Bernie Sanders speaking to rally attendees in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Matt A.J./Flickr

I’m sorry if this is your first impeachment. It’s a poor intro to the genre. It’s so pathetic there may never be another.

I don’t recall number one in 1868. But I was around for two and three. Watergate (1973) was like a movie (and I’m not talking about the movie). Tense hearings. Colourful folk heroes. Revelations! The Saturday night massacre (spoiler).

Bill Clinton’s (1998) never became a film but it was intense and personal, more like a TV series. It was about sex in the Oval Office, versus withholding military aid for Ukraine in return for an official visit to… the Oval Office. Worst impeachment ever.

Have you tried watching it? Someone talks on camera, single shot, for hours. The senators are trying to duck out. If they can’t hang in why would anyone? This isn’t creating reverence for the work of the constitution’s “framers,” it’s making people conclude the document’s overhyped. All that good promotional work by Lin Miranda down the drain. Hamilton it isn’t.

IMO, and I concur with Republicans on this, it’s an attempt to take attention off the race for the Democratic nomination in case Bernie Sanders starts running away with it. That appears to scare mainstream Democrats more than four more years of Donald Trump. Otherwise, why did House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders refuse to impeach till now? The “trial” keeps Sanders off the campaign trail since, as a senator, he must attend proceedings in D.C.

So far it hasn’t worked as planned. On day one Hillary Clinton put Sanders in the spotlight by saying no one likes him (presumably the way Henry Kissinger “likes” her, or Barack Obama said cattily, “You’re likable enough, Hillary,” in 2008).

Sanders refuted memorably, “On a good day, my wife likes me” — making it a good day at the Iowa caucuses for Sanders.

Why do they loathe him? The standard (i.e., false) explanation is that he’s “unelectable,” too radical or left; the last time they tried one of those was George McGovern in 1972 — part of the Watergate nexus. Nixon obliterated McGovern, who won only one state, Massachusetts, plus D.C.

But McGovern ran chiefly as an anti-war in Vietnam candidate and the U.S. was savagely divided over that. Even more damaging, he supported amnesty for draft dodgers and deserters, a searing matter for those who went or whose kids did. It was no formula for winning. I’m not saying he was wrong, but it divided voters instead of aggregating them.

McGovern also supported legalized marijuana, at a time when generations of Americans hadn’t yet incorporated it into their daily lives. It scared them.

His platform barely scratched the economy, which is where voters live. It included a “negative income tax,” or basic income, which was supported by arch-neocons like economist Milton Friedman.

Since then there hasn’t been a “left” Democratic nominee and certainly not one obsessively focused on the economy, like Sanders.

You know who won stressing the economy? Bill Clinton, the extreme moderate: “It’s the economy, stupid.” That could be Sanders’ slogan. His program isn’t remotely Friedmanite: it’s medicare for all and free tuition. He doesn’t shy away from other issues but brings it all back to economics: even climate change, basing it on a Green New Deal.

McGovern was supported by rock and movie stars who raised money at concerts. Sanders’ funds come in US$20 shots from millions of voters. McGovern had an army of hippie youth who cleaned up to campaign for him. Sanders has paid staff (100 in Nevada alone and 10 offices) plus armies of volunteers.

He was 30 during McGovern’s campaign and the lesson he seems to have drawn was not to be McGovern. Eight years later he ran for mayor in Vermont and never joined the Democratic party.

If he’s too left to win, why is he “most often seen as the candidate who agrees with voters on the issues that matter most to them” and “the candidate who best understands the problems facing people like you.”

They despise him not because he’s unelectable but because he dents their amour-propre as the only true good guys, calling them out as corporate lackeys shilling for Wall Street and Silicon Valley. I’d hate him too.

Rick Salutin writes about current affairs and politics. This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Image: Matt A.J./Flickr


Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.