Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders and the Liberals' Moment

Don't overanalyze positive, emotional, early reactions to candidates.

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U.S. Senate

The left wing of the Democratic Party is having a magic moment. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an avowed socialist, drew enthusiastic throngs in Iowa last week. The 700 people who showed up in Davenport gave him the biggest crowd any candidate in either party has seen in the state this year. The audience in Kensett was bigger than the population of Kensett. 

Some people think this could be the start of something big. MSNBC's Rachel Maddow marveled at his "incredibly positive launch" and wondered, "What does it mean if Bernie Sanders continues to do as well as he has been doing?" 

Answer: Not much. Adoring mobs at presidential campaign events are something Iowa produces every four years, often for sharp-edged ideologues and fiery insurgents whose candidacies have the lifespan of a fruit fly. 

In 2011, tea party champion Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., wowed enough voters to win the Ames Straw Poll. In 2004, Vermont Democratic Gov. Howard Dean's populist pitch landed him on the covers of Time and Newsweek as the expected winner of the caucuses. 

In 1996, conservative culture warrior Pat Buchanan thundered his way to a strong second-place finish in the Republican race. In 1987, The Los Angeles Times reported that Rev. Jesse Jackson "has touched off unexpected excitement in Iowa, stunning outsiders and initially catching Jackson by surprise." None of them got nominated, and none came close. 

Sanders definitely appeals to a segment of the party that yearns for a table-pounding, Wall Street-bashing lefty as an alternative to Hillary Clinton's dull, buttoned-down candidacy. But the fact that hundreds have turned out to hear him doesn't mean there are thousands upon thousands more with similar sentiments, much less that Iowa Democrats are ready to abandon the front-runner.

The crowds Sanders has attracted are not the tip of the iceberg, but the tip of the ice cube. He has roughly the same chance of capturing the Democratic nomination as he does of winning an Olympic medal in the pole vault. 

Political reporters may be bored to tears by Clinton, the quintessential guest who never leaves, but Democrats are not disenchanted. Among those in Iowa, a Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register poll shows, she is viewed favorably by 86 percent of those likely to vote in the caucuses—nearly as high as Barack Obama's 89 percent and far higher than Sanders' 47 percent. Among Democrats nationwide, the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll found, she has the support of 62 percent, compared to 14 percent for Joe Biden and 10 percent for Sanders. 

It's always possible that a charismatic upstart could pull off an upset—as Obama did in 2008. But political talents like his don't come along very often. More important, he didn't run as an uncompromising liberal champion. He ran as a unifying healer. 

The populist in the race was North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who railed against drug companies, oil companies and insurance companies, vowing to "take them on and beat them." He didn't win Iowa or any other state. 

Democrats got searing lessons in the danger of veering too far left in 1972, when George McGovern lost 49 states, and in 1984, when Walter Mondale duplicated that feat. They rediscovered the advantages of hewing to the center when Bill Clinton restored them to the White House in 1992. Since then, they have shown a powerful aversion to strident liberalism. 

Clinton may lack the capacity to rouse Democratic crowds to a frenzy, but it's not a prerequisite for victory. She brings to mind George H. W. Bush, who in 1988 managed to capture the GOP nomination despite his image as a wimpy establishment functionary. Republicans chose him because he was the best option to hang on to the White House. Democrats are likely to stick with Clinton for the same reason. 

Sanders and his fondest admirers imagine that he represents, as Dean used to claim of himself, "the Democratic wing of the Democratic party." In reality, Democrats don't venture terribly far from the center when it comes time to choose a nominee. If there were a big constituency for a distinctly more liberal option, more candidates would be jumping in to appeal to it. 

In the coming months, Sanders may amass noisy crowds of liberals enthralled by his message and persona. But the crucial thing about magic moments is not that they're magic. It's that they're moments. 

NEXT: University of Wisconsin concludes there was no misconduct on Prof. Alice Goffman's part [UPDATE: this turns out not to be a response to Prof. Steven Lubet's criticisms]

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  1. hmmm i get the impression that sanders is very willing to compromise; some of the luster is gonna come off. and, spoiler alert, if his star keeps rising could he could maybe split the dem vote enough to make both him and hilary totally unelectable. obviously way too early for anything to mean that much though

    1. sanders is very willing to compromise

      He’s already demonstrated this by running for the Democratic nomination. Up until now, he has never identified with any party except the Socialist party.

      1. He fits right in with the people who call themselves Independent but always vote Democrat. Because otherwise Republicans win *shudder*

  2. Do they not remember Howard Dean??

    1. YYYYEEEEEAAAAAAAAAH

      1. The first time I heard A Little Less Conversation, I thought “how did Elvis get Howard Dean to perform on his record all the way back in 1968??”

        1. This is all a Clinton plot to make Hillary look more mainstream. They are probably steering donors his way.

          1. My conspiracy theories interfered with correct comment threading.

          2. Zombie Jimbo|6.4.15 @ 12:07PM|#
            “This is all a Clinton plot to make Hillary look more mainstream.”

            She might look mainstream if she ever came out of that foxhole.

  3. Am I the only one who thinks Bernie’s smile looks like a three-year-old who’s just been told he’s about to get a lolly?

    1. Who’s a good boy? Is little Bernie a good boy?

      *clapping*Yay lolly*clappin*

    2. Not just his smile. Dude ACTS like a three year old who had his lolly taken away.

    3. Yeah, between him and Hillary they’ve got the spectrum of liberal personalities covered. She has a pitch black soul and he’s got a child’s mind.

    4. looks more to me like a little gremlin laughing. heeheeheeheeheehee

    5. Looks more like a pervert who just licked a three-tear-old.

  4. It’s nice that Reason publishes pro-Hillary pundits. Very diverse.

    In reality, Democrats don’t venture terribly far from the center when it comes time to choose a nominee.

    Yes, Hillary is a centrist. You can even call her a moderate. Just like those fiscally conservative socially liberal Americans, who are practically libertarians.

    1. Hillary Clinton is a methodist turned corrupt influence-peddler. I think she will morph into whatever political persona will get her the most geld.

    2. She is not a moderate. She is an amoral crap weasel that will say and do anything to continue to suckle on the body public.

      1. So, in other words, a bog-standard politician.

        1. I view her as exceptional in this regard.

          1. Yes, credit where credit is due, please.

    3. Clinton isn’t, relatively speaking, that far from the center of American politics, especially in comparison to someone like Sanders or even Warren. That doesn’t make her any better, or mean she is a centrist. Being a centrist also isn’t inherently good, just look at John McCain. I agree with Tarran – I think she cares far more about herself than any ideological principles.

  5. “It’s always possible that a charismatic upstart could pull off an upset?as Obama did in 2008. But political talents like his don’t come along very often. More important, he didn’t run as an uncompromising liberal champion. He ran as a unifying healer.”

    But then aliens stole his brain and replaced it with the brain of a left-wing ideologue. Or with nothing, which amounts to the same thing.

    1. A political upstart can pull it off like Obama did if you are a minority, give good speeches that sound pretty but mean nothing and have a media so enamored with you that they abandon their duty to actually vet you as a candidate because they are more concerned with your possible election being “historic”…

      Elizabeth Warren may have enjoyed some of that but Sanders has stolen the moment from her.

      The Sanders boomlet has been very entertaining for me as I watch all of my liberal friends who would get angry when I called them socialists and deny it vehemently suddenly embrace a socialist for president…It’s almost like I was right all along and they either felt the needed to lie or were ignorant. No reason it can’t be both…

      All that said I agree with someone earlier who said that Sanders is there to make Hillary! appear to be more moderate – it’s just that no one told Sanders or his fans that that is the plan just yet…

      1. In some ways, I think it’s better that the socialists are coming out in the open. The battleground becomes a little clearer when the enemy isn’t practiced in How Not to be Seen.

