Throughout the 2016 presidential race, Bernie Sanders has displayed a cunning ability to shape the narrative—whether on the issues, where Hillary Clinton has tried to become his X-chromosome clone; or in some of the “artful smears” that have come from Hillary and her surrogates—which he has been able to neutralize or, in some cases, use to his advantage. He can do this because he is, in his very nature, a realist.
This realism was on display in the wake of his loss in the South Carolina primary. If there had been any chance of beating the polling spread there, the turnout may have been higher. But no one knows better than those idealistic young troops on the ground how the battle is going, and what people are telling them in phone calls and door-to-door interviews. And what the rest of us also learned, as the primary results came in, was that the fix was in, and that the rigged system that Bernie is always talking about had clicked into high gear in South Carolina, and the Democratic machine had spoken.
What is usually left out of the media narrative—which, as expected, is ramping up the Hillary “inevitability” bandwagon after South Carolina—is the truly historic nature of Bernie’s outsider candidacy. In modern Democratic political history, liberal challenges to establishment candidates have always come from within the party—Gene McCarthy, George McGovern, Jesse Jackson, etc.—but in Bernie’s case, he’s a barbarian storming the castle, at the head of a previously-unregistered horde. And it’s the same dynamic that plays out on a national level: no matter how much internal squabbling there is, if there’s a foreign invasion, the citizens rally.
This would especially be the case with African Americans in the Democratic party. You have to put yourself in their shoes. The great transformation in American politics that turned the former Confederacy from solid Democrat to solid Republican, and lost the South to the GOP for generations, was made on their behalf. They know they owe a great debt to the party that gave them their full voting rights and their first black president, and that continues to help defend their gerrymandered island-states surrounded by hostile sons of the Confederacy. The Democratic party is their only source of real political power. And for over thirty years, the Clintons have been entwined with the Democratic party.
The loyalty that African Americans returned to the party in South Carolina, however wrongheaded politically, is exemplary. That was the nut that Bernie couldn’t crack there, no matter how real his civil rights record, no matter how icy past conditions between black leaders like Representative James Clyburn and the Clintons. The black community made what was in their eyes a realistic decision. And in the end, Bernie made a realistic assessment of the situation there, and changed his strategy accordingly.
The irony is the unreality of the whole narrative. Of course the results in South Carolina have meaning for the Democratic delegate race, and the media-projected math at this point favors Hillary. But as Bernie noted in his post-concession speech in Minnesota, this is just the beginning of the actual voting.
And as the media should know by now, if the 2016 race has demonstrated anything so far, it’s that anything can happen. Plus, in the general election, who wins Democratic primaries anywhere in the South is (with some exceptions) meaningless, because given GOP turnout numbers so far, there’s no reason to think the South will be anything but solid Republican in November. Realistically, Hillary’s “landslide” is just another momentary media carnival show. Another establishment psychological operation.
After careful consideration, Bernie decided to run in the Democratic primary, rather than mount an independent campaign, because he is a realist. He knows the American system of electing people to federal office is unfairly rigged in favor of the two corrupt major parties, who largely serve the same financial and corporate interests. He made a realistic decision—even knowing from long experience in the institutions of government how difficult it would be to penetrate the Democratic machine. But being a realist, he took what is ultimately the easier political path to the presidency, and in the process exposed exactly how rigged, corrupt and interwoven our system of electing puppets to dance for our CEO masters really is.
Bernie also takes a more realistic view of the political landscape than Hillary, the media, or Democratic party loyalists. He knows, in the first place, that Hillary will never attract the libertarian independents or “Sanders Republicans” (not to mention the truly revolutionary among his supporters) that will be necessary to carry crucial swing states in the general election. He also knows that African American voters will undoubtedly vote Democratic in the general election, no matter who the nominee is, and that differences in Bernie-or-Hillary enthusiasm rates will be negligible.
Bernie is also aware that—as always with the Clintons—another shoe may drop at any moment, at any time. It may be the Clinton Foundation, or a federal subpoena, or a high-profile re-emergence of one of Bill’s “narcissistic loony tunes” to remind the public of precisely how unprincipled—and unfeminist—Hillary can be when it suits her political convenience. And although Bernie is too decent to mention it, there’s the whole cavalcade of Arkansas follies that will be, without question, resurrected in the general election, if not earlier, by the Karl Rove gang. If any of these embarrassments were to break out big, the “inevitability” bubble would burst. A paradigm shift in the electorate is hardly questionable, especially in a year of anti-establishment politics. Anyone who thinks otherwise is not being realistic.
Given the long animosity between the Clintons and the “vast right-wing conspiracy,” the absurd proposition that Hillary is any more likely to get her program through a Republican-dominated Congress than Bernie is delusional, at best. And the fact that this is a pillar of her “electability” pitch is laughable, a castle built on sand, and another prime example of an establishment psyop and media fix, intended solely to dampen any appeal to traditional Democratic aspirations, and to blur any lingering boomer memories of free college and truly progressive taxes from an earlier, more compassionate, more egalitarian age.
Bernie’s record of executive and legislative accomplishment is more genuine than Hillary’s. And even in her area of supposed strength—her foreign policy experience—Bernie has a record of being more consistently right in his judgment and in his votes. His big-picture assessment of the history and missteps in American foreign policy has proven far more realistic than the neocon interventionism that Hillary has championed, from Iraq to Libya to Ukraine to Syria. The close scrutiny that Republicans will give this fall to her major role in creating chaos and disaster in the Middle East—and there is no person singly more responsible for the tragedy in Syria today than the former Secretary of State—make her actual chances of reaching the White House in January an illusion.
Despite what happened in South Carolina, in any realistic perspective, the better Democratic candidate—and the better potential president—is Bernie.