Unpack your old tie-dyed T-shirts, roll yourself a fat doobie, and warm up the ancient VW bus. We’re going to do Woodstock and the 1972 presidential election all over again. And this time, the hippies are going to win! Four years of peace, love, and single-payer health care.
But do take care to clear the path for Bernie Sanders. Because if he steps in something the dog left behind, he’s going to blame Wall Street and start yelling and waving his arms around.
And you know how much that upsets Republican congressmen who are otherwise so eager to oblige his plans to soak the rich and give everybody free college, free health care, free bubble-up and rainbow stew—as the old Merle Haggard song had it.
OK, so I’m being a smart-aleck. I was moved to satire by a couple of moments from last week’s Democratic and Republican presidential debates. First, Sen. Sanders, boasting about a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll that shows him beating Donald Trump by 15 points—54 to 39. Hillary Clinton tops Trump only 51-41.
Both would be huge landslides. In 1972, Richard Nixon defeated George McGovern 61-38. The Democrat won only Massachusetts.
The part Sanders left out and that Hillary was also wise enough to leave unmentioned is that the same poll shows her leading him 59 to 34 percent in the Democratic primary contest nationally. Twenty-five points.
She’d have to be a fool to take that to the bank, although it does demonstrate why a lot of the horse-race commentary has the narrative upside down. See, unless Bernie manages to prevail in the Iowa caucuses, his campaign pretty much goes on life support. A New Englander nearly always wins in New Hampshire, and rarely goes anywhere after that.
Almost needless to say, all polls are individually suspect. Moreover, the national media give far more play to surveys depicting a close contest; they’re better for journalists’ careers.
That would be true even if you didn’t know that bringing Hillary Clinton down has been an obsessive quest in Washington and New York newsrooms for twenty-four years.
During most of which time it’s been “Bernie who?” That Vermont socialist who’s all the time yelling? That guy?
Yeah, him. The guy with the Brooklyn accent and the Wacky Prof look who says “billionaire” the way some people say “Ebola.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The same guy Ohio Gov. John Kasich boldly predicted would lose all 50 states if Democrats were foolish enough to nominate him. Actually, I’m confident Sanders would carry Vermont and probably Massachusetts against any Republican nominee. But New Hampshire and Maine could be out of reach.
Even against Trump? Well theoretical matchups mean next to nothing this far out. And I suspect that Bernie’s big advantage–hard for politically active readers to believe—is that most voters know almost nothing about him except that he’s neither Hillary nor The Donald.
I also suspect that a Trump vs. Sanders matchup would bring a serious third-party challenge. Let the GOP attack machine get to work on Sanders and I’m guessing we’d soon learn that there’s no great yearning among the electorate for socialism—democratic or not.
Did you know, for example, that Sanders took a honeymoon trip to the Soviet Union in 1988? George Will does.
Does that make him disloyal? Of course not, merely a bit of a crank. As Sanders loyalists are quick to remind you, President Reagan went to Moscow to negotiate nuclear arms reductions with Gorbachev that same year.
As a personal matter, I got my fill of Marxist faculty lounge lizards back in that tie-dyed, VW bus era. Disagree with them, and you’re an immoral sellout. That gets old really fast.
Writing in The Washington Monthly, David Atkins does a brave job of trying to explain away a Gallup poll showing that while 38 percent of Americans say they’d never vote for a Muslim president, and 40 percent wouldn’t support an atheist, fully 50 percent said no socialists need apply.
Can Bernie persuade them otherwise? I don’t see how. Most Americans don’t actually hate the rich, and his despairing portrait of contemporary American life doesn’t square with most people’s experience.
“Against these liabilities,” observes Jonathan Chait, “Sanders offers the left-wing version of a hoary political fantasy: that a more pure candidate can rally the People into a righteous uprising that would unsettle the conventional laws of politics.”
Meanwhile, not only has Sanders presented no realistic political scenario for enacting his vaunted reforms, serious observers also question their substance.
“To be harsh but accurate: the Sanders health plan looks a little bit like a standard Republican tax-cut plan, which relies on fantasies about huge supply-side effects to make the numbers supposedly add up.”
During the last Democratic debate, Bernie accused Hillary of failing to take his candidacy seriously. Fair enough. But has he?
Photo: Bernie Sanders telling you about democratic socialism. DonkeyHotey via Flickr