, about his wife, Jane, and Jeff Weaver, his campaign manager—as human beings. Everything is subordinated to ideology. Basic human impulses are buried. There is only politics, only ideology, only the movement. I’m really glad we’re not in Romania in 1965. I know where I’d be.
I know this because I’ve known lots of people like this. Leftists like Sanders regard the Democratic Party as a far bigger problem in the world than the Republican Party. The thinking goes like this: The Republicans, sure, everybody knows they’re evil. That’s obvious. But the Democrats, they’re evil too. They adopt a few attractive positions, say nice things on certain issues as long as saying those nice things doesn’t really threaten the established economic order, so they’re even worse, finally, because they fool people into thinking they’re on their side. I heard this a hundred times from the old guys who used to hector me at the Socialist Scholars Conference in Manhattan 25 years ago when I used to speak there.
That’s what Bernie is. If he’d stayed in Brooklyn, he’d have been a Social Scholars Conference hectorer. He had the wisdom to move to a podunk state, and the luck to do so just as it was becoming the place where all the aging hippies were moving, and so he became a mayor and then a House member and, finally and exaltedly, a senator.
All that said I give him some credit. He’s much better on the big stage than I thought he’d be. And I certainly don’t have contempt for all his supporters. I am friends with some of his supporters. I love some of his supporters—not that way, but dear friends, extended family, like that. And I think most of his supporters are rational people who’ll accept the reality that he just didn’t get as many votes as the other person and in November will vote for the other person.
But they’re not what’s at issue here. What’s at issue here is the people who won’t accept reality, and in particular the Pied Piper who’s blowing on the flute and waltzing them off the pier. He is becoming a sputtering joke, a man who lost 58-42 and thought—really, truly thought, deep down in his kishkes—that it was stolen from him. And his aides, according to a New York Times piece posted Wednesday night, are ready to “harm” Clinton over the course of the next month, because Sanders also believes these farkakte general-election polls taken before anyone has spent a single dollar attacking him.
It could still be different for him. If the Democrats take the Senate, he could have more power than he’s ever had, more power than he’s ever imagined. He could be chairman of the Budget Committee. Imagine. That’s power! As any Marxist knows, the budget is what it’s all about.
He has a national stage. A legion who’d follow him through a brick wall. A Senate seat for life. He can leave a huge mark on this country.
But right now, he and Jane are like Thelma and Louise. Driving the car off the cliff. With Weaver in the backseat for good measure, saying “Let’s not get caught” as Bernie floors it.
The cliff is in Philadelphia. There’s still time to hit the brakes. But it’s not clear the wheelman is interested.