The Unraveling of Bernie Sanders (His Supporters Unraveled Some Time Ago)

Programming Note: Thursday night is the final, pre-New York primary debate between Sen. Sanders and Sec. Clinton. I’ll be live tweeting during the event. Join in! Chime in! Follow along on Twitter @TheHangingShad. 

Let me preface this by saying I’ve never been a fan of Hillary Clinton. To me she has always seemed singularly focused on becoming president. She will let nothing stand in her way. Her liabilities have given fuel to the flicker that was the fledgling campaign of a relatively unknown, self-described socialist from a lily-white state. The fact that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders ignited a movement (not a revolution) is impressive. What the movement and the candidate himself have become is sad and is in itself a symptom of what is wrong with American politics.

I’m not an economist. I have a functional understanding of how the economy works and the competing ideas of how to make it better. Maybe after 20 years in the political world I’ve grown cynical. But I was not among the throngs of lemmings who got caught up in the idea that we can have free public college tuition, free health care and other government-increasing programs and all we have to do is tax “Wall Street speculation,” tax the “billionaire class” and point to the fact that wars have cost us billions.

(Let’s pause here for the now-routine finger point exclamations of “but Hillary [this] and Hillary [that]…” I’ve already stipulated to Hillary’s liabilities and even legal exposure. This isn’t about that.)

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Like I do in other issue areas where I’d rather listened to someone I greatly respect than snipe uninformed, I think respected (and left-leaning) economist Paul Krugman gets it right in several areas.

About breaking up the big banks, Krugman writes, “Predatory lending was largely carried out by smaller, non-Wall Street institutions like Countrywide Financial; the crisis itself was centered not on big banks but on ‘shadow banks’ like Lehman Brothers that weren’t necessarily that big…Yet going on about big banks is pretty much all Mr. Sanders has done. On the rare occasions on which he was asked for more detail, he didn’t seem to have anything more to offer. And this absence of substance beyond the slogans seems to be true of his positions across the board.” In the annoying social media parlance of the day, I say, “Yep.”

While Sanders seems to be becoming unhinged only recently, it was some time ago that his supporters jumped over the edge like Evel Knievel over the Snake River Canyon. When they can break from the steady stream of postings—usually from dubious sources—claiming that Hillary is an alien who has billions in Panama banks—they are on the attack. Anyone who dares challenge Bernie is corrupt, immoral or somehow a political idiot. The “Bernie Bros’” condescension, arrogance and holier-than-thou attitude is made worse by the fact that they rarely know what the hell they’re talking about. Yes, I’m painting with a broad brush here. But if the Doc Brown hairstyle fits…”

Back to Krugman. On questioning Sanders’ tax proposals, he writes, “Some Sanders supporters responded angrily when these concerns were raised, immediately accusing anyone expressing doubts about their hero of being corrupt if not actually criminal. But intolerance and cultishness from some of a candidate’s supporters are one thing;…Unfortunately, in the past few days [it] has become all too clear: Mr. Sanders is starting to sound like his worst followers. Bernie is becoming a Bernie Bro.”

Sanders has yet to win a primary or caucus that is not a lily-white state (Michigan is still 80 percent white and less than 15 percent African American). He has managed to anger Newtown parents with his stance on guns. He was the chairman of the Veteran Affairs Committee when the VA scandal hit. He is a socialist and inventing “Democratic Socialist” and joining the Democratic Party last year doesn’t change that. He has zero chance getting congressional support on anything.

But none of this really bothers me. Every candidate has his/her weaknesses. What really bothers me is that the candidate cannot even explain how his own policies would work. It’s nice to state the basic approach and policy—it’s politically smart. But when he was asked how it work, Sanders fails. “Under what authority would you break up the ‘big banks?’” “Do you need congressional support?” His attempt at answering is troubling.

Now, I will post this column and wait for the vitriolic response from the Bro’s on social media.