The Silly Analogizing of Bernie Sanders to Ron Paul

Oh, dear.  This post of mine from yesterday is soooo yesterday.  (Okay, sooo last-weekend, to be precise.)  The attempt to paint Sanders as the Democrats’ Donald Trump has failed.  Sanders isn’t the left’s Donald Trump; he’s the left’s Ron Paul!  At least according to a rapidly congealing CW pushed by pundits that include—surprisingly—at least one progressive one.

Freelance writer Zaid Jilani writes on Alternet, in an article republished today on Salon:

In response to the high turnouts at Sanders’s events, many in the media have sought to downplay his momentum by comparing him to former GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul, who also inspired an enthusiastic following:

Bernie Sanders is the left’s Ron Paul.” [Slate Magazine]

Why Bernie Sanders is the Ron Paul of 2016” [The Week]

Bernie Sanders could be the Ron Paul of 2016” [Washington Examiner]

Can Bernie Sanders be the left’s Ron Paul?” [Rare]

Is Bernie Sanders the next Ron Paul?” [Fox News]

The message these outlets are promoting is that Sanders, like Paul, will be able to get an enthusiastic base but will ultimately fail in his quest for the presidency and will only make only a minor impact on the debate. The implication seems to be that Sanders’ views are on the fringe, like Ron Paul’s. But are they? Or is it just that he is the only one articulating the need to address extreme inequality and expanding social security, which millions of Americans support?

The media message seems to rely on the idea that the two men are similar because they spark genuine enthusiasm among their supporters – which is perhaps a sad commentary on American politics that there are so few candidates who can do this that when they do they are instantly compared.

Jilani goes on to deconstruct the analogy by pointing out, most importantly, that:

Paul, despite his enthusiastic and genuinely creative volunteer and donor base, has advocated ideas like completely eliminating Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid. Even among the GOP base, these ideas are extremely unpopular.

Ah.  I get it. There’s no reason to think that a candidate who proposed deeply unpopular policy changes is different than a candidate who proposes popular policy changes. Why would anyone think otherwise?

Okay, maybe there’s a difference between proposing, say, the repeal of Social Security and an increase in Social Security in light of the near-universal end to traditional pension plans.  No, the real problem for Sanders—according to several commentators I’ve read in the last week, including another liberal one—is that Sanders is not like Barack Obama in 2008 because, see, Sanders, unlike Obama in that campaign, isn’t campaigning on generic hope-and-change, fill-in-the-blanks-as-you-want-them-to-be-filled-in slogans, providing specifics about domestic policy proposals only kicking and screaming because John Edwards has done so and then Hillary Clinton has done so because John Edwards has done so.

Nope.  Sanders is running on a series of specific policy statements.  And irrespective of whether or not those policy proposals are popular, Sanders can’t beat Hillary Clinton because he’s  not Barack Obama.

Look.  Obama was supported against Clinton in 2008 by progressives who really, really didn’t want another triangulation Democratic White House.  People thought that’s what a Hillary Clinton administration would be, and a Barack Obama administration would not be.

But the first five years of the Obama administration turned out to be largely a triangulation administration, filled to capacity with former Clinton administration officials, most notably but far from solely significantly Timothy Geithner. So, so much has happened since 2008, most significantly, in my opinion, the movement begun in the fall of 2011 by Occupy Wall Street, and Elizabeth Warren’s election to the Senate in 2012.

The mainstream political punditry, mainstream politicians, and the army of political consultants and such are, of course, not known for mental agility.  But their particular seemingly inalterable cluelessness right now is dramatic nonetheless.

Clinton is running a really terrible campaign, almost completely devoid of in-depth policy discussion, or discussion of any kind.  Much of what she says is incoherent and almost none of what she says responds directly to any policy statements by any Republican. She made news yesterday by giving an actual uncanned, non-generic response to an journalist interviewer’s statement about Jeb Bush’s positions on immigration policy, that actually was responsive to the statement or question.  Hurray!  I mean … wow!

But as I noted in my post yesterday, the most critical fact that the political analysts and pundits miss is the significance of the fact that Democrats are beginning to realize that their party’s nominee will be running against a Tea Party or mostly-Tea-Party Republican nominee—and that, yes, a very progressive Democratic nominee’s policy positions will likely be more popular than the Republican nominee’s.

Which means that Sanders indeed could win the nomination. Largely because he is not only the un-Clinton but also the un-Obama, and that that—a genuine progressive—is what a majority of voters would choose.  At least over Scott Walker, Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush.

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