Bernie Sanders' stirring ride toward the presidency may be near its end. (Or not. More on that later.)
He's lost the lead and his strategies are paying diminishing returns. It has been a great trip, as one said in the 1960s, his formative era (and mine) -- and whether it ends now may not matter that much.
That's because being president comes with strict limits. Noam Chomsky was once asked, during the Reagan years, how left-wing U.S. voters should vote. He said it wasn't terribly important. "If I was president," he mused, as the audience cracked up at the thought, then explained how little he could get passed, given the systemic constraints of wealth and power.
This would apply to a president Sanders -- a Chomskyesque figure. The long march through the institutions could only get started under him. Yet Sanders has already transformed the eventual possibilities.
He did it by showing generations of discontented youth that you can do more than protest: "Occupying" Wall Street, marching against war, etc. You can enter institutions like mainstream parties and fight over them -- without ditching your radicalism.
You don't have to become a young fart like Buttigieg. With luck and work, you may even win. That transformation will take longer than Bernie's lifetime, whether he's president or not. So his main work may already be done.
Not just that. He finally ended the Cold War, by running as a socialist and not being instantly vapourized. That was never a real war; it was an ideological crusade against ideas and options. Now more U.S. youth lean to socialism than capitalism, and Bernie marks the spot. That, too, is transformative.
"Yah, but he's losing now, right?" Faltering, I'd say, but not due to his beliefs. They didn't sink him in 2016 or since -- despite massive blackouts and derision from the mainstream media. This'd be no time to lose your nerve.
I happened to leave the room during the latest debate as he spoke on foreign policy. On CNN afterward, they made it sound like he'd flipped out, regressed to the '60s, and started shouting, "Up against the wall, motherf----s." When I checked the clip, it was a calm statement that the U.S. isn't immune to criticism for anti-democratic coups in Chile or Iran. I can't see that sort of thing doing him in with voters. It hasn't till now.
At any rate, the charge against him hasn't been that voters reject him over his views. It's that they fear other voters will, making him "unelectable."
Why's it still not quite over? The resurrection of Biden's candidacy shifts the calculus. Everyone else has dropped out and it's effectively a two-person race.
Till now, there would likely be no first ballot majority at the convention; then, the unelected party hacks and apparatchiks called superdelegates can jump in and simply crown Joe or Bloomberg on ballot two. But with just two remaining, it becomes mathematically easier to forge a majority on the first ballot, giving Bernie at least a shot at reversing it all again, as Biden just did.
What if he loses? IMO, Sanders has always been a pragmatist, he wouldn't have got this far as a "socialist," if he wasn't. (Even Lenin decided that what the Russian Revolution needed was a dose of capitalism!)
Sanders hung in last time till he got Hillary Clinton to move her platform much farther left than she wanted, then campaigned for her. He has a good relationship with Biden that may yield some effects. Biden himself is such a crock -- his only appeal to his big backers is he's pliable and not Sanders -- that he'll need any and all help.
If Sanders' troops stay in for that fight, it won't be for him, or the party (which he still hasn't joined), but for the future, and their chance to shape it.
Rick Salutin writes about current affairs and politics. This column was first published in the Toronto Star.
Image: Gage Skidmore/Flickr
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