George McGovern's queer idea that he could get himself elected President on the Democratic ticket by dancing a muted whipsong on the corpse of the Democratic Party is suddenly beginning to look very sane, and very possible.-Hunter Thompson, "Fear And Loathing On The Campaign Trail," June 1972I love me some Gonzo, and I love me some McGovern... but that's not what I see here.
Despite his strong interest in our dead dear caucus state - I meant to say DEAR dear caucus state, but in honor of Chuck Grassley I have to leave the typo in - Bernie Sanders is NOT running for president.
What is he doing, then? Sanders is not focusing at all on an inside game or talking to any of Jennifer Jacobs' Top 50 Democrats (Congrats Paul, Sue, Dave, Zach and Ravi). Instead, she writes:
Tuesday morning, Sanders did some private stops - he met Hugh Espey, the executive director of the Iowa CCI Action Fund, for breakfast at the Drake Diner; he met with other liberal activists in the afternoon; and he toured the veterans hospital in Des Moines. He did a noon town hall meeting at Collegiate United Methodist Church in Ames, and was to deliver the keynote speech at a dinner for the liberal group Progress Iowa in Altoona Tuesday night.That's a pretty... unpaved route to a Democratic presidential nomination, which tells me, that's not what he's up to here. Erin Murphy:
Sanders said he will run in 2016 only if he thinks he can establish the nationwide ground-level campaign structure necessary to win a presidential election.As I've noted many times here, Sanders still won't say "I'm a Democrat," a seemingly necessary precondition to running for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party.
Sanders said a grassroots political movement is needed in the country, whether or not he runs for president. He called for a “radical increase and improvement in public consciousness in this country, in political consciousness.”
Sanders has not said if he runs whether it will be as an independent or a Democrat.
And though I voted for Ralph Nader myself, have no regrets, and would do so again given the same Democratic nominee... the coin flip on its edge outcome of 2000 set the idea of a third party of the left back a generation. No, more than a generation - a lifetime at least, until every limo liberal who ever heard the words "butterfly ballot" and "hanging chad" is dead, buried, and on the Cook County Illinois voter rolls.
Read this sentence again:
Sanders said a grassroots political movement is needed in the country, whether or not he runs for president.
It's not about the running for president part at all.
It's about the grassroots movement part.
Yes, Sanders did come to our Johnson County Democratic Party barbecue last fall, and for that I'm grateful. But, notably, he stepped on that with another event immediately afterward hosted by the Iowa Citizen Action Network. That way, people who just wanted to see SANDERS without giving a few bucks to the impure DEMOCRATIC PARTY "machine" didn't need to show up at our event.
(Also noted: One of his leading local Sanders organizers who DID show up at that BBQ refused to wear a "Johnson County Democrats" sticker that doubled as a meal ticket - reportedly because of some old grudges against the local party. Some of which were against a former chair who's now DEAD. One of the Cs is for Counterproductive.)
That's why, in Sanders World, those non-electoral players like CCI and ICAN and Progress Iowa matter more than legislators and county chairs. But he's smart enough to know that coming to Caucusland gives him the stage to do those things.
I appreciate Sanders' efforts, and might even caucus for him, if some of his local supporters would talk to me and answer some lingering questions, about Sanders and more... but I'd immediately commit to Elizabeth Warren if she announced.
Also: some of Sanders' allies could try to cut us "party hacks" some slack for being players on the same team, just coming at it from a different angle, rather than pouncing on every impurity. Even the "party hacks" in Johnson County are pretty darn progressive.
I'm an electoralist and I make no apologies for it, and I'm much more of a pragmatist at 51 than I was at 31 (when I was silly enough to think I could win an election in a rural Republican district). But in this post-Ferguson moment, in what is electorally already the post-Obama era, I feel some wheels shaking off the axles, and I know that the electoral wagon that is my party needs some big repairs.
But power takes more than consciousness raising.
The quote is apocryphal, but supposedly a woman called out to Adlai Stevenson: "You have the vote of every thinking person!" To which he replied "That's not enough, madam, we need a majority." We know how that turned out.
So. many. punchlines.
This fall I had the chance to meet and see both Sanders and the other progressive dream candidate, Elizabeth Warren, up close.
Sanders is pure issue, pure message, which activists love but is overwhelming to regular folks. There's no Bernie there. And, it seems, he's proud of that:
“We have reached the stage where people who actually talk about the issues like me seem to be kind of weird,” Sanders said. “Imagine somebody involved in politics talking about issues.”
A fair critique. But Warren carried much the same progressive message as Sanders, only wrapped it in the family and biography and story that Americans seem to need in order to digest issues.
Other nations have a symbolic president or a monarch who can carry the flag and the national narrative, while a purely political prime minister does the heavy lifting of issues and governing. The American presidency is a rare office in this world, both head of government and head of state. We Americans simply can't handle issues without story, issues ALONE aren't a story, and when the two are pitted against each other, story wins.
That's more than even the most radical electoral and campaign finance reform plans can change. Especially with the presidency, we Americans have a deep, maybe irrational need to connect with our officials. Rebutting that with nothing more than "it needs to change" is a disqualifying denial of reality. It just means your messenger isn't a good story teller.
In Iowa, Bernie Sanders calls for a revolution, says the headline... but in the end, all we'll get is some platform resolutions and some CCI folks getting elected to central committees, who will drift away once Hillary Clinton is the nominee and it's time to make GOTV calls. Because, and this is one of the first pragmatic lessons I learned in politics, it's next to impossible to do deep, serious, educational ISSUE work in an election year.
Another reason Sanders won't run, and probably not Warren either: too much to lose. As I noted last summer: "A sitting senator or governor who challenged Hillary and lost would be in the permanent White House dog house, and their whole state with them." At the time, I concluded the Not Hillary front runner was Russ Feingold. But now, it sounds like my fellow Cheesehead is being recruited for a rematch with Ron Johnson.
I got my Martin O'Malley Christmas card this week, but he has dropped more than a few notches by failing to get his lieutenant governor across the finish line in Maryland. So I've got a glum feeling that Jim Webb - Jim WEBB?!? - is gonna be it. He fits all the criteria I set out in July: Not currently in office, no real ties to the administration, and no ambitions to join the new one, some sort of national profile, an unorthodox persona, and male.
And if Jim Webb is all we get... heck, even I might have to get ready for Hillary. (I still have a couple questions to ask, though.)
So it's the 2000 primary all over again with Webb as a much weaker Bill Bradley... and, it seems, with a Bush on the Republican side.