On the surface, the new
Field Poll really wasn't bad for Hillary Clinton. Yes, her
one-time 63 point lead had shrunken to six, but it was still a lead,
and at this point the Clinton campaign reckons that it won enough
delegates in the South on Super Tuesday to hold on even if Sanders
were to continue his winning streak -- so long as their campaign
manages not to implode. And while such an implosion seems a long
shot, the Field Poll numbers do suggest grounds for one: Only 48
percent of voters polled in the nation's most populous state viewed
Clinton favorably, compared to 49 percent who looked upon her
unfavorably. Which raises the question of why Democratic Party
leaders seem resigned to allowing such an unpopular candidate to
carry their banner in November, particularly given that this a not a
one-state anomaly, but a nationwide phenomenon.
Bernie Sanders in the South Bronx March 31st 2016 by Michael Vadon
(Image by Michael Vadon) Details DMCA
Clearly it is a fact that Sanders has yet to encounter the incredibly distorting campaign the Republicans will undoubtedly roll out for the final election. But then neither has Clinton. And there seems no obvious reason to think that Clinton's starting the race with a negative rating would somehow insure that her popularity would not drop even lower under a further Republican assault.
Were this a "normal" year, we might expect to see Democratic Party regulars and "smart money" backers start looking elsewhere when faced with a front runner recording the second highest unfavorable rating for a major presidential candidate since CBS News and theNew York Times started polling on the question in 1984(exceeded only by Donald Trump). But this is not a normal year. This is a year when the party establishment put all its eggs in Hillary Clinton's basket and the big money people and the party regulars feel they have nowhere else to turn. And so far as the Democratic field goes, the money guys really do have nowhere else to go, in that Sanders has built his campaign on the fact that he doesn't seek their cash.
The party leaders, on the other hand, do have the option of turning to Sanders, but it's one that they find exceedingly unpalatable. As Clinton herself said of him, "He's a relatively new Democrat, and, in fact, I'm not even sure he is one. He's running as one. So I don't know quite how to characterize him." And let's face it, Sanders, Congress's longest-serving independent, has long made no secret of his disdain for the political priorities of leading figures of both parties. He didn't enter the Democratic primaries because he was eager to hit the Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner circuit. He did it because it's what you have to do to run a serious campaign.
For articulation of the pro-Clinton/anti-Sanders point of view, former Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank is not a bad place to start. He calls Sanders "outrageously McCarthyite" for persistently challenging Clinton to release the text of her Wall Street speeches. Dismissing the core of the Sanders challenge, Frank says, "There was this complaint, 'Oh she had contributions from Wall Street.' So did Barack Obama. So does almost every Democrat because you can't unilaterally disarm."
Now, Sanders may win and he may lose; you might agree with Sanders or you might disagree with him; but if there's one thing the Sanders campaign would seem to have clearly demonstrated -- as it surpasses Clinton's fundraising via millions of under-$30 donations -- it's that the rule of big money in politics can be broken -- now. However, as the consistent age disparity in the Sanders/Clinton vote shows, the longer you've lived with the old system, the harder it can be to recognize the fact that a new one has been born.
Still, if there's one thing you expect political veterans to be able to do, it's read polls. But to be fair, they're clearly not the only ones not paying them any heed -- exit pollsters have found that, among voters who said that the ability to win in November was their main interest in choosing a candidate, in 19 out of 20 states a majority supported Clinton; Sanders broke even among this group only in Vermont, his home state.
Does the fact that Sanders is currently more popular than Clinton prove that he would ultimately fare better than she? Of course not. One long-time Clinton supporter stated his concern quite frankly: "My lingering fear is that, given a choice between a "socialist" and a "fascist," Americans will vote more for the latter. I sure would like to be proven wrong, but the risk is too great."
A Sacramento Bee opinion writer cautions that in a November election campaign the luster might come off the Sanders campaign when it was forced to produce more detail about "his trillion-dollar, five-year infrastructure program and what his health-care system overhaul would entail," along with his proposed "tax on Wall Street transactions by investment houses, hedge funds and other speculators -- a tough sell to a Congress reluctant to support any tax increases."
But really, could the nation be any better served than to have a presidential election actually contested on these questions? Will some of Sanders's proposals require greater depth and articulation? Absolutely. Will some of them have to be revised? Quite possibly. But the severity of our growing income and wealth disparities, the worldwide environmental crisis, and our out-of-control foreign policy would seem to demand that we not kick the big questions down the road for another four or eight years. We have nothing to fear from a national debate on the issues Sanders raises. And we have a world to gain.