Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Bernie Sanders: The Devil on the Democratic Shoulder

The more establishment Dems condemn him, the more tempting a vote for him becomes.
Bernie Sanders

Let me preface this by saying: I am not going to vote for Bernie Sanders. I like a lot of what he has to say on foreign policy and surveillance—indeed, because Sanders doesn’t mince words, I often like it more than what I hear from the other Democrats. And some of his denouncements of American oligarchy strike a faint if very melodious chord. But then you get to his prior equivocating over communist dictatorships, his Caracas-on-the-Atlantic economic program, his disinterest in paying for his new spending, his extremism on abortion. Those things constitute the bulk of his message, and so for me, it’s a hard pass.

But Lord, do I get the temptation.

The Democratic Party and its allies are right now deploying every antibody they have to try to stop Sanders. A New York Times editorial called Sanders’ agenda “overly rigid, untested and divisive.” James Carville, who I thought had long ago turned into a scarecrow, called Sanders’ supporters a “cult” and Sanders himself a “communist.” Former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein insinuated that Sanders would be backed by the Russians. MSNBC has been quantifiably negative towards the Vermont senator. And that’s before we turn back the clock to 2016 and remember how the DNC tried to rig the primaries against Sanders, how Donna Brazile smuggled debate topics to the Clinton campaign, how Sanders got royally and thoroughly shafted for the crime of offering a friendly in-house critique of Mrs. Clinton’s vulgar transactionalism.

You think about these things and you say to yourself, gosh, wouldn’t it be fun to poke these people in the eyes? Wouldn’t it be sweet to watch one of those 128-person CNN horseshoe panels choke their way through Sanders clinching the nomination? That, of course, was one reason Republicans backed Donald Trump: they wanted to spite the country’s political and media establishments, which kept telling them that Trump wouldn’t win, couldn’t win, shouldn’t win. This is the politics of transgression. It’s hardly new, but in an age when we’re constantly inundated by talking heads, many of them smug and saying the same thing, the temptation to transgress has become more potent than ever. And why not? Kingsley Amis once said, “If you can’t annoy somebody, there is little point in writing.” The same might also be said about voting.

There’s also a more substantive reason to get naughty with Sanders: so many of those caterwauling about his ascent have been consistently wrong for a very long time. (Seriously, who the hell was camped out in front of their TV desperately waiting for Lloyd Blankfein to weigh in? The government bailed out Goldman Sachs to the tune of $10 billion; that should at least buy us his silence.) If you want to know why Sanders is doing well, it’s because he promises the most jarring course correction away from the Blankfeins of the world, whom Millennials view as having dimmed their futures. Alas, his solutions are unworkable. And the politics of transgression is ultimately hollow—right now we have far too much of it actually, especially in the GOP. Still, it may be that Democrats find themselves in a pickle. The more they push back against Sanders, the more alluring he becomes.