Bernie Sanders and how I lost the Bern

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This much is true about Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont: he has confounded every political expert that has tried to explain the rise of a Democratic Socialist in the race for the highest national office in the nation. This is also true about Bernie Sanders: he is in it to win it and any notion that he will drop out before the California primary on June 7 is sadly misinformed.

The reason being he has energized voters and potential voters with his populist message of a social revolution to fundamentally change America. From the way campaigns are conducted to the way we are taxed and how our tax dollars are spent. Bernie Sanders is a political phenomenon. From three percent in the polls when he started, to a serious challenger to the candidate many thought was in a walk to her party’s nomination.

Hillary Clinton during a Townhall with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, April 25, 2016.
Hillary Clinton during a Townhall with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, April 25, 2016.

A year ago people opined about how good it would be for Hillary if she had a formidable primary challenger. Well here you go, you have Senator Bernie Sanders.

Sanders is still behind Secretary Clinton, but he’s closing the gap, gaining not only Caucasian support, but also support from people representing a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds.

More importantly, his support comes from more than just young people — he’s got old people on his side too. Ten months ago the knock on Sanders was that his only audience were white liberals, that he couldn’t relate to different ethnic groups. Well, he’s proven that wrong since then, to some extent.

Instead of busting on the #BlackLivesMatter when they crashed his rally in Seattle, he gave them the lectern and then began to incorporate their message into his message. In fact tying his signature campaign issue, income inequality, to their issue of racial justice. It was a thing of political beauty.

For several months of his campaign I was one of the old people feeling the Bern. In August 2015 I wrote a glowing piece about Senator Sanders — he was my guy. We share a lot of the same philosophical views:

#1: Free college tuition at public universities for anyone who wants to attend college and qualifies academically.
#2: Universal healthcare. The one part of it no one mentions in this debate is that yes, our taxes would go up, no doubt, but we would not be paying the exorbitant prices for the for profit health care system we have now. The government would control the costs of healthcare, right down to how much doctors and hospitals could charge for services and how much Big Pharma could charge for its medications.
A lot of people don’t like that because the Republicans, controlled by people like the Koch Brothers, have demonized government to such an extent many people have the notion that government is all bad — except when they get their Social Security check, or get approved for their Medicare or receive their military pension or other government payout.
But consider this: even Forbes magazine, as conservative a publication as you will find, recognizes Cuba has a better, more efficient healthcare system than the U.S. The United Nations has noted that Cuba is a leader in healthcare around the world. Like many European nations, Cuba spends about 10 percent of its GDP on healthcare. The U.S. spends about 17 percent, primarily because providers have turned our medical care system (it isn’t healthcare) into their multi-billion dollar for profit industry.
#3: Senator Sanders and I believe in the progressive tax system that charges more the higher your income becomes. This is where the senator and I differ: he only wants to restore the tax system to what it was when Ronald Reagan was president. I’d like to go back to the time when Richard Nixon was president, including capital gains — especially capital gains.
#4: Senator Sanders is for taking marijuana off the list of controlled substances, in effect decriminalizing it across the nation. I would go further and make it completely legal so tokers could grow pot plants next to their roses and tomatoes.
#5: He wants to return to FDR-era banking regulations that were put in place after the Great Depression to keep banks from doing exactly what they did leading up to the financial crisis of 2008.
#6: Campaign finance reform is at the top of Sanders’ to-do list. Over a billion dollars will be spent on this presidential race. Does anyone else think that is just a little obscene?

These are some of the reasons I felt the Bern early in his campaign. Proudly so I might add … but then things changed.

Senator Bernie Sanders with Chris Hayes during the Townhall on MSNBC April 25, 2016. You can almost hear Sanders’ mom telling him not to slouch.
Senator Bernie Sanders with Chris Hayes during the Townhall on MSNBC April 25, 2016. You can almost hear Sanders’ mom telling him not to slouch.

Back in August and September one of my colleagues at LAPX, I won’t mention any names because I don’t want to embarrass Megan, but she and I were on opposite sides in the Democratic primaries. She was almost solidly in the Hillary 2016 camp. We politely shared our views, via email, with good cheer, content with the fact (at the time)l that at least on the Democratic side of the primaries, the candidates were discussing the issues.

As time went on we were privy to a number of debates and televised townhalls — plus a much publicized newspaper article and other interviews — and our views began to change. Today my colleague is feeling the Bern and I, well, when June 7 rolls up my vote in the California primary will go to the former secretary of state.

Here’s why: Bernie Sanders knows exactly what the problems are and for the most part he is on the right side of all these issues. But he doesn’t have any reasonable, realistic solutions.

The reality of healthcare in the U.S., for instance, is that the for profit system is so deeply entrenched in our political and social systems it is a part of our collective lifestyle. We couldn’t just flip a switch and move to a single-payer, universal system without causing a great shock to the economy. It would have to be incrementally put in place and give citizens the option to choose one or the other.

When it comes to foreign policy Sanders is once again without any answers, not even a “my advisors and I think …”

In his interview with the New York Daily News Senator Sanders was asked a number of foreign policy questions, from eradicating ISIL to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He just flat out said he didn’t know the answers.

On his signature issue of breaking up the banks that are too big to fail, he had no idea where the authority to do so would come from or how it would be done. That’s his signature issue, one you’d think he would have the most information. He didn’t.

