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No, the Democrats aren't the party of Bernie Sanders

No, the Democrats aren't the party of Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters during a campaign rally at Safeco Field in Seattle on March 25, 2016. (Matt Mills McKnight / EPA-EFE/REX)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

Bernie Sanders is officially the old guy running for president, both in terms of his literal age and his status as the experienced, ideological guardian of his (unofficial) party. This time he’s running not as an outsider appealing to disaffected liberals, but as a longtime politician running firmly in the Democratic Party’s mainstream (and some of our readers aren’t thrilled about this). It isn’t Sanders who’s changed; rather, although he lost the nomination to Hillary Clinton in 2016, he emerged the more powerful of the two, having yanked the party elite far to the left.


So why is the 77-year-old three-term senator running when so many other candidates have come around to his views on “Medicare for all,” free college tuition and expanded Social Security? Whatever the senator’s motivation, Reason magazine editor at large Matt Welch warns the Democrats: Coastal liberals like Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Kamala Harris may attract the bulk of media attention, but the vast ideological middle of the party is where the actual policy making gets done, and it’s where the electoral future lies:

Despite the breakout success of such oxygen-gobbling, Sanders-influenced stars as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), it is moderate Democrats, not progressives, who have repainted the House of Representatives blue. The national political media may love telegenic coastal lefties, but the policymaking future of the party probably lies closer to the unorthodox centrism of purple-state nonconformists such as Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

And the track record of big progressive policy ideas colliding with reality is just not great — even in the late stages of a long economic expansion.

Bernie’s home state of Vermont passed single-payer healthcare, only to scrap it when the price tag became clearer. Maryland enacted a “millionaires tax” more than a decade ago only to discover that rich people can afford to move. And Californians can testify about the gaps between progressive dreams and on-the-ground costs when it comes to the Sanders/Ocasio-Cortez vision of high-speed rail.

It’s possible that these are just growing pains for the revolutionary wing of the Democrats. Maybe there are solid national majorities that will back the kind of economic policies popular in Los Angeles, Seattle and New York. But there’s an alternative theory worth considering.

Bernie Sanders, who has been Bernie Sanders almost forever, only became a national phenomenon after emerging as the last real candidate standing against Hillary Clinton, a comparatively inauthentic machine politician who tried valiantly to make her nomination look preordained. Americans don’t take kindly to coronations, and many of the Democrats I know who flocked to Sanders did so not because they agreed with him on everything he said, but because he meant it at least.

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Sanders isn’t the second coming of Hugo Chavez. President Trump warns that Sanders and his Democratic allies want to reinvent the United States as a socialist utopia, an allegation so loaded with falsehoods and historical baggage that it could work. The L.A. Times editorial board reminds everyone: True socialism is when the government takes over the means of production and dictates all wages and prices. What Democrats (and some Republicans) want to do is mitigate some of the free market’s shortcomings, not remake the United States in Venezuela’s image. L.A. Times

Trump is in trouble, and not just legally. The president’s sagging approval ratings in states he won by razor-thin margins in 2016 imperil his reelection chances. His poll numbers are historically low compared with other presidents who have won second terms. And, he faces existential threats to his presidency beyond political unpopularity. Incumbency confers inherent advantages, but it will have never been tested like this before. L.A. Times

Her husband offended no one, but he might lose his businesses. Author Nancy Rommelmann posted a series of interviews on YouTube critical of the #MeToo movement. Later, a former colleague of her husband alleged that Rommelmann’s videos were hostile to sexual assault survivors, and a boycott ensued. “This is the current pitch of outrage culture, where voicing an opinion someone says she sees as a threat qualifies you for instant annihilation, no questions asked,” Rommelmann writes. L.A. Times

Japanese internment was racist and immoral, period. Society shuns Holocaust revisionists, so why doesn’t it do the same for Japanese internment apologists? “Too often, including in the letters pages of the Los Angeles Times, some still contend that the imprisonment of Japanese American citizens and legal residents without due process has some legal, rational or moral standing,” writes Mitchell T. Maki. “It does not.” L.A. Times

California’s bullet train may be derailed by a waffling governor and a petty president. Most people who heard Gov. Gavin Newsom’s State of the State address came away thinking California would have a short line between Merced and Bakersfield instead of a link between San Francisco and Los Angeles. President Trump thought so too, so after California announced it would sue the White House over its national emergency declaration, the Trump administration retaliated by demanding federal bullet train money back. The editorial board asks: “Is this how California’s ambitious bullet train will ultimately be derailed? By a petty president and a noncommittal governor?” L.A. Times