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Bernie and His Fans



Good take on the problem with Bernie Sanders: the cult of personality his fans are erecting around him that make any criticism an attack on their hero.

It’s time for Sanders supporters to relax a little. It’s great that we’re fired up. But fired up to the point of alienating potential allies with our unwavering and, to be frank, ever so slightly cultish support of Sanders? That’s harmful, and it needs to stop.

The thing is, we’ve been through this once before, back in 2008. Everyone got all fired up and excited for Barack Obama and he was going to magically make everything better and then he was elected and the air went out of the room. Now, I’m not saying a hypothetical Sanders would follow the same path. Obama was always too fond of bipartisanship and compromise, even when it had become painfully evident that those who he was seeking compromise with hadn’t managed to stay awake in class. Sanders is of a different mold, and I very much doubt he will seek compromise for the sake of compromise. At the same time, a hypothetical president Sanders will not be able to do all the wonderful things his supporters think he can. Beyond that, Sanders isn’t perfect. Sorry, but it’s true. On Israel, while he’s less hawkish than most, he is still too far to the right for my tastes. Some of his statements on gun control are a little questionable. He’s a human being, and I don’t expect to agree with him 100% of the time. And there is nothing wrong with that, save when his supporters deify him as the best candidate in the history of everything. That a) sets yourself up for disappointment and b) creates a weirdly cultish atmosphere that doesn’t exactly welcome new recruits.

This course is counterproductive and, if something is not done to change it, downright harmful. I like Sanders. As far as I’m concerned he’s easily the best candidate out there. But he’s not the messiah. He’s not perfect. It is long past time for those of us who support Sanders to come to grips with that. If every criticism of Sanders, every action that his fans deem harmful, every question about his polices is met with an unthinking and reflexive attack, his campaign is in serious trouble. Maybe not now, but in the long term. No one wants to join a cult of personality. If we want the Sanders campaign to succeed it is time we stopped acting like one.

It continues to be striking to me how much liberals want to believe in That One Candidate Who Will Change Everything. Like Obama in 2008 (who admittedly stoked these fires for himself), many liberals are turning to the next Great Man to solve our problems. They would have preferred the first Great Woman, i.e., Elizabeth Warren to do this for them, but with her refusing to run, Bernie is good enough. The problems here are manifold, but far more so if Bernie was actually elected. Were that to happen, he’d face the exact same structural problems Obama does with Congress and the courts, the same corporate lobbying system, and the same inability to change the system on his own. It’s true that he would not have some of Obama’s weaknesses, like the believe in bipartisanship and the terrible education and trade policies. But then again, Bernie’s gun and Israel policies are bad. So progressives would quickly see their hero thrown against the rocks of the system and make some mistakes of his own. They’d call him a sellout and look for the next Great Man to solve all their problems.

The inability of so many liberals to think structurally is really exasperating.

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