If he did he would have known for sure that the mechanisms to break up the megabanks do exist in Dodd-Frank to put it in the hands of the Federal Reserve, the Secretary of the Treasury and regulators. Sanders was right, he just wasn’t sure if he was right.

When the interview got around to foreign policy, Sanders was even less informed. Is President Obama’s policy on the use of drones the correct policy” “I don’t have the answer to that.”

What about imprisoning captured terrorists? “I haven’t thought about it a whole lot.”

And the Israeli policy on settlements: “Well again, you’re asking me a very fair question, and if I had some paper in front of me I would give you a better answer.”

Really, he went into this interview completely unprepared, which is the biggest point of the interview, not the answers (or non-answers actually). The interview was not a spontaneous event, the paper and campaign had to schedule it in advance so the candidate had time to prepare, but he did not.

Bernie Sanders on the Harball With Chris Matthews College Tour in February.
Bernie Sanders on the Harball With Chris Matthews College Tour in February.

Makes you wonder if he would be prepared for everything, or even most situations, that a president has to face on an almost daily basis.

This is when Bernie Sanders lost me. On February 24 Sanders went on the Hardball With Chris Matthews College Tour for a townhall interview. When asked how he would get his policies made into law, if he had a “Do Nothing GOP” controlling Congress like they do now, the senator said he would mobilize millions of voters to pressure the GOP to get these things done.

Well, as I’ve pointed out before: the Republicans in Congress, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell primarily and buttressed by the Tea Party gaggle (there is no real GOP leadership in the House of Representatives) they have decided to be the party of “No!” disregarding what the majority of voters support. All they want to do is try and make President Obama a failure as president. Mitch McConnell doesn’t care what the voters think or believe, he’s proven that over and over again for the past seven years so it’s hard to believe a Sanders-led “revolution” would alter that position.

Even if he could mobilize such a revolution. We see it time-after-time: once an election is over the people head back to their daily lives and figure the person or people they voted for will figure it out. It happened to President Obama in 2009. Part of the problem was his, in that Obama didn’t use his bully pulpit to rile up the millions of people that voted for him. He tried to make nice with the Republicans, even as they were sending out racist emails with pictures of watermelons growing where the White House Rose Garden is, and accusing him of being foreign-born and a secret Muslim, socialist fascist. How many Republicans were willing to step forward and condemn those actions? None, not at the time. The GOP was in love with the Tea Party support back then so they were not about to chastise anyone for anything.

The people didn’t support him in 2010 when the Republicans won back control of the House of Representatives and then again in 2014 when they won control of the U.S. Senate. Far too many Democratic voters didn’t vote in those years, a common occurrence in Democratic elections. The Republican Party counts on the low Democratic turnout.

There’s nothing to indicate this would be any different for a President Bernie Sanders.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with Rachel Maddow on the MSNBC Townhall April 25, 2016.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with Rachel Maddow on the MSNBC Townhall April 25, 2016.

Personally I like Senator Sanders. He would be a much better president than any of the people still in it on the GOP side, but the nation needs a leader who understands the reality of today: Congress is broken and extremely polarized so getting anything done in Washington, D.C. will require someone who has solutions and can answer the tough questions — someone who is prepared.

Of the two people running for the Democratic nomination, only one of them appears to be prepared for the job of president: Hillary Clinton. Could Senators Sanders get prepared to be president? I would like to think so, but do you want to bet on it?

Then there is this little discussed factoid: Hillary Clinton has been the subject of the right wing hate machine for 23 years. She has withstood every nonsensical, insane claim and accusation her haters have thrown at her. From Whitewater and Vince Foster to Benghazi and her email server. There is nothing left to throw at her, nothing new.

Sanders, on the other hand, has not been so scrutinized by the right, hasn’t been the target of the right wing hate machine. Were he to be the nominee that machine would all but forget Hillary Clinton and focus their attacks on Sanders — and you can bet they would somehow use his ethnic background, he is Jewish and his parents were immigrants, to try and disqualify him for the presidency.

Anti-Semitism would be at an all time high if Bernie Sanders were to be the nominee. Racism has been at an all-time high since Barack Obama became the nominee in 2008 and the president in 2009. It would be the same for Sanders.

His religious/ethnic background shouldn’t even be a factor, but people would use it. The point being Sanders has not faced these kinds of attacks, ever, and we don’t know how he would react. So far he has proven to be unprepared in many other areas, like the Daily News and other interviews have illustrated.

Sanders likes to point out how much better he is doing than Clinton in the polls that pit the two Democratic candidates against the Republicans. Well, if the right wing hate machine turned their attacks on Sanders, that lead would evaporate over night. They’ve already done it a little, sneering the word “Socialist” whenever the subject is Bernie Sanders. Would he be prepared for that kind of dirty campaigning, a hallmark of the Republican Party? And if Donald Trump is the GOP nominee, he would be leading the dirty charge. We see that today, as he attacks his GOP rivals and Hillary Clinton.

The nice thing about the Sanders campaign is that he’s pulled the Democratic platform further to the left. He fired up a lot of voters who might have otherwise ignored the political process. The question is: can Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party depend on those new voters in November?

Some of them have been very vocal about not supporting Clinton no matter what. In 2000 I and millions of others voted for Ralph Nader. What a mistake that was. Hillary Clinton may not be your first choice, but she is your best choice in November.

All photos screenshots from YouTube. Top photo from MSNBC Townhall with Chris Hayes April 25, 2016.