Here's what he says:
“He’s not going to get the nomination, is he?” my wife asks anxiously as she gazes out of the kitchen window at the Bernie for President sign on our front lawn. No, I assure her, and he certainly won’t win Maryland on April 26. I’m voting for Bernie, and my wife may, too, but we’re doing so on the condition that we don’t think he will get the nomination. If he were poised to win, I don’t know whether I’d vote for him, because I fear he would be enormously vulnerable in a general election, even against Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, and I’m also not sure whether he is really ready for the job of president.
Why, then, vote for him at all? For me, it’s entirely about the issues he is raising, which I believe are important for the country’s future. Hillary Clinton and her various boosters in the media have made the argument that it’s impractical and even irresponsible to raise a demand like “Medicare for all” and “free public college” that could not possibly get through the next Congress, even if Democrats eke out a majority in the Senate. They presumably want a candidate to offer programs that could be the result of protracted negotiations between a Democratic president and Speaker Paul Ryan – like a two percent increase in infrastructure spending in exchange for a two percent reduction in Medicaid block grants. I disagree with this approach to politics.
What Sanders is proposing are political guideposts – ideals, if you like – according to which we can judge whether incremental reforms make sense. He is describing, whether you like them or not, objectives toward which we Americans should be aspiring. That’s a central activity in politics. Should it be confined to issues of Democracy or National Affairs? Or is it the kind of activity that is entirely appropriate for a nominating contest? Ronald Reagan and the conservatives thought so during the 1970s. And I think Democrats should be thinking this way now. So I applaud Bernie Sanders for not limiting his proposals to what might appear on a President’s often-ignored budget requests.
I, too, disagree with the typical Democratic politician's approach to politics. Well, in part, at least. It's exactly the opposite approach that Republicans typically take, and that's not all bad. Still, Republicans might be crazy, but they strongly push their own ideas. Unfortunately, they consider compromise to be evil in itself.
Democrats, on the other hand, are often so eager to compromise that they push Republican ideas themselves (and then are astonished that Republicans still won't work with them). Here in Nebraska, Democrats try to out-Republican the Republicans - and then still lose the election. If you're going to lose anyway, why not at least stand for something? There will be future elections, after all.
OK, I'm getting off-track here. My apologies. But I want Democratic politicians to strongly, confidently, courageously push Democratic ideas, even if there isn't much chance of getting them enacted against hysterical Republican opposition. I'm fine with compromising. Compromise is absolutely essential in a Democracy. But don't start compromising until you've actually started negotiations with the other side.
Democrats typically compromise away half or more of their position before they even start negotiating,... and then compromise away the rest of it during the negotiation. Of course, today's Republican Party won't compromise at all. (Oddly enough, that's saved us from some terrible 'compromises' Democrats have attempted to make. OK, OK, I'll try to stay on track here.)
Judis mentions the president's "often-ignored budget requests," and that's a good example. Republicans in Congress have refused to even let President Obama's budget director testify about his budget. Barack Obama is the Anti-Christ to Republicans (sometimes, that's even literally what they think), and no Republican in Congress is going to pay the slightest attention to the president's budget proposal. Heck, they'd probably have to fear a primary challenge from within their own party, if they did.
So why not make bold proposals? Why not stand up for Democratic values? Yes, progress is usually incremental. Yes, we won't accomplish anything unless we compromise. But you can still stand up for what you believe. You can still encourage your own side by showing them what we could accomplish, if only we worked hard enough to get Democrats elected.
If Republicans won't accept even incremental progress, then we're not going to be any worse off, certainly. And at best, we might scare them enough to actually get them to compromise. Or get progressives enthused enough to actually vote, so that maybe America can accomplish things again.
Judis looks at several specific issues. Are they practical? Well, they're not practical now, when Republicans control both houses of Congress. But politics is not just about what's practical now. It's also about our vision for the future.
And yes, I agree with him that Hillary Clinton is better prepared for the presidency. Experience matters. Would she be the stronger candidate? I suspect so, but I'm not sure.
Hillary has faced nonstop Republican attacks for two decades now. Those attacks have done considerable damage to her approval ratings (which is exactly why they do it), but it's hard to see what more they could do. And as I say, she's learned how to fight back. During that 11-hour Benghazi hearing, she made the Republicans look like complete morons, while sounding very presidential herself, which is why the GOP pretty much dropped 'Benghazi' like a hot potato after that.
But they haven't even started on Bernie Sanders yet. An atheist socialist Jew? (I don't know how much of that is true, but the truth won't matter to Republican political operatives.) I have to think that they can't wait.
I don't know how much of an effect it will have on Bernie's approval rating, but it will certainly have some effect. All too many voters are complete idiots. And he doesn't have much experience facing those kinds of attacks. Hillary Clinton pulls her punches a lot more than the Republicans will (mostly because Democrats wouldn't stand for it, I suspect).
Of course, yes, there seems to be this hysterical desire for an 'outsider' these days, in both political parties. I don't quite get it, although I can't say that I'm overwhelmed at the thought of Clintons in the White House again, myself. But given the alternative, well, there's just no question, to my mind. And I do think that Hillary Clinton would make a very capable president.
So I don't know. I don't know which candidate is going to win the Democratic nomination, and I don't know which candidate would be the stronger in the general election. I just don't know.
I do think that Democratic politicians should behave more like Bernie Sanders, though. We need a vision of the future, and we need to stand up for that vision. We need to present a real alternative to the GOP. We need to push our values, and when we win the presidency, we need to use that bully pulpit. (My biggest problem with Barack Obama is that he hasn't done that - or not until quite recently, at least.)
And then we need to compromise. Because that's what democracy is all about. But we need to negotiate that compromise starting from a strong stance on our own side, knowing what we want and why we want it. No amount of appeasing Republicans is going to make them like us, and no amount of appeasing Republicans is going to make them eager to return the favor.
Just the reverse, in fact. If we Democrats don't stand for anything, why should anyone support us? And if we give away half of what we want even before we begin to negotiate, why won't Republicans see that as an opportunity to negotiate away the other half, too?
I hope this is something Hillary Clinton is learning from Bernie Sanders. I don't know if it is. But if this hasn't done it, nothing will.