On April 1 (of all days), Bernie Sanders, the independent Vermont senator who won big in the Democratic primary in Wisconsin last night, gave an interview to New York's Daily News.
The transcript portrays a guy who, though a mayor, congressman, and senator for more years than most of us have been alive, seems to have a firm grasp of virtually no real facts, deep analysis, or basic understanding of legislative processes and legal authorities about anything.
At least that's the response from the centrist liberal media, which we can safely assume prefers Hillary Clinton to the self-defined (though poorly defined!) "democratic socialist." Vox and Slate have come out against Sanders' many mistakes, gaps in knowledge, etcetera, while the Wash Post's Jonathan Capeheart found no fewer than "9 things Bernie Sanders should have known about in that Daily News interview" but didn't.
Among Sanders' parade of horribles, says Capeheart, was answering "I don't know," when asked whether President Obama was correct in taking authority to conduct drone strikes against ISIS from the CIA and giving it to the military.
Paris was attacked. Istanbul was attacked. Brussels was attacked and is basically a bedroom community for terrorists seeking to destabilize Europe. And several African nations have been terrorized by Islamic State affiliates. That Sanders "[doesn't] know the answer" to whether the president has the right policy against the Islamic State is unacceptable.
Let the record show that, though I will never vote for Bernie Sanders, I like it whenever a presidential candidate admits the limit of his or her knowledge.
Capeheart and the other critics have similar things to say about Sanders' responses to queries about breaking up the banks and prosecuting banktards for crimes against humanity and all the rest: "He should have been able to lecture his interrogators into a stupor with his detailed knowledge. Instead, Sanders sounded slightly better than a college student caught off-guard by a surprise test in his best class just before finals."
Well, sure. He should have had better answers. Or at least more stupefying ones.
I have no sympathy for Bernie Sanders, whom I think is an economic illiterate (innumerate?) and still talks like he just came, dazzled, from the original New York debut of Waiting for Lefty. If you grew up in or around New York City and are over the age of 50, every other person you knew growing up was some version of him. Maybe an Italian or Irish Catholic instead of a Jewish person, maybe even a self-hating WASP, but FFS, the world was once lousy with people holding exactly the same worldview as Bernie still does.
But it also doesn't take a genius to see what's going on in media tut-tuts of Sanders and, in a similar way, with legitimate criticisms of Donald Trump's policy chops (short version: He has none).
Centrist Democrats in the media are absolutely dumbfounded by the ability of Bernie Sanders to connect not just with embryonic-hippie college students but large swaths of Democratic primary voters (how many contests has he won in a row now?). Hillary Clinton should be sewing up the Donkey Party nomination right about now and, while the Super Delegates (and Jimmy Carter!) will give her more than enough cushion to mail it in until the DNC this summer, there's no question that Sanders has revealed a serious problem within the Democratic Party. Indeed, it's almost as serious as the problem that is cleaving apart the GOP.
Simply put: Many Democrats aren't buying what Hillary Clinton and the party establishment is selling any more than Republicans are buying what their party's establishment is selling. Clinton has a long track record not of serving the gays, the poors, the immigrants, and all the rest for whom her heart currently bleeds. She has spent far too much time servicing the wealthys, the powerfuls, and the well-connecteds. Like poor Jeb Bush, she has some real last-name-association issues, especially in an era where even conservative Republicans are assailing NAFTA and free trade as one of the major problems in today's overburdened, over-regulated, over-bailed-out economy. On top of that, Clinton was an Amtrak-style train wreck as secretary of state, presiding over (if not cheerleading for) any number of stupid interventions here, there, and everywhere.
She is still running as if her lengthy resume is enough to silence all critics, without realizing that our experiences over the past 20 years are precisely the reason why 54 percent of Americans think unfavorably of her. Her resume is her problem! Clinton and her pals in the press are right to call out Sanders on his stupidities (Vox, for instance, rightly notes that Sanders' "fair trade" ideas would doom the wretched of the Earth to even worse poverty). But they are all still working under the assumption that Sanders is somehow illegitimate because he is not Clinton.
To their minds, Sanders is precisely the sort of crypto-commie Sandalista who voted for McGovern and before that, Gene McCarthy (RFK was too right-wing back in the day and, as the protagonist of Steve Erickson's Rubicon Beach puts it, there was a moral difference between supporting the candidate who merely recited poetry and the one who actually wrote it). Just as Donald Trump is the gargoyle version of exactly what the Republican Party has been preaching for decades now, Bernie Sanders is the return of the repressed when it comes to all the Democratic blather about helping the poor, taking it to those Wall Street fat cats, and, what was it that Obama told Joe the Plumber…? Oh yeah, income redistribution, spreadin' the wealth around. None of that happened in the way that Democrats promised and so a chunk of their voters is pissed.
The 2016 election is to date the most insane spectacle in my (relatively short!) lifetime, filled with situational Democrats and Republicans making serious runs for those parties' nominations, the quick dismissal of a money-rich favorite named Bush, discussions of sex organs, and who knows what fresh hell once the second hour of John Stossel's Libertarian Party candidates debate airs this Friday at 9 P.M. Eastern on Fox Business.
But the 2016 election is also the most clarifying political spectacle of my lifetime. Precisely because of the interlopers, Sanders and Trump, each of the major parties is being held to account for its promises and rhetoric stretching back decades—and their nearly complete inability to deliver on any of the promises Republicans and Democrats made in exchange for votes. The Democrats were going to create a fairer America, one with less poverty and more opportunity and less war (because they understand the world better than all those dummy conservatives). The Republicans were going to shrink the size, scope, and spending of the federal government because THE CONSTITUTION or something. Instead, they delivered the exact opposite, while also forcefully, if inadvertently, demonstrating the utter incompetence of the federal government.
As it happens—and as a libertarian—I think the conservative and liberal, and the Republican and Democratic, agendas are misguided, incoherent, and destined to fail. But I was never the intended audience for such loose talk and false promises. The folks who were are the ones willing to burn down the two parties that have failed them so completely and so utterly.
What is it that Bob Dylan sang in the great, cryptic tune "Jokerman"?
Well, the rifleman's stalking the sick and the lame
Preacherman seeks the same, who'll get there first is uncertain
Nightsticks and water cannons, tear gas, padlocks
Molotov cocktails and rocks behind every curtain
False-hearted judges dying in the webs that they spin
Only a matter of time 'til night comes steppin' in
There's no telling what comes next in American politics. Most likely, the two parties, no matter how low they drive voter identification, will stumble on as night comes steppin' in, like Dylan's rifleman and preacherman. One of them will reach the White House in November, but who'll get there first is uncertain, yes.
This too is uncertain: Will the rest of us—the plurality that identifies as independent, the growing plurality that is identified by Gallup as libertarian, and others—sift through the smoldering ruins of the Dems and Reps, gather what is salvageable, and build a future in which politics is subjugated to its proper and smaller role in our lives, our liberties, and our pursuits of happiness?