With a background in Vermont stretching back to the early 1960s, it has been fascinating to watch the mainstream National Democratic Party try to deal with Bernie Sanders as a presidential candidate. It seems clear that those Democrats are confused about who Bernie is, how he functions, or what his real goals are. Perhaps they are not about to make public any such knowledge, fearful that such admissions might irreparably damage their hopes for a mainstream Democrat as candidate rather than Sanders.
Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat, is contemptuous of Democratic Party ideals and has his own agenda. He is, by his own claim, a Social Democrat, presumably in the European mode. As mayor of Burlington, Vermont he pushed for the election of members of his own Progressive Party, the only party with which he feels both communion and comfort, to the city council. In that period, he contributed to the election campaign of a Progressive candidate for election to that council. It is Progressive Party candidates he supports, not Democratic Party candidates, despite the fact that he is running on the national stage to be the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party. Note that none of the downstream candidates he supported were elected in 2016.
What does all this mean? It means, quite simply, that Bernie Sanders has little interest in the Democratic Party other than to use it to accomplish his own Progressive political goals. In the beginning of his 2016 campaign, he probably saw his candidacy as a wedge he could use to move the Clinton candidacy and the party to the left. Certainly, he has already accomplished much in that regard.
Further, he appears not to be concerned about the costs of his preferred national programs. His 2016 goals to create a single-payer health-care system and increase Social Security benefits, according to the non-partisan, Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, could have doubled the national debt. What will his additional 2020 goals to forgive educational debt, raise the minimum wage, mitigate income disparities, as well as the additional extraordinary costs of health care, education, climate change, immigration and gun policy, do to the economic well-being of this country?
Sanders’ success in the ongoing state primaries and caucuses seems to have convinced him that he has a real shot at becoming the Democratic Party candidate. In a curious way, he seems to be the left-wing equivalent of right-wing President Trump, who is not a real Republican any more than Sanders is a real Democrat.
If we believe what has already been written about Sanders, he is not the “grumpy grandpa” many have believed him to be. In an August 25, 2015 article by Paul Heinz in Seven Days, a widely read Burlington weekly publication, he is described as follows; “according to some who have worked closely with Sanders over the years, ‘grumpy grandpa’ doesn’t even begin to describe it. They characterize the senator as rude, short-tempered and, occasionally, downright hostile. Though Sanders has spent much of his life fighting for working Vermonters, they say he mistreats the people working for him.”
“As a supervisor, he was unbelievably abusive,” says one former campaign staffer who claims to have endured frequent verbal assaults. The double standard was clear: “He did things that, if he found out that other supervisors were doing in a workplace, he would go after them. You can’t treat employees that way.”
Sanders clearly believes he has a reasonable shot at beating his rivals at the Democratic convention. His rivals, in their configuration as a circular firing squad, have recently been slipping in polls. He has done well in the early primaries, but party changes in superdelegate rules have enraged Sanders and his supporters and somewhat weakened his chances for ultimate success should the decision of a candidate go to the convention.
Real Democrats must be concerned about the Sanders candidacy. Sanders says that if he loses, he will support the chosen Democratic candidate. There is no valid reason for mainline Democrats to believe that Sanders will avidly support a real Democrat, or, for that matter, much of anything that those Democrats would like to see supported. Sanders is not a Democrat and never has been. His goal, if he cannot win the candidacy, appears to be to force radical change in the existing Democratic Party, moving it as far toward “Social Democracy” as possible. That is not a goal that is compatible with mainstream, moderate Democratic philosophy.
Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief.