Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series covering why each and every candidate for president in 2016 is an awful human being who should not for the love of God be elected to any position of responsibility ever.
Oh, Bernie. Adorably cranky Bernie. Contrary to the italics above, Sen. Bernie Sanders is oddly unhateable. Unfortunately the nature of politics means that the guy who seems like a decent, non-android human is not necessarily to be trusted with a whole mess of power. Nor does his likable, yelly nature, his legit history of being arrested for righteous causes like desegregation or his painfully earnest folk album make his positions feasible or prudent.
Yes, the former congressman and former mayor of Burlington, Vt., is serving a useful purpose by standing in the way of the Hillary Clinton express and by reminding people that Henry Kissinger is a scumbag.
And it is damn hard to feel much vitriol for a politician who released a spoken word album called “We Shall Overcome.” Sanders is just so earnest, so co-op, so OK with being a white guy politician who would name his album “We Shall Over Come,” that it is cute. Yes, even when he’s wrong about something. Still, he’s been in Congress for 25 years. Nobody can stay a Woody-Guthrie-singing hippie in the face of that.
There are many ice packs available for anyone feeling the Bern. He’s just not the dreamboat his thousands of enthusiastic supporters think, except in the sense that many of his plans are pure fantasy, and others are tempered with the reality of nasty Washington compromises that have already happened and will multiply if by some bizarre trick Sanders actually won the White House.
Back when he was a Congressman in 1995 Sanders savaged Rep. Duke Cunningham (a suspiciously Republican name) when Cunningham ranted about “homos in the military.”
Sanders certainly gets points for sticking up for gay people back when nobody even slightly mainstream was interested in doing so. Sanders mostly made a habit of this, and he even voted against the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, but he did not fully back gay marriage until 2009. Early for an insider, late for a dissident.
To his continued pride, Sanders voted against the PATRIOT Act, and each time it was re-upped in later years. Last fall Sanders pledged to end National Security Agency (NSA) dragnet spying. However, he also said whistleblower Edward Snowden had to be penalized in some fashion for breaking the law.
When it comes to the war on drugs, Sanders is good but not the hippie he was once. In 1970 before anyone actually elected him to anything, Sanders wanted the war in Vietnam gone (he applied for conscientious objector status!), all drugs legalized and – weirdly – to end mandatory schooling. These days he rants about unfair drug punishments but doesn’t seem advanced beyond the now moderately controversial desire to reschedule marijuana and to let states legalize it if they like. And yes, like so many others at the time, Sanders supported the nasty 1994 crime bill that helped the prisons inflate to their disastrous current state.
On immigration Sanders has bad impulses along with this humanitarian desire to not break up families with deportations. He suggested recently that a desire for open borders was a Koch Brothers plot, one that merely existed to harm American workers and to enhance the wealth of corporate fat cats (or thereabouts). He even frets over Chinese-made products being sold instead of ones made in glorious America.
Sanders has been criticized for harping on economics too much – for being a one-trick pony of a candidate. Certainly economics are important, and he has relevant critiques to make of corporate power and such. However, he has been doing this for years. Even in his heroic speech against the imminent war in Iraq, then-Rep. Sanders managed to go on a long tangent about how families at home are too poor to have this war. Noting the financial cost of war is fine, but it does diminish the most salient objection, which is that people are going to die at war.
It’s as if he can’t help himself. He has the one cause of every ill, and it’s corporate and Big Bank greed. Sometimes this takes him into complete nonsensical land, such as the time he memorably suggested that the overabundance of deodorant and shoe choices was unseemly in a country in which children went hungry at night. Or rather, it wasn’t “necessary.” No, of course it isn’t necessary to have exactly that many products. That is not the point about freedom of choice and markets that provide myriad consumer products and service options at invariably lower and lower cost.
By wandering too far from his legitimate – albeit one-track – worries over Americans who drown in student or healthcare debt, Sanders’ deodorant comment proves that flakey often resides right down the block from principled. (And flakey sometimes puts out folk albums and might add some $17 trillion dollars in spending to the budget over the course of a decade.) He has nice ideas about free college and single payer healthcare, but the chances of him accomplishing those goals – with no negative consequences if he did – are slim. Hell, even some fellow lefties such as economist Paul Krugman know Sanders is reaching too high. One economist proclaimed Sanders will bring employment back to 2000 levels and will increase GDP by 5.3 percent a year for ten years, and the campaign has yet to contradict that “fairy dust” plan, says Krugman.
