Gregory Dennis: Why Bernie’s campaign will burn out
It’s presidential election season again, and many Vermonters are clearly excited about the upstart candidacy of their own Howard Dean. He’s speaking truth to power and reminding the Democratic Party what it’s supposed to stand for — for working people and not the monied class, for the environment and not the polluters, for a tempered foreign policy and not cowboy aggression.
Much to everyone’s surprise, Dean is running strong in two critical states that have outsized influence on the nominating process. He’s leading in New Hampshire — which of course is right next door; but hey, a lead is a lead. In Iowa, Dean is narrowing the gap between him and the frontrunner.
Dean’s message is resonating far from Vermont and the early primary states. He’s drawing big crowds out west, and his online fundraising is outstripping that of any other candidate among grassroots, small-dollar donors. He’s the darling of activists who have the power to shape the early nominating contest far beyond their numbers and small donations.
Dean has even caught the attention of party powerbrokers and national media pundits, who have finally begun to take his candidacy seriously. Not since George McGovern in 1972 has American politics seen a candidate from outside the mainstream make such a strong early bid for the presidency.
Oh, wait — did I say Howard Dean?
I mean Bernie Sanders. (Where is the “search and replace” function on the computer keyboard, anyway?)
Because, let’s face it folks, Bernie Sanders is the Howard Dean of this year’s presidential campaign.
So far he’s running a great race. He’s willing to say what no other candidate is willing to say: Big Money dominates the political process at the national level and in most states. The little guy gets left out politically and, as wages continue to stagnate, left behind economically. The game is rigged, and that will change only through a grassroots movement to return power to the people.
The foreign policy that mired us in Afghanistan and Iraq is a proven failure. The environment is deteriorating. And we can’t trust the people in power to change any of that.
All true. But it says here that like Howard Dean, Bernie Sanders will flame out early.
And believe me, it hurts to write that sentence.
Our esteemed, indomitable Sen. Sanders really is the only one out there speaking truth to power. And while he talks mostly about corporate power and the concentration of wealth in a plutocracy, he’s also the only presidential candidate who truly understands the mortal threat posed by climate change.
For those of us who see the enormity of the threat posed by global warming, Sen. Sanders is pretty much the only choice this time around. After 40 years of observing him, too, I’ve learned never to underestimate Bernie.
Moreover, he’s an inspiring choice. He’s drawing the biggest and most energized crowds of the campaign. It’s vintage Bernie. We love him for his consistency, his resilience, his articulateness, his vigorous defense of the social compact and the structures such as Social Security and support for our veterans that have helped so many millions lead a more comfortable life.
But — there’s that word again, that awful “but” — Bernie Sanders is not going to be the next president.
We’ve seen this movie before. By next April after the March Madness primaries where only extremely well funded candidates can compete, he might not even be an active candidate anymore.
Because — remember? — the game is rigged. Absent extraordinary circumstances and the support of the powerful, nobody makes it to the White House. Gene McCarthy and Barry Goldwater learned that. So did George McGovern.
The best argument against that assertion, of course, is the current president. Against pretty much insurmountable odds, a black man with a name that sounded like a terrorist’s won the presidency in 2008. He beat the best known woman in the world during the primaries and then he whipped a war hero.
So yes, political miracles do happen. But Barack Obama is truly one in 6 billion.
Aside from his inspiring personal story and singular rhetorical gifts, Obama had opposed a Mideastern war that Americans had come to understand was a colossal mistake. His primary Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, had supported that war. So did his General Election foe, Sen. John McCain.
What is more, in 2008 the country was on the brink of an economic meltdown. Even George Bush saw that the wise course of action was a huge infusion of cash and Keynesian economics into the teetering economy. Obama was on the right side of that one, too, while McCain hemmed and hawed.
It’s a different scenario this time around. We no longer appear to be on the eve of destruction. Most Democrats truly do feel that Hillary Clinton has earned the nomination, and the party wants to make history a second time — not with a white male but with a woman.
The sheer brute truth is that Bernie Sanders is too dangerous and the party won’t allow him to be nominated. Call that the cynicism of a longtime observer who remembers when JFK was killed. Who watched people go Clean for Gene and saw Bobby Kennedy launch a powerful campaign that ended when the dream went down on a hotel floor.
Instead we got Richard Nixon and six more years of war.
Through all that and Reagan, too, a lot of us concluded that America won’t be changed from the top down. That the best bet to do truly powerful work is at the grassroots level.
As for the presidency: Short of a getting arrested for an email kerfuffle that has been fanned by the Republican opposition, Hillary Clinton will be the nominee. She has too much money and too much support from big donors, women and people of color for Bernie to overcome her enormous advantages.
And unless the Republicans wake up and nominate a candidate with more credibility than Donald Trump and more juice than Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton will be the next president.
Gregory Dennis’s column appears here every other Thursday and is archived on his blog at www.gregdennis.wordpress.com. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @greengregdennis.