Is Bernie Sanders Too Honest to be President?
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is about to learn some painful lessons the hard way, especially if he chooses to run for president in 2016. And that is this — political success requires money and lots of it.
Presidential politics can be a dirty business. And, the campaign trail is where people often get the dirtiest.
When it comes right down to gathering political dirt, money is the mud. The more of it a candidate can rake in, the more mud there is to sling at the opposition, which presumably increases the odds of victory.
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is about to learn these painful lessons the hard way, especially if he chooses to run for president in 2016. The darling of populists and progressives everywhere is now seriously considering making a run, which likely requires a conversion to the ethically cluttered Democratic Party ranks from his current Socialist Party affiliation (to be accurate, inside the Beltway he’s officially classified as an “Independent” — a slap in the face both to his party and to those like me who share his ideology). Hence, before Sen. Sanders even goes out on the stump and delivers his first campaign speech, he’s required to compromise his principles because of the two-party system’s suffocating stranglehold on the rigged American political system.
For Sen. Sanders, launching a third-party presidential bid would be futile. He lacks billionaire Ross Perot-like money and has no campaign staff or organization. If he did run independently, the better he does, the worse it will be for the Democratic candidate. In fact, Sen. Sanders would most certainly torpedo the Democratic nominee-to-be — becoming the de facto spoiler reincarnate of Ralph Nader, still reviled for costing Al Gore the state of Florida, and thus the White House in 2000. So, Sen. Sanders’s path of least resistance is to hold his nose and put on the ugly uniform worn by the likes of Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, so he can become a serious player on a contending team.
However, playing for a team stocked with bad players is the least of his concerns. If Sen. Sanders does launch his presidential run, where will his campaign donations come from? Certainly not from Wall Street. He’s all but advocated firing squads and mass hangings for guilty who plunged the national economy into a painful recession which still lingers seven years later, continuing to demand accountability if not refocused oversight on the bankers and beneficiaries of deregulation of financial markets who ruined lives everywhere and very nearly drove this nation into another not-so-Great Depression. He won’t get many envelopes in the mail from his home state either, given Vermont’s small population and relative lack of affluence and influence. Then, he can pretty much forget about support from the mainstream Democratic base, certain to play it safe and flock to Hillary Clinton’s campaign like moths racing towards a bug zapper. In short, Sen. Sanders is going to discover the high cost of running a bona fide presidential campaign might be too high — both financially and ethically speaking — virtually disqualifying him from a spot in the starting lineup before kickoff.
But Sen. Sanders does have at least a wild card to play up his sleeve. His ace in the hole is something seriously lacking in national politics, and that’s the issue of personal integrity. Say what you will about Sen. Sanders’ “extremist” views on economics, foreign policy, social issues, or the environment. After all, the man’s a wacky and way-out Socialist, right? How far out of the political mainstream is that? But at least you know he’s a true believer. This candidate’s vote is not for sale. Sen. Sanders sleeps very well at night, thank you very much. His is a campaign closet without any skeletons, but also lacking a secret vault stashed with gold, either. What money is in the house rests inside Sen. Sanders’ wallet, and was earned honestly? That political purity will be appealing to many.
It remains to be seen if this refreshing personal attribute and straight talker from the far left will appeal to enough voters to make him a serious candidate in what promises to be a dirty race. Even conservative political columnist George Will noted these concerns about a prospective “Sanders for President” campaign in a recent editorial. Will wrote:
“Sanders’ authentic passion enlivens our often synthetic politics. There is, however, some justice in the fact that his principled rejection of the connection between money and speech might prevent his other principles from being heard.”
How sad to be so cynical, even if he’s correct. Will’s contention that Sen. Sanders’s refusal to get down and dirty substantially reduces his chances to be taken seriously isn’t just accurate. It’s an outright indictment of the entire campaign process and an affront to our democracy, recently made so much dreadfully worse by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision which essentially makes public offices now for sale to the highest bidder.
We know that something must be done, and soon. The system desperately needs a Mr. Sanders Goes to Washington moment, even if the Socialist from Vermont doesn’t look or talk at all like Jimmy Stewart. He could be to 2016 and the left what Ron Paul was to the Libertarian Right in 2008 and 2012 — the true political conscious of millions. Like his senior counterpart on the opposite side of the congressional aisle from Texas, what Sen. Sanders lacks in charisma and humor is more than made up for in honestly and conviction. That should be enough to move the needle some, and get the candidates to really talk about issues important to the working class, likely a realistic ambition if he runs.
For political junkies including myself, 2016 could be a real occasion for rebirth and renewal. There are indeed times in our lives when the old batteries need a jump start, this after sticking the key into candidates we once trusted who ultimately disappoint us, leaving us stranded on the side of the political highway after discovering nothing much happens when you press the ignition button. On the car lot of presidential aspirants, 73-year-old Sen. Sanders looks very much like one of those classic old muscle cars ready to roar, if only he can raise enough money for a full tank of gas.
I really do hope Sen. Sanders runs for President. If and when he does, then I’m ready to send in my campaign donation. Those of us who mail in a few dollars at a time won’t be able to match, of course, what titans like the Koch Brothers or Sheldon Adelson are prepared to spend on the opposing side hoping to buy the next occupant in the White House. While Sen. Sanders will certainly never heave that kind of political bankroll around, he will retain something far more precious. That’s the consistency of his character and the depth of his integrity.
It’s just too bad that character and integrity won’t buy much television time.
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READ: The S-Word