Counter to the angry e-mails from readers who claim I am supporting Hillary, I actually am a rather tepid supporter of Bernie Sanders. In a primary where passions are high, tepid support is not enough for many. On most, but not all, policies, I think Bernie is better than Hillary. I think Bernie is probably a better person in terms of believing in justice, but then that’s not really the sole job of the president. But my major hesitation is that he identifies as a socialist when he in fact is not a socialist. As the always perceptive Francis Fox Piven notes, Sanders is just a standard New Deal Democrat.
Activist and honorary Democratic Socialists of America chair Frances Fox Piven suggested on Wednesday that the term “Democratic Socialist” might be too big to describe Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
“People mean a lot of different things by it,” she told MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell. “You could also call Bernie Sanders a New Deal Democrat and you wouldn’t be wrong. And maybe he’s not even a very left-wing New Deal Democrat.”
Bernie Sanders is basically Hubert Humphrey, although without the Happy Warrior’s very strong labor record. And that’s fine. Great, actually. I like Humphrey. And as Piven also discusses, as many others have mentioned, the constant refrain of “Socialism Socialism Socialism” from Republicans toward moderate liberal social policies has gone very far to take the sting out of the word for younger Americans. That’s great news for the future.
On the other hand, Sanders embracing the label of socialist without really being one in any more than the most general way sets up a general election situation that is not optimal–someone who can be painted as far more to the left than they really are by just quoting his own words. Ideally, you’d want someone who is seen as centrist but actually promotes pretty left policies. But I just know way too much about American history to believe that an avowed socialist is going to win in a general election, even against a fascist like Donald Trump. Yet Bernie supporters have convinced themselves that embracing socialism as a political label will actually help him in the general election. This is crazy. I had one BernieBro on Twitter today (I know Tweetdote is even less useful than other anecdotes) say that there was no evidence of redbaiting working in American politics? I’m sorry, what? If Republicans can demonize John Kerry as a traitor, they can do a lot worse to Bernie Sanders.
None of this is to say that we should vote for Hillary. Truth be told, I wish we had different options. I’d vote for Kirsten Gillibrand, Deval Patrick, or even Al Franken in a heartbeat. None are as far left as Bernie, but they’d all push progressive policies and be, I think, effective candidates. Alas, they are not in the race, partly because Hillary cleared the field. And obviously if Bernie wins the nomination, I will support him in the general with the heat of a thousand suns.
But I think the socialist label really very much will play terribly in the general election.
Of course, we elected a black man named Barack Hussein Obama president, so what do I know?