Bernie is an odd duck on war. He’s so much saner than the average legislator. He did indeed have the sanity to vote against the Iraq war and USA PATRIOT. He wants to shut down Gitmo.
Sadly, like every single member of Congress except for Rep. Barbara Lee, Sanders voted for the war in Afghanistan. In fact, in an act that resulted in a staffer’s resignation, Sanders supported the 1999 bombing campaign in Kosovo. This apparently lead to antiwar activists occupying his office and them being arrested.
Back when he was Mayor of Burlington Sanders also had people who protested the GE plant for its ties to military manufacturing arrested. More recently he let Code Pink activists be arrested when they protested a 2014 town hall meeting. Yes, times change, but it’s interesting that a man who was once on the activist end of things seems to be so willing to let his would-be comrades be dragged off by cops. (For the radical left, it is a lot more than interesting – it’s a betrayal of Sanders’ former socialist bona fides.)
Sanders is not known for objecting terribly strenuously to Obama, Hillary Clinton and others’ misguided Libya adventure. He would scale back the drone wars and cut some of the military budget.
He is opposed to many wars but doesn’t vote to cut funding to them. He happily accepts money for his district even when it is war money. He supports the trillion-dollar F-35 Joint Fighter, which is too bulky to dogfight. Either that’s a vote for economic illiteracy and war or a clever ruse to bankrupt America with bad airplanes.
On Palestine and Israel, Sanders sounds far left for much of Washington in his desire for a two-state solution. However, his more socialisty socialists think he’s too soft on Israel when they attack Palestinians. With one hand he gives by hating on Kissinger, with the other he takes by praising imperialist Winston Churchill. He can’t win on this stuff – especially if he’s trying to win office – but he also just isn’t as interested in opposing war as some of his most feverish supporters would like us to believe.
It is either a case of compromise or of being 74-year-old, but Sanders sounds an awful lot like Sen. Ted Cruz when it comes to the conflict between Apple and the U.S. government. Both senators waffled on the question. Both suggest there is a walkable middle line between privacy and safety. Cruz said this meant Apple should comply, and Sanders simply left that nice, vague sentiment hanging at a Democrat town hall. Previously, he has come down harder on spying but has always left himself an escape hatch with nods to security being important.
The Bernie Bros were a brief moral panic, but being opposed to Hillary Clinton does not make you suspicious. Neither does thinking she’s criminal or a creep. Sanders has overly-intense fans like Ron Paul and Barack Obama both did and Donald Trump does. The scorned radicals of Counterpunch, or the socialists who really want to nationalize everything may feel betrayed by him. Some in the black community also think he has never had to court them, so he attributes every ill they suffer to economics and that is all. These are fair discussions. However, deep enthusiasm for a politician is always slightly creepy, but that doesn’t make it a sexist, racist, mansplaining plot.
A lot of celebrities are big on Sanders. The obvious ones include the more activist-y Mark Ruffalo and Susan Sarandon. There are dad rockers David Crosby and Graham Nash and cool-dad rockers such as Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. And of course Killer Mike. There’s a long, long list of people who want to party with Bernie. He’s very in.
Sanders is an impossible chimera, a sellout and an unelectable radical.
He thinks strangling Wall Street will fix everything. He’s better on war than everyone left in the race but isn’t about to entirely halt the status quo bombing and terrorism factory. Though he’s never going to be the biggest creep in Washington, Sanders’ no-bull manner has given him a bit too much sheen. He appears to be dripping with principle; the opposite of sleazy. Uncool, like a folk album, but doesn’t care, like a good folk album.
The anti-deodorant candidate who would smother the economy under trillions in new debt may be the least scary one. But that doesn’t make him an angel from above who grants free college, living wage wishes. Sanders has spent two-and-a half-decades among the crooks of the capital. Even if he’s more rubber than average, he’s got enough glue on him that some of that D.C. slime has stuck. He’s too much a dreamer in certain policy, a painful pragmatist on some votes. He has long ago left Chicago sit-ins and anti-school, pro-drug legalization platforms behind. He’s a politician.