Few things on the political scene have
recently given progressives more hope than the candidacy of Bernie
Sanders for President of the United States. Senator Sanders seems
to have taken virtually everyone off guard with the huge crowds he is
drawing across the country, as well as his spectacular showing in polls. This has led many (including myself) to no longer consider
Bernie's candidacy just an amazing phenomenon, but an
absolutely essential component of any real change in this country. This having been said, there
are still certain political realities, which we're going to have to
face sooner or later.
What I am referring to is the very basic fact of what I believe one could call his "political identity": Bernie is a 73-year-old Jewish Socialist from Vermont. Now this very brief description in itself presents what I see as at least 4 "challenges", any one of which (unfortunately) could be fatal to any candidate for President. Many of these issues have, of course, already been discussed at some length in the media. But I think it might prove useful to try and focus on each one, to some degree (particularly on this site). So, let's briefly take them one at a time.
Let's start with the easiest one: the issue of his age. The fact that Bernie if elected would be at age 74, the oldest individual to have done so, is certainly no secret. Even Ronald Reagan was only 69 when first elected (McCain would have only been 72 if he had won). While this certainly shouldn't rule anyone out, and Senator Sanders looks absolutely great (thank God), I'm not sure it's exactly a plus (although the experience it reflects certainly is). Let's be honest: 74 is quite a bit older than most. And, if he were to win, the job is no less than running the entire world. There are actually good reasons why no one has ever been elected to the presidency who was quite that advanced in age before (without going into them in detail). But in terms of cold, hard politics, there will inevitably be a certain percentage of the populace who will consciously or unconsciously (and whether they admit it or not), a bit uncomfortable with it. John McCain lost to Barack Obama by about 10,000,000 votes. All of which, of course, was not directly due to the age difference. But in Presidential politics--that's a pretty big margin, and age was undoubtedly a factor.
On to the next: Bernie is (as I am) Jewish. This is a much thornier issue, and one much less likely to be discussed at length in the mass media. While overt antisemitism seems to have significantly dropped over the past few decades, it is far from being a thing of the past, and would inevitably affect a Presidential election. Out in front is the fact that 12% of Americans continue to openly consider themselves antisemitic (2013 poll by the Anti-Defamation League). As I earlier stated, this alone, in an election often decided by a 1% or 2% margin, could do someone in. There is also a reason why (despite a decent showing in Congress), there is not a single Jewish governor in any of the 50 states (now that Eliot Spitzer is long gone). But this statistic may actually just scratch the surface. It turns out that if one phrases the polling question just a bit differently, one gets these results: "15% of Americans believe Jews are more likely than other groups to use 'shady business practices' to get what they want. 17% of Americans believe Jews 'control' Wall Street. 14% of Americans believe Jews have 'too much power' in the business world. 13% of Americans believe Jews don't care about other people; 15% believe Jews have a lot of irritating habits." But perhaps the most troublesome to a candidate for President of the United States: fully "30% of Americans believe Jews are more loyal to Israel than their own country." (see whole article) Is it possible that this alone, (not including the aforementioned ageism problem) could more than derail a bid for the White House?
I too have heard the argument that if a black man could win the presidency, than why not a Jewish one? But there are about 5 million Jews in this country, and 45 million blacks. And without the black vote, Barack could never have won. It is true that blacks always vote 90-98% Democratic, and the same bloc that elected Obama would vote for just about any Democratic candidate. But Black-Jewish relations have been an ongoing problem since the Civil Rights movement click here, and I for one would not assume their support for a Jewish candidate for President. I would also be interested to see an honest poll regarding just how many Independent voters have only positive things to say about Jews.
Now we arrive at what I believe is our biggest problem: Bernie's openly, courageous and utterly truthful admission that he is a Socialist. While this may come as good news (and a hurricane of fresh air) to many progressives, it remains a real problem for the perhaps less "smart and savvy" of our fellow countrymen: 60% of Americans, according to a recent Pew Survey click here have a negative view of the term "socialism". If that were not enough, according to a Gallup survey, as of June, 2015, 50% of Americans would not consider voting for a socialist for President. Is it just me... but half of the voters not being willing to even consider someone's candidacy? Do we need a political scientist here?
There are some who will point to Bernie's success in Vermont as proof that he is a viable, national candidate. But he actually lost two elections for governor, and two for senator, in the 70s, before eventually being elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont in 1981 (by 10 votes, in a 4-way race.)
He once again lost a bid for the Senate in 1988, until finally winning in 1990. Since Senator Sanders moved to Vermont in 1967, it might be said that it took over 20 years for even his home state to embrace his particular brand of politics. The idea that this country as a whole, with its monumental bias against socialism built-in, could be expected to warm up to him within the next year and a half... Again, is it just me?
These, dear reader, are just a few of the challenges if Senator Sanders were to win the Democratic nomination. But, as Nate Cohn in his recent article for the New York Times wrote, even the nomination is further out of reach than most of us seem to appreciate:
"The Sanders surge has slowed over the last month. Yes, a poll out of New Hampshire has him leading Mrs. Clinton. But Iowa and New Hampshire were always going to be strong spots -- just as liberal havens like Seattle and Boulder, Colo., are favorable terrain.