        1. *explodes three bushes in a row*

  6. The 700 people who showed up in Davenport gave him the biggest crowd any candidate in either party has seen in the state this year.

    And you people were scoffing at the “libertarian moment.”

  7. Sanders, Dean…the Democrats always fall for the crazy girlfriend, but at the last moment settle for the frumpy, “electable” wife.

    1. And the only reason they regretfully turn away from the Deans and Sanders is because they don’t think the rubes will vote for them, not because “hey, those guys are *crazy*!”

  8. OT: here’s a good one. Straights and KKKorporations are taking over Gay Pride celebrations – women and minorities hurt most.
    http://www.washingtoncitypaper…..ty-became/

    But the proliferance of corporations can make Capital Pride feel more like a generic rainbow circus than a celebration of actual queer people who live in the D.C. area. Chipotle sent the same burrito-as-mechanical bull float to several U.S. cities, including D.C., for multiple years. Who does this commercial interlude in the parade benefit but Chipotle? What are we clapping for when the float goes by?the company’s burrito profits?

    1. Corporations sponsor parades in hopes of earning goodwill, film at 11.

    2. You’re only special when you’re different. Once you go mainstream you’re no longer different. At some point all they’ll have left is the fact that they were queer before it was cool. Hooray for the queer hipster movement.

    3. Burrito profits, gay pride parade. I see what you did there you homophobe…

  9. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an avowed socialist, drew enthusiastic throngs in Iowa last week. The 700 people who showed up in Davenport gave him the biggest crowd any candidate in either party has seen in the state this year. The audience in Kensett was bigger than the population of Kensett

    Socialism isn’t ascendent. Let’s keep telling ourselves that.

    1. Well democracy clearly isn’t working.

    2. This is all the evidence I need to make the case that Iowa should be disqualified from vetting candidates for POTUS.

    3. We’re already pretty socialistic, just in a neo-socialism way, rather than in any classic sense. The government merely controls industry through regulation, rather than taking title to factories.

      That said, socialism has been a naughty word for the vast majority of Americans for a long time. I’m not sure how well the far left message plays when openly delivered. Who knows? We’re half insane already, so anything can happen.

      1. Fabianism, baby, fabianism.

        The government merely controls industry through regulation, rather than taking title to factories.

        By the way, you know what economic system controlled the results of production but left the factories in the hands of the private owners?

        That said, socialism has been a naughty word for the vast majority of Americans for a long time.

        Only during the mid 20th century. It’s becoming hip again. I keep hearing from mainstream sources pundits saying that “socialism isn’t a bad word”.

        They’re warming us up, dude.

        1. Yes, I do. You got nationalism into my socialism! You got socialism into my nationalism!

          National Socialism–two great rapes that rape great together.

          1. STEVE SMITH SHOW YOU WHAT RAPE GREAT MEANS.

            1. So he’s a Nazi, too?

              1. STEVE SMITH FOREST RAPE SOCIALIST! NOT NATIONAL SOCIALIST!

        2. Fabianism, baby, fabianism.

          Forward! Into the 1970’s UK!

      2. Socialism’s definition has broadened over the years, hardcore socialists wouldn’t even include someone like Sanders. Go onto a far-left website and you’ll generally find little support for Sanders, because he doesn’t advocate (at least openly) abolishing private property, collectivizing all ownership of the means of production, etc. In common usage, at least in the US, socialist generally includes social democrats, but the dyed-in-the-wool socialists don’t really accept them as actually being socialists. I think Sanders supporters are more generally people who don’t want to totally abolish capitalism, but just want the government to give them their ponies when capitalism doesn’t (at least for free).

