Obviously many Clinton supporters are motivated primarily by the idea that it's way past time for the first female president, and there are some who simply prefer her on the issues. But when it comes to trying to dissuade the Sanders supporter, it usually comes down to invoking the great fear on the American left -- the fear that maybe the American public won't in the end agree with us, even when they have actually gotten to hear our case made, which they seldom do. So, impressive as Sanders has been thus far in making the case for reversing the growing inequity of wealth and power in America, the great fear is that this can only go so far -- and not far enough to elect someone who advocates the positions Sanders takes.
Maybe the Clinton supporters have it right about the outcome of a Sanders nomination and maybe they don't. But there seems little room for doubt that they're right in their assessment of how the Republicans would react to him emerging as the nominee. Given that just two guys, the Koch brothers, have pledged $889 million toward the effort this election cycle, we can be pretty sure that no expense will be spared when it comes to political distortion and character assassination. Should Sanders win the nomination, in addition to the calls for new and better Middle East invasions and a lightening of the tax burden on corporate America that we can expect in any case, we will undoubtedly witness a reprise of cold war-era red-scare campaign tactics on a level not seen since decades before the dismantling of the Berlin Wall -- probably the best show of its kind since the death of Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1957. It will be ugly. And no doubt it will be intense enough to give supporters second thoughts about whether they underestimated Sanders's vulnerability on this point.
And yet when the scenario of what the Republicans will say about Sanders is played out, it seems to come with an illusion -- the illusion that they won't do Clinton just as dirty. The Clinton campaign actually seems to harbor an unspoken hope that their candidate's efforts to keep one foot in the one-percent camp and the other in the 99-percent camp will mean that the big money people won't weigh in nearly so heavily against her as they would against Sanders. But can anyone seriously think that the resources of the Koch brothers and the rest of their ilk will not be fully utilized should Clinton be nominated? The tenor of the final race would be different, certainly, but likely just as vicious. Instead of focusing on the evils of Stalinism and how God hates socialism, the Republicans and their allied billionaires will conduct a campaign more typical of the sort at which they have excelled in recent years -- running against a Washington-insider liberal elite. Hypocritical? To the max. Unfortunately, however, quite often effective.
And so far as this type of campaign goes, there seems little doubt that it is Clinton who is the more vulnerable. Sanders is, after all, not only running without corporate money, but he is running against corporate money being in politics at all. Although the mainstream press generally accorded it short shrift, the take he gave on Clinton's stance on campaign money during the second debate was unprecedented in the annals of recent presidential politics. "Why, over her political career," Sanders asked, "has Wall Street been a major campaign contributor to Hillary Clinton? Maybe they're dumb, and they don't know what they're going to get. But I don't think so. There has never been a candidate -- never -- who has received huge amounts of money from oil, from coal, from Wall Street, from the military-industrial complex, not one candidate is like, 'Oh, these campaign contributions have not influenced me, I'm going to be independent.' Why do they make millions of dollars of campaign contributions? They expect to get something. Everybody knows that."
For a top contender for a major party nomination to make such a critique, and do so legitimately, represents such a sea change in American politics that it's not clear whether it's been fully appreciated even now. And yet it is obviously catching on in some unexpected quarters. One doesn't want to make too much out of a celebrity endorsement of course, still it did seem noteworthy when Maxim magazine reported that former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey was voting for Bernie Sanders "because he doesn't take any corporate money." She added that "I don't think politicians should be allowed to take money for their campaigns from outside interests." (And this was before she got kicked in the head and lost the championship.) The UFC's following does not generally come from traditionally liberal-voting precincts, so this particular endorsement did at least convey some hint of just how difficult it will be to make the "limousine liberal" label stick to Bernie Sanders.
As a presidential candidate, Sanders has the task of trying to knit together tens of millions of people -- in a hurry. And there seems no denying that, that in the face of the sorts of differences that are inevitable when dealing with numbers that vast, his campaign has already taken the case for re-democratizing the country to an audience whose breadth we could have only dreamt of just a couple of years ago.
Obviously no one knows how this all turns out. Many of the factors are beyond our control. One of the elements not out of our hands, however, is just what we on the American left will do. Will we succumb to the great fear and back off and let Clinton have the nomination? Or will we decide that our moment has come and ride the Sanders call for a political revolution as far as it goes?