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Why Democrats Worry About Bernie Sanders — And Should

So Bernie Sanders, self-anointed scourge of the malign influence of “millionaires and billionaires” on American politics, is himself a millionaire. Firmly ensconced in the top one percent of income earners in the United States. Which you’ve got to admit is pretty funny. Only in America, as comedians like to say.
Except to Bernie, of course. Poking fun at himself isn’t one of the Vermont socialist’s strengths as a politician. His recently-released tax returns showed that he earned more than a million dollars in 2016 and 2017 due largely to royalties on his book Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In. Which in itself is somewhat ironic. Some revolution.
Why, there are big league relief pitchers who earned less than Bernie Sanders last year — although very few successful ones.
So he had to know he was going to get a hard time about it. Self-deprecating humor was definitely the way to go. Sanders, however, got defensive. “I wrote a best-selling book,” he snapped at reporters who asked him about it. “If you write a best-selling book, you can be a millionaire, too.”
Wrong answer.
Although still testy, Sanders did better the other night on a Fox News town hall, continuing to attack the unfairness of our “absurd” tax code that lets major corporations pay no income tax at all, and ultimately turning the tables. “Why don’t you get Donald Trump up here and ask him how much he paid in taxes?” he challenged the network’s interlocutors.
Good question.
Also, not going to happen.
And never mind that Sen. Sanders own refusal to release his income tax records during the 2016 presidential campaign helped give Trump cover for hiding his. Few Americans begrudge Bernie his success. Moreover, Sanders and his wife paid a 26 percent effective tax rate in 2018, no doubt far higher than Trump. And would end up paying considerably more if his own policies were adopted.
Some Trump voters are just now awakening to the deep fraudulence of the president’s vaunted tax cuts, which delivered vast benefits to the fat cats Bernie has long assailed, and little or nothing to them. Sanders’ income won’t be an issue in the 2018 race unless his petulance makes it one.
Ah, but therein lies the problem. To hear Bernie’s impassioned supporters tell it, he’s the only Democratic candidate who can unify the working class and put together a powerful coalition to defeat Trump.
And wouldn’t it be lovely to think so? I’m not quite as old as Bernie, but I’ve been hearing people like him prate about this imaginary uprising since Woodstock. That storied exercise in mob psychology took place exactly a half century ago, in August 1969, for those of you keeping score at home. (Me, I was in Dublin visiting the tomb of Jonathan Swift.) Today, even the movie is unendurable.
Writing in The Nation, Eric Alterman reminds readers of Bernie’s history as a classic hippie left-winger, losing several statewide elections in Vermont during the Seventies on a platform calling “for the nationalization of pretty much every industry in America, together with a 100 percent income tax on America’s top earners.”
Alterman adds that “Sanders was still a socialist in 1980, when he served as an elector for the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party, which favored the abolition of the US military budget and proclaimed itself in solidarity with both Cuba and Iran at a time when the latter held 52 Americans hostage.”
There’s more. Much more. Bernie in Managua, Nicaragua with Sandinista President Daniel Ortega as a crowd chants “the Yankee will die.” Bernie on his Soviet honeymoon in 1988, shirtless and singing “This Land is Your Land” with a bunch of Russians. According to journalist Kurt Eichenwald, who has seen it, Republicans have a book of oppo research documenting such incidents that’s two feet thick. There are videotapes. 
For very good historical reasons, most Democrats are unwilling to go there. Almost needless to say, Republicans, much less Trump, won’t be so shy. One friend privately describes this dilemma as “a real Catch 22. The things that primary voters need to know about him are precisely the things I feel proscribed from saying. My honest opinion is that he’d be destroyed in a general election.”
Mine too. Bernie’s seeming unwillingness to explain himself or admit error don’t help. As Alterman points out, Sanders has evolved over the years into “a typical New Deal–style liberal or European social democrat.” But he can’t erase, and won’t explain, his past.
Sure Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are socialist programs. So is the public library for that matter. “Medicare for All” sounds like a fine aspirational goal, although getting it through Congress appears impossible.  
Nevertheless, calling yourself a “Socialist” and talking about a “revolution” remain deeply suspect to most American voters.
As a presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders makes a fine Senator from Vermont. 

Vetting Candidates Is Not ‘Eating Our Own’

Democrats, please, I’m begging you.

Let’s call a moratorium on the phrase “eating our own,” and all of its variations, for the duration of the Democratic presidential primary season.

Exploring and discussing candidates’ strengths and weaknesses is a crucial part of the primary process. Sharing our views and listening to the opinions of others — informed and otherwise — is part of the process, too. So is hashing out coverage of candidates and responding to how they evolve, or don’t, on the campaign trail.

An opposing viewpoint about your favorite candidate is not an act of sabotage. Disagreeing with a candidate — out loud, in public — is not an attempt to hand over the 2020 election to Donald Trump, nor is it providing fodder for Republican attacks for the fall. For that to be true, Trump and his cabal would be planning a fair fight. That will not happen, and anyone who believes otherwise needs to leap out of that animated Disney movie and join the rest of us here on Earth.

This column began as a repeated refrain on my public Facebook page. Every time I post a story offering the slightest scrutiny of a Democratic candidate, accusations of “eating our own” swarm like fruit flies to a putrefied peach. We are vetting candidates, not consuming them.

It started with Beto O’Rourke, who last month said his wife is the primary caregiver for their three children. Some of us — millions of women, for example — couldn’t help but notice the double standard at work. No woman could say her husband is the primary caregiver for her children and be a viable candidate for anything other than worst mother on earth and contiguous planets.

It is not “eating our own” to address continued gender disparities in politics, which, in theory, all Democrats care about. And there’s no better time to talk about this unfair standard than now, when so many women are running for president. No, really, they are. I realize daily news coverage often fails to reflect this, but it’s true. Women are out there, and they’re running for president!

Which brings me to last week’s selfie on Twitter of Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), cheek to cheek and smiling. They are two of the women running for president. I retweeted the photo, adding that I know them to be strong women who carry as they climb.

Well.

Let me just that my sharing a photo of two women running for president does not mean I hate all men who are running for president. If you think it does, maybe don’t say that out loud. I do think now that the perfect costume for spooking misogynists is to show up dressed as Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, smiling. Who says primaries can’t be fun?

Last Tuesday, I shared for discussion a New York Times story about how Bernie Sanders says he will finally release 10 years of tax returns. This is news. Several Democratic candidates have already done this, and in 2016 Hillary Clinton released three decades worth. Donald Trump has refused to release even a single year of tax returns.

Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg mentioned to Sanders that he is now a millionaire. His response: “I wrote a best-selling book. If you write a best-selling book, you can be a millionaire, too.”

On behalf of writers everywhere: Ouch.

My sharing Sanders’ quote is not an attempt to question his career-long identity as a democratic socialist, except when he’s running for president. He made a flip reference to good fortune that eludes the overwhelming majority of Americans, and I am not being a disloyal progressive in saying I hope he does better.

I see this happening too often, even in earnest debates about candidates. Someone raises a concern about a Democrat, and another Democrat lunges. Accusing someone of “eating our own” is not a call for unity. It’s a reprimand, and it often feels like an attempt to intimidate and silence.

We are fellow Americans, and if we don’t lose sight of our common cause, we’ll get through this primary in stronger shape for the general election. Again, I am reminded of my favorite definition of a patriot, by the late Rev. William Sloane Coffin:

There are three kinds of patriots, two bad, one good. The bad ones are the uncritical lovers and the loveless critics. Good patriots carry on a lover’s quarrel with their country, a reflection of God’s lover’s quarrel with all the world.

On we go.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (con.schultz@yahoo.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

IMAGE: Selfie of Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, published on Facebook.

 

Democratic Party Insiders Fear Biden Would Be ‘Weaker Than Hillary’

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Though he usually shows up at the top of polls of potential Democratic contenders for the 2020 presidential nomination, Joe Biden’s likely bid for the Oval Office leaves many party insiders surprisingly unimpressed, McClatchy revealed in a new report on Monday.

The news service interviewed 31 insiders from the Democratic Party for the story and found significantly less enthusiasm than one might expect:

“Among political professionals, there are deep concerns because we know the history,” said a Pennsylvania-based Democratic strategist, granted anonymity to speak candidly about a party elder. “We have reason to be skeptical of the hype.”

“We heard it with Hillary, and we saw it happened,” the source added. “And there’s a lot of reason to think he would wind up a significantly weaker candidate than Hillary.”

Many of these strategists say that if Biden did win the nomination, they don’t think he would have a better chance of defeating Donald Trump than other top-tier contenders such as Kamala Harris or Kirsten Gillibrand — disputing the claim from many Biden supporters that he represents the safe choice in an election when rank-and-file voters are desperate to win back the White House.

For various reasons, many have argued that Biden would be the safest pick for the Democratic Party in 2020. Part of this seems to be a strong overcorrection to the 2016 election; many assume that President Donald Trump won because of Hillary Clinton’s gender, her apparent “coldness,” and her lack of appeal for working-class whites, all of which are challenges Biden wouldn’t face. He also has several clear advantages she shared: He’s a known quantity, he’s clearly “qualified” in the traditional sense, and he’s close to President Barack Obama, who remains a popular figure in the party.
Of course, you can also give a list of Biden’s qualities showing he would be as flawed or worse than Clinton: his deep party ties, his age, his track record of views that are now seen as deeply anti-progressive. The party is putting forward a refreshingly diverse set of candidates for 2020 — and many fear that would be undercut by picking a candidate who is the quintessential paragon of the old political guard.

But if there’s anything that 2016 taught us, it’s that political insiders, who long expected Jeb Bush to soar to the GOP nomination and who failed to see Sen. Bernie Sanders’ ascendancy coming, can easily get predictions drastically wrong.

IMAGE: Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting in Chicago, June 6, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young