  10. she is viewed favorably by 86 percent of those likely to vote in the caucuses?nearly as high as Barack Obama’s 89 percent and far higher than Sanders’ 47 percent

    I have to admit that’s kind of amazing and creepy, all at the same time.

  11. Among Democrats nationwide, the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll found, she has the support of 62 percent, compared to 14 percent for Joe Biden and 10 percent for Sanders.

    *mind blown*

    Biden does better than Sanders? Biden?

    Ok, I understand Democrats less than I understand women.

    1. *There’s* an overlapping Venn Diagram!

    2. He has the sad panda vote right now.

      1. Either that, or people conflate the Onion’s version of Biden with the real guy.

        Hell, i’d vote for Onion Biden any day of the week, and twice in Chicago.

          1. Well, i’m not dead yet.

  12. What still baffles me is the fact that so many people who I would normally consider reasonably intelligent LOSE THEIR FUCKING MINDS when it comes to socialism vs. capitalism. They are so convinced that greed is the problem and capitalism makes it worse, whereas they remain completely ignorant (or choose to I suppose) about the utter disaster that socialism/communism were/are in actual practice.

    I bring up Mao or Stalin in these arguments and you always hear from leftists that capitalism is worse, yet they never have any examples that even hold a candle to the disasters played out in the 20th century via communism.

    1. leftists don’t understand economics and consider “capitalism” and “socialism” different ‘social policies’… where its just a ‘different attitude about how to deal with “our shared resources”.

      They sincerely don’t understand that those resources vanish when there’s no incentive to produce them

      1. See, capitalism *makes* people greedy. People would be completely egalitarian if it weren’t for capitalism. Therefore, eliminating capitalism will get people back on track and everyone will do what they need to do to support the collective.

    2. Most of them don’t really want socialism.

      They want capitalism + middle class handouts.

      1. there are a lot of kids who describe Scandinavia and European social-welfare systems as “socialism”

        My impression is that lefty teachers have decided that, post the fall of the soviet union, that the real lesson about socialism isn’t that, when taken to logical extremes, it turns to murder, totalitarianism and impoverishment….

        …but that, when applied in smaller-doses, is just awesome-sauce!

        Of course, this view that Europe is the ideal model of social-welfare governance is mildly complicated by the fact that almost all of the cradle-to-grave welfare systems are *fucking broke, and doomed to collapse*

        But since not a one of them has the faintest grasp of basic economics, they can happily skip past this part.

        1. “hat almost all of the cradle-to-grave welfare systems are *fucking broke, and doomed to collapse*”

          They are? Where? The Danish Krona must still be worth $0.0000000000001.

          1. lol,

            because its so smart to compare small-country, homogenous population-politics to huge and diverse countries.

            Europe as a whole is broke. Yes, scandanavia, the netherlands and denmark will probably survive with their systems intact.

            the rest are fucked.

    3. Do we want to talk about Jim Crow, or Apartheid, or the Vietnam War, or the two wars in Iraq, or the CIA’s meddling in Central America, or the people that have died from industrial pollution, or the unconscionable buildup of nuclear weapons in this discussion?

        1. – 9/11 Truther
          – Confederacy
          – cliven bundy
          – impeach Obama
          – Koch Kult klan

  13. She is not a moderate. She is an amoral crap weasel that will say and do anything to continue to suckle on the body public. then check all report news this way…. http://moourl.com/gjftp

    1. I don’t even…

      The bots are ALIVEEEEEEE!

    2. i think the singularity is here…

      *gets up and starts running down the street*

      1. then check all report news this way

  14. OT: why have I only just started watching Penn & Teller’s Bullshit?? Why didn’t you people lock me in a room with nothing but a TV playing Bullshit on a loop? What kind of libertarians are you??

    1. “Why didn’t you people lock me in a room with nothing but a TV playing Bullshit on a loop?”

