Watching the first Democratic Presidential debate this week, the most striking difference between it and the Republican debates was there were only five people standing on the podium. One of them, Lincoln Chafee, has only been a Democrat for two years, and Jim Webb sounded like he belonged on the Republican stage.
The two real contenders on that stage were Hillary Clinton, onetime First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State., and Bernie Sanders, a progressive Senator from Vermont.
Clinton performed brilliantly, her answers demonstrating both poise and knowledge. Sanders, on the other had, did well, returning again and again to his vitriolic anger at the level of income inequality in the US. Sanders calls himself a Democratic Socialist, lauds Nordic countries for their progress, bashes Wall Street at every chance he gets. He’s on a self-described mission to bring the party back to its populist roots.
However, despite his success in the polls, Sanders cannot win; we’re not prepared for a Jeremy Corbyn on the Western side of the Atlantic. In a polarised country where the amount of bad blood between Republicans and Democrats is ever increasing, what Sanders cannot offer is electability next November. Statistics show that Democrats would have an advantage with the American people because those who happen to not be party affiliated are more likely to favour the Democrats. That is not enough for Sanders win a general election. The negative advertising that Republicans and their supported would send his way would crush him, attacking his character, his record, and calling referring to him using the dreaded c-word: “communist”. Look no further than Trump, who’s called Sanders a communist and a maniac.
Sanders has never quite fit in Congress, and it shows. He lacks Clinton’s endorsements – nine governors and 142 members of Congress so far. Sanders has just got two Congressional backers. What does that tell a potential voter about his ability to get stuff done when his own party has little confidence in him and in what he stands for?
He also needs the moderates to win, but their support has so far remained largely in Clinton’s hands. Sanders would need a miracle to pry them away from her. While the Great Recession of 2007-8 has hurt many families to their core, and many are still feeling the repercussion of tough economic times, the United States is doing better than many other advanced economies. Unemployment is down, economic growth is up and soon, Janet Yellen, the chair of the Federal Reserve, will raise interest rates. Sanders’ populism may appeal to many liberals at the moment, and to young people who are more likely to feel marginalised by the political process. But the state of Vermont does not reflect the national Democratic Party. Though compelling, his messages will hardly convince moderates that he’ll be able to achieve anything should he end up in the Oval Office.
This is not a misjudgment; in fact, it would be difficult for President Sanders to get much done at all. Maybe he would make a liberal use of executive actions, but he would preside over a divided government with a House of Representatives filled with Republicans hate Democrats like they hate the devil. They hate to compromise and have no problems driving the country to the brink of a shut down. How could Bernie deal with that, when he would be more hated than Obama and any law he would try to pass would be blocked? Democrats can’t, and won’t put their faith
If Labour wasn’t prepared for Corbyn, Democrats are even less so for Sanders. The party and the country are, however, ready for someone like Hillary Clinton, a self-described “progressive who gets things done.”
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore