Bernie could have won, and that fact is crucial to understanding how the Democratic Party can move forward from here. It’s not about spite or vengeance. We need candidates like Bernie and Keith Ellison and Elizabeth Warren who are dedicated to fighting for working people in this country, to standing up for minority groups and building a cross-racial coalition of working people. Bernie was far more electable than Hillary. And that’s why it’s important to push back against people who say he couldn’t win.
“But he’s a Jewish socialist,” you say. First of all, gross dude. Second of all, that doesn’t matter. The idea that he couldn’t have won because he’s Jewish is not backed up by data. Gallup polling states that only seven percent of Americans would not vote for a Jewish president, a percentage that has been steadily dropping since they’ve started asking the question. I would also note that an equal percentage of respondents would not vote for a black candidate and eight percent wouldn’t vote for a woman.
Socialist, though. Red-baiting and commie-bashing are old American pasttimes. And, you say, very excited, doesn’t that same Gallup poll also say that only 47% of Americans would vote for a socialist, versus 50% who would not? Indeed it does. However, that percentage is awfully close, it has been dropping, young people support socialism over capitalism by a large majority, and didn’t we just, by quite a large margin, twice elect a president– a black president– that the majority of the country considers a socialist?
The other problem with claiming that a generic Jewish socialist couldn’t have beaten Trump is that a real Jewish socialist, Bernie Sanders, is a very popular man. As a matter of fact, with a 59% approval rating, he’s the most popular politician in the country. But he’s not well known! Yes he is. Only 8.5% of voters say they don’t know who he is. And in a series of election matchups against Trump dating back to last August, he won by an average of eleven points. And where is he strongest? The rust belt, where he beat Hillary Clinton in the primaries and where Clinton lost the election to Trump. Not only is Bernie popular, but unlike other politicians, say, Hillary Clinton, the more people learn about him the more they like him. Just look at those trend lines.
But wait! you say. The man is untested. Hillary didn’t launch any really juicy attacks. Didn’t come close. A real oppo file could have ripped him to shreds. Well, fortunately for us, crack journalist Kurt Eichenwald got a chance to sink his teeth into the file (“almost 2-feet thick”!) the Republicans had built on Sanders. It’s worth quoting Eichenwald in full here:
Here are a few tastes of what was in store for Sanders, straight out of the Republican playbook: He thinks rape is A-OK. In 1972, when he was 31, Sanders wrote a fictitious essay in which he described a woman enjoying being raped by three men. Yes, there is an explanation for it—a long, complicated one, just like the one that would make clear why the Clinton emails story was nonsense. And we all know how well that worked out.
Then there’s the fact that Sanders was on unemployment until his mid-30s, and that he stole electricity from a neighbor after failing to pay his bills, and that he co-sponsored a bill to ship Vermont’s nuclear waste to a poor Hispanic community in Texas, where it could be dumped. You can just see the words “environmental racist” on Republican billboards. And if you can’t, I already did. They were in the Republican opposition research book as a proposal on how to frame the nuclear waste issue.
Also on the list: Sanders violated campaign finance laws, criticized Clinton for supporting the 1994 crime bill that he voted for, and he voted against the Amber Alert system. His pitch for universal health care would have been used against him too, since it was tried in his home state of Vermont and collapsed due to excessive costs. Worst of all, the Republicans also had video of Sanders at a 1985 rally thrown by the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua where half a million people chanted, “Here, there, everywhere/the Yankee will die,’’ while President Daniel Ortega condemned “state terrorism” by America. Sanders said, on camera, supporting the Sandinistas was “patriotic.”
First of all, these aren’t secrets. Every one of those lines of attack was put forward by the Clinton campaign. Second of all, none of it is close to what Trump had on Clinton. Sanders stole utilities? Was unemployed? Supports universal health care? Anyone who thinks those things would hurt a candidate should probably leave Washington for a while. And third, there were many lessons in the 2016 campaign, but one big one has got to be the limitations of attack ads. Haven’t we spent the past year drowning in an avalanche of attacks on Donald Trump? Every one of those attacks, each worse than anything on the Sanders list, from Trump University to pussy-grabbing, was deemed the final nail in the Trump coffin. But he won. Because voter preconceptions are tough to change. And voters trust Bernie Sanders, and they like his policies.
The corporatist wing of the Democratic Party has failed. So next time, let’s find someone like Bernie Sanders, who people trust, who fights for working people. Hell, it just might work.