Sen. Sanders’ Last Test

With the unknowns of the Coronavirus far outnumbering the knowns, right now it is actually a relief to talk about politics, even given what I consider to be our nation’s current perilous political state.

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s unexpectedly strong showing on March 4, buttressed by a strong showing on March 10, have made him the prohibitive favorite to win the 2020 Democratic Presidential nomination. Although U.S. VT Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign – indeed, movement – has been incredibly impressive, has generated by far the deepest passion within the Democratic electorate, and has injected new ideas into the American political mainstream, the young voters demonstrably haven’t come out for him in the numbers that he proclaimed they would, and the African American segment of the Democratic electorate has decisively turned toward Mr. Biden. Mr. Sanders’ crusade is effectively over.

In a recent note, I quoted reporter Jules Witcover’s observation that a campaign for president “… is a grueling, debilitating, and often dehumanizing ordeal,” and suggested that any candidate that successfully perseveres for months may develop a visceral feeling that because s/he has absorbed so much adversity, s/he deserves the presidency. I would venture that for Mr. Sanders, those emotions are likely buttressed by his authentic belief that the revolutionary overhaul to the American system he has come to personify is in the best interest of the vast majority of its people. Even so, this is not his time. I would submit that how the Senator conducts himself hereafter may well determine the outcome of Mr. Biden’s campaign against President Donald Trump.

Messrs. Biden and Sanders are scheduled to conduct yet another debate – the first “one on one” debate of the Democratic presidential campaign – on March 15. After the March 10 results, there was at least one voice calling for the Democratic Party to scrap the debate given Mr. Biden’s overwhelming lead in the race; I suspect such call was prompted to some extent by concerns that Mr. Sanders – the more emphatic debater – will demonstrably get the better of Mr. Biden, will continue the divide within the Democratic Party, or will cause Mr. Biden to express support for one of Mr. Sanders’ aggressive progressive positions, which would be exploited by the Trump Campaign.

Mr. Sanders has indicated that he will debate. I think Mr. Sanders should stay in the race through the debate, but – although he has shown no indication of doing so – bow out gracefully thereafter. There are three reasons. First, Mr. Biden needs the practice of going one on one against an emphatic debater; he will have to engage in several such debates with America’s most emphatic debater in the fall. Second, Mr. Sanders and his supporters deserve the opportunity for a last hurrah. Finally – and in my view, most importantly – if handled deftly, it will enable Messrs. Biden and Sanders to begin a healing and melding process between the Democrats’ moderate and progressive wings that is absolutely vital to defeating Mr. Trump in November.

The first Democratic Presidential Debates – which, as one will recall, featured 20 candidates over two nights — were conducted in a generally amicable manner, and did little more than express the consensus that Mr. Trump is a bad guy. Judging by the tenor of Mr. Biden’s speech on March 10, I suspect that he will attempt to maintain that tone on March 15. How will Mr. Sanders act? He has consistently declared his belief that it is imperative that Mr. Trump be defeated. He has steadfastly indicated that he would wholeheartedly support whomever the Democrats nominated. He has repeatedly referred to Mr. Biden as a friend and a good man. If he truly believes what he has said, and his advisors’ assessment of his chances of winning the nomination aligns with every assessment I have heard, for the good of America, it is time for Mr. Sanders to quell his criticism of Mr. Biden, and use the upcoming debate and the days following to soothe his supporters’ intense disappointment and focus them on the need to defeat Mr. Trump.

A close friend — a dedicated Sanders supporter — and I have engaged in a good-hearted back-and-forth in recent months that has echoed that taking place on the national stage. He strongly believes that Mr. Sanders’ prescriptions are necessary to address the degrading fortunes and despair being experienced by too many Americans. I have suggested that both political reality and our national financial constraints indicate that our people’s fortunes are more likely to be improved by modifications of traditional approaches than by trying to implement the drastic overhaul advocated by Mr. Sanders. Mostly what I have argued is: the country’s future literally depends upon defeating President Trump in the fall. If I thought Mr. Sanders was the best vessel to get that done, I’d be all for him despite my misgivings about his policy approaches. I don’t. It appears that the majority of Democrats don’t. It further appears that we’ll get to see whether we are right. I expect that all Democrats, moderate or progressive, recognize that their level of unity will be a pivotal factor against Mr. Trump.

Will some of Mr. Sanders’ ideas be implemented to some extent over the next generation? It seems more likely than not. If I was speaking with Mr. Sanders this week, I would remind him of an honorable and courageous American who espoused a political philosophy literally the polar opposite of Mr. Sanders’ own: the former Republican Presidential nominee and U.S. AZ Senator, Barry Goldwater. Mr. Goldwater – in no way a racist, but who adamantly advocated for states’ rights, Constitutional strict construction, lower taxes, and ardent opposition to the Soviet Union — lost the presidency in 1964 in a historic landslide. At the same time, his failed candidacy launched the political career of Ronald Reagan, who won the presidency 16 years later espousing, in the less-strident Reagan style, Mr. Goldwater’s positions. I would tell Mr. Sanders: you may not live to see it, but if your ideas have merit, America will ultimately adopt them. Right now, it’s time to beat Trump. It’s time to get behind Joe.

We’ll soon see whether – despite all current indications to the contrary — Mr. Sanders has it in him.

2 thoughts on “Sen. Sanders’ Last Test

  1. Agree entirely. I hope Sanders uses this debate to state the advantages that his progressive ideas will have for all Americans and make the case that oftentimes the majority of people are voting against their own financial interests by being distracted with insignificant emotional side issues that Republicans are so good at promulgating ie. Benghazi, e-mail servers etc. Attacking Biden for disagreeing with those ideas will not help his cause. Now is not his time.

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