      Oh, that’s so 2006

      1. I know! That even more starkly highlights y’alls failures to force me to watch a TV show!

    2. The one on nuclear energy is my favorite.

    3. And deprive you of your freedom? No way!

    4. It’s not a suicide pact, Kristen!

    5. The kind that don’t use coercion.

      Also, you’re not my problem.

  15. Sanders current popularity is due to the same thing that pushed Obama. No one likes Hillary and will vote for just about anyone else.

    The Dem faithful are too scared to tell people straight out that they hate her and would never vote for her because they know a) she is a horrible person who would be out to get them if she knew and b) they don’t want to be labeled a misogynist by the herd.

    1. And c) they know full well that when she ends up with the Dem nomination they will vote for her anyway.

  16. In the coming months, Sanders may amass noisy crowds of liberals enthralled by his message and persona.

    Brace yourselves. Winter is coming.

    1. You know who else enthralled noisy crowds with his message and persona?

      1. I want to say Emperor Palpatine, but the answer is always Hitler.

        1. Sorry, the answer we were looking for is Shamu.

      2. Jim Morrison?

        1. Nero?

          Bill Clinton?

          Oderus Urungus?

          Kermit?

          (Coincidence? Or are they all the same person?)

  17. it’s nice of the progressives to root for an open socialist. If we’re lucky, this will get them to be honest and call themselves socialists.

    1. If the Seattle Times does an editorial, they just water the ‘rooting’ down by offering platitudes about the ‘need for a populist voice’ in the debate.

      I mean, we all want the sames things, right?

      1. I wonder, do they still claim to be scientific?

        1. The Socialism is settled…

        2. In the same way they claim to love “science” and that they are a reality-based community (possibly the funniest self-labeling in the history of mankind).

      2. Irrational Socialism.

        IrrNational Socialism?

  18. Bernie Sanders 2016!

    Because, no, we are not closet socialists!

  19. Hey! Remember when Liberals dissed anyone who called them socialists?

    HAHA! Yeah, just another Lefty lie.

  20. God I hate this asshole so much. That people in my generation support him in significant numbers scares me and points to a very dark future for the Republic, even considering he has no chance to win.

  21. Hi Steve,

    I guess I don’t understand the hot antipathy of libertarians to sanders. I certainly understand why corporatists and right-wingers and plutocrats don’t like him.

    Is he not manifestly better for libertarians on abortion, gay rights, bank bailouts, the NSA, the Iraq War, the drug war than any candidate that is running?

    1. None of which matters, since he’s a Socialist.

      That’s all small beer compared to his complete embrace of the State in every way other than the ways that the Left doesn’t like (e.g. in every part of your life except your bedroom).

      “Good on a bunch of culture-war issues” is nothing compared to “unutterably bad on every core issue”.

      Gay rights [which is code for just gay marriage, at this point? I mean, I’m not aware of any actual gay-people-civil-liberties-risk from a victory by any other plausible candidate either] is a footnote, in libertarian terms, compared to, just to take the one I most recently saw celebrated, “free college and healthcare for everyone based on taxing the hell out of rich people mostly”.

      That’s … anathema. It’s unbridled statism. It’s damned near totalitarian.

      Just… I guess it shows exactly how little an “american socialist” understands anything at all about what a libertarian position might be, that you can read off that laundry list and ignore “HE’S A GOD DAMN SOCIALIST”.

  22. It’s always possible that a charismatic upstart could pull off an upset?as Obama did in 2008. But political talents like his don’t come along very often.

    What political talent?

    Obama had a lot of things going for him – “not being named Bush”, “being a black guy that people could vote for and thus feel good about voting for The First Black President [but also not being one of those icky Republicans]”, “not having anything actually negative to stick to him since he’d never done anything”.

    And then, of course, once he was the nominee, he was impeccable to the mass media, because who wants to undermine The Democratic Candidate?

    But none of those are political talent.

  23. Comrade Sanders, we should have a right to Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Any flavor, any size, and anywhere for free.

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