WASHINGTON, February 1, 2016 – If their rallies were the sole indicator, the race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders wouldn’t even be close. Bernie (aka “the Bern”) is the rare septuagenarian who excites young people. Millennials turn out for him in droves. Hillary might be beloved of their mothers, but her grayer supporters are notably less vocally enthusiastic in their support.
Why do young people love Sanders? Most of us can understand the “no more business as usual” sentiment. Donald Trump’s supporter’s and Sanders’ won’t see eye-to-eye very often on policy, but they all agree that another “mainstream politician” in the White House is just what they don’t want.
Younger people describe Bernie as “authentic” and praise his integrity. I get their desire for “authenticity.” Just this morning I drank a bottle of probiotic lemon and cayenne beverage that was labeled “gluten free,” “vegan,” and “hand made.” I’m guessing it was also “artisanal,” fat free, and made by guys with beards wearing skinny jeans. In a word, it was authentic. If I were to check the manufacturer’s website, I’d probably learn that it was “made with integrity,” just like a Chipotle burrito.
Sanders exudes authenticity. He doesn’t have a beard, he doesn’t wear skinny jeans, and to the best of my knowledge, he’s never infected anyone with E. coli. He once wrote some bondage porn, but he has a Doctor Ruth vibe going: most people, old and young, sound disturbing and creepy when they talk about bondage, but some elderly people like Dr. Ruth sound really cute when they say “penis,” and no one imagines that if Bernie got them in handcuffs, he’d turn into John Gacy.
Let us take as given that Sanders is authentic, a paragon of consistent integrity. If elected, he will try with all his might to do what he says he’ll do. He is an enemy to income inequality, racial injustice and Goldman-Sachs. He can’t be bought, he can’t be cajoled by the sophistry of political insiders.
Is that really what voters want in the White House? If so, that’s a damning statement on the state of American education.
Not being a psychiatrist, I am emphatically not saying that Bernie is a nut. Still I have to ask, is a nut with integrity a better choice for the presidency than a hard-headed cynic without it? Bernie’s programs all together are estimated to cost about $18 trillion over ten years. His supporters argue that these costs would result in savings, some of them considerable, in particular his plan to eliminate the Affordable Care Act in favor of single-payer healthcare.
No one was ever disappointed by expecting government programs to cost more than expected, not less, though we should grant the hypothetical possibility that Sanders is correct. Nevertheless, more than a few of his supporters argue that Congress will provide a counterweight to his exuberance, bringing his programs more in line with fiscal and political reality. But do they really want to elect him in the hopes that he’ll be stymied in his goals, even more than President Obama?
It is extremely unlikely that Sanders would get a tenth of what he wants through Congress, and he knows as well as anyone that tradeoffs and compromise will be the order of the day in a Sanders Administration. But his supporters are enthusiastic and full of hope for sweeping change in Washington. Are they prepared to be aggrieved when he rationally, intelligently jettisons several trillion dollars’ worth of programs because he’ll never get a tax increase that large passed?
If Sanders prevails in Iowa and then in New Hampshire, his proposals will come under concentrated and bitter fire from arch-Washington insider, mistress of compromise and pragmatism Hillary Clinton. If he does not, he is unlikely to prevail anywhere and will be political history on February 10. Hoping that we’ll have Bernie Sanders to kick around for just a little longer than that, it will be interesting to see what happens to the enthusiasm of his support when the reality of compromise hits home.