It’s time for me to walk the Fog of History beat again. There’s some weird shit happening on Twitter during this election cycle. There’s someone using the handle @USJeffersonianA. He/she/it is a big Bernie Sanders fan. I’m not but that’s fine. But they’ve posted some twisted shit. First, they’ve done the whole picture mashup thing with Sanders’ mug combined with Thomas Jefferson. Second, they seem to think that the small guvmint loving, slave owning, aristocratic 3rd President would be a “Democratic Socialist” today. TJ wasn’t even willing to free his own slaves let alone those of others. Don’t get me started on his racist views about Native Americans. I’m not going there because I don’t believe in presentism. Jefferson was a man of his time, not ours.
It is, however, amusing to see someone on the Left ahistorically claim TJ’s support for his “revolution.” The teabaggers are also big on that and just as wrong. Jefferson, however, would be horrified to see that this Twitter person is circulating a “commitment pledge” stipulating that one should only vote Bernie now, Bernie tomorrow, and Bernie forever. Sounds like a loyalty oath to me. I recall a time when liberals took a dim view of loyalty oaths even the unenforceable ones. I was unaware that the Sanders campaign was a cult with the candidate as a demigod of sorts. The deist who was our 2nd Vice President would have taken a dim view of such a thing. At least this loyalty oath poser isn’t speaking for the Sanders campaign.
Here’s the deal. Even though I find it deeply strange for an independent to be the nominee of my party, I will vote for Sanders in the General Election if he is nominated. I will do so even though I’m not sure if anyone can be elected Oval One on his platform, especially his single-payer health care plan. It *might* be the best way to do things but it is POLITICALLY IMPOSSIBLE. Don’t rely on me, here’s what Paul Krugman has to say on the subject:
The question for progressives — a question that is now central to the Democratic primary — is whether these failings mean that they should re-litigate their own biggest political success in almost half a century, and try for something better.
First, like it or not, incumbent players have a lot of power. Private insurers played a major part in killing health reform in the early 1990s, so this time around reformers went for a system that preserved their role and gave them plenty of new business.
Second, single-payer would require a lot of additional tax revenue — and we would be talking about taxes on the middle class, not just the wealthy. It’s true that higher taxes would be offset by a sharp reduction or even elimination of private insurance premiums, but it would be difficult to make that case to the broad public, especially given the chorus of misinformation you know would dominate the airwaves.
Finally, and I suspect most important, switching to single-payer would impose a lot of disruption on tens of millions of families who currently have good coverage through their employers. You might say that they would end up just as well off, and it might well be true for most people — although not those with especially good policies. But getting voters to believe that would be a very steep climb.
There are many items on the progressive agenda, ranging from an effective climate change policy, to making college affordable for all, to restoring some of the lost bargaining power of workers. Making progress on any of these items is going to be a hard slog, even if Democrats hold the White House and, less likely, retake the Senate. Indeed, room for maneuver will be limited even if a post-Trump Republican Party moves away from the scorched-earth opposition it offered President Obama.
So progressives must set some priorities. And it’s really hard to see, given this picture, why it makes any sense to spend political capital on a quixotic attempt at a do-over, not of a political failure, but of health reform — their biggest victory in many years.
Sorry for the epic quote, but it was important to lay out Krugman’s reasoning in some detail. People on both the far Left and far Right seem to want some sort of revolution and cite the Founders as their inspiration. They fail to understand that the “American Revolution” was a conservative one, and that our Constitution is designed to prevent tyranny and dictatorship, not to make revolution or even reform easy. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy. It’s true that Thomas Jefferson was a fount of radical rhetoric in the early days of the French Revolution. It’s also true that he reigned it in after the bloodbath started. To his credit, Jefferson was not a war-lover: he spent the revolutionary years as a diplomat and Governor of Virginia, not in the army. The whole “tree of liberty watered with the blood of patriots” thing should be taken with a huge grain of salt. TJ never spilled a drop of blood in his life. That’s right, folks, Thomas Jefferson was something of a chicken-hawk.
It’s increasingly apparent that the Sanders people didn’t expect to win the nomination. That’s why it’s imperative for them to rethink their approach politically. Much of the Sanders agenda would not have passed the House when Speaker Pelosi had the gavel, let alone Speaker Ryan. Vox’s Matt Yglesias has some sage advice for Team Sanders:
Bernie Sanders’s campaign and his most fervent supporters are going to read this article as harsh — and in many ways it is. But the truth is I think there’s a lot to like about Bernie Sanders. I share Sanders’s admiration for the Nordic social model, I agree with him in principle about single-payer health care, I appreciate that he has co-sponsored sophisticated bank regulation bills like Sherrod Brown’s collaboration with David Vitter, and his advocacy of a financial transactions tax is admirable. To the extent that Sanders is running a campaign that’s about raising issues and securing national attention for some ideas that don’t normally come up on Meet the Press, I applaud him.
But Bernie-mania has gotten a lot bigger than that. He’s obviously still the underdog, but he’s doing well — he’s rising in the polls and to my eye bested Clinton in a debate. It’s possible to imagine him winning the nomination, which means it’s possible to imagine him becoming president.
Which means that we in the media need to start taking his campaign seriously, but also that Sanders himself needs to take his campaign seriously. Build a real model of the higher education plan. Come up with some notion of what kind of health insurance the Berniecare single-payer plan is going to provide. Address the whole range of outstanding issues with Obama’s Wall Street agenda. Maybe talk to some people about foreign policy. We appreciate that it’s not his passion in life, but it’s a crucial part of the job, and he needs to be more comfortable talking about it.
Team Sanders also needs to be better prepared for the Republican onslaught that will inevitably come if he wins the nomination. The reason his favorability ratings are so high right now is that they haven’t laid a glove on him yet. There are even some signs that he’s the GOP’s favored opponent in the fall. Both the candidate and his most ardent supporters need to develop thicker skins if they want their dreams realized. You cannot win the general election if you cannot take a punch during the primaries. Most of all, the Sanders people need a Plan B if and when his proposals are shot down by the Congress. Failure to make adjustments could result in either a Trump or Cruz presidency. And only the dimmer members of the Left want that.
Finally, here’s the loyalty oath tweet that I mentioned at the beginning of the post: