I’m prompted by some of the reactions to my Bernie Sanders piece the other day, to make some further comments. Many people seem to think I was being unkind and unfair to a man who has had a long and honorable career “wisely and effectively” promoting progressive causes. It was not only unkind of me to suggest that Bernie had “entered this race planning to lose,” it was horribly “cynical” (a word that appeared in a number of comments).
First of all, I want to say that this is not about personally dissing Bernie Sanders. I agree that Bernie Sanders has often been a wise progressive on many issues, consistently head and shoulders above almost all of his colleagues. It is also true that Bernie Sanders is not all that radical. It's not a very progressive cohort, after all. His limitations from a left, socialist, or anti-imperialist perspective are well-known. (You can find them analyzed in the sources in note 1 of yesterday’s post.)
Bernie is an FDR-New Deal-type American liberal, with all the limitations that entails. He's a moderate welfare-state social democrat, who calls himself a socialist in a way that can resonate within the strange paradigm of American politics. It’s another peculiar effect of the American political paradigm that Bernie Sanders ever appeared to be super radical. It’s particularly disturbing, as we should all notice, that his brand of FDR social politics is now seen as marginal, exceptional, and out of touch with reality within the Democratic Party.
It’s also the case that, though Sanders has been an effective, if limited, progressive on a local and congressional level, he’s never been, or tried to be, a nationally transformative figure, and never evinced serious Presidential aspirations.
Bernie has also had a particular, cozy, relation to the Democratic Party. Though he's always identified himself and run as an independent socialist, he has maintained close, reciprocally-supportive relationships with the Democratic Party. He participates in the Democratic Senatorial caucus, and the party defers to him in Vermont, never fully supporting a Democratic opponent for his Senate seat. Bernie may not formally be a Democrat, but he's an Adjunct Democrat as least as much as he's an Independent Socialist.