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The problem with Bernie Sanders

Democratic presidential hopeful Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders arrives to speak at a Primary Night in New Hampshire. Picture: TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP - Credit: AFP via Getty Images

BONNIE GREER questions Bernie Sanders’ ‘socialist’ credentials and wonders why political parties and activists ignore the wider electorate when they choose leaders.

Some of my family back in the States have been emailing me the one question that I imagine much of America is asking: “What’s the difference between a socialist and a democratic socialist?”

I answered that a democratic socialist accepts the million dollar royalties from a book sale. A socialist does not.

Or that a democratic socialist registers for high public office under two different parties. A socialist does not.

A democratic socialist asks for small donor contributions, many people contributing as a standing order every month from their credit card. I know someone who does this and says that she is not alone. It makes the credit card companies big supporters of democratic socialism.

No, I am not a fan of the independent senator from Vermont, now re-registered as a Democrat so that he can run, once again for president. I know teenagers who have been Democrats longer than Bernie Sanders has.

In a real sense, none of this matters. What matters to the majority of Dems, and to some Republican suburban voters who keep the president’s approval numbers below 50%, is that Donald J. Trump is not returned to the Oval Office.

If senator Sanders is the Democratic Party nominee, then all Dems should rally behind him and his running mate. I certainly will. Just about everyone will put rancour behind them (unlike many of Sanders’ supporters in 2016 who detested the fact that Hillary became the party’s nominee) and fight for Bernie. (By the way, Hillary should, too. Her sniping about him is 100% beneath her.)

We will all support him. Because Donald J. Trump of Queens, New York, must be defeated.

The fact is that ‘socialism’ is a bad word in the US. Maybe the worst word that can be uttered in politics.

Many Americans have no idea exactly what it is, but think it must have to do with Russia.

‘Russia’, for many, means the Soviet Union, even though the Soviet Union is gone. The Soviet Union means the Cold War, atom bombs, spies and the space race, and so forth. So, since the word ‘socialist’ is in the proper title of the old Soviet Union, then socialism is an evil thing.

As an American you grow up believing and knowing that socialism is bad – which is why the so-called Democrat Party ‘establishment’ is scared to death of Bernie Sanders heading the ticket this autumn.

The main reason is that the ‘s’ word could kill what’s known as ‘down ticket’ – these are the candidates who are running state-wide and locally.

Imagine a woman in South Carolina running on the platform of the Dems with a Vermont ‘socialist’ as head of the ticket. Just imagine.

Although Bernie came out well in the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries (second and first, respectively) – early indicators of the will of the Democrat voter – the party could be annihilated in the general. Wiped out.

I’m from a neighbouring state to Iowa, Illinois, aka the Solid Midwest. I call this region the ‘Trump Archipelago’ because the president mainly visits and campaigns in this region. He won the Upper Midwest by a sliver of votes. But because the electoral college is ‘winner takes all’ he got elected.

Unless I have been away from my native region too long, I cannot imagine the steelworkers of Detroit electing a ‘democratic socialist’ to the White House. Many in the party are scared to death that the Dems will face the same result that the Labour Party did this past December. No one knows.

The majority of people in Iowa and New Hampshire, big Bernie states, identify as white. Only a little over half of Americans do. And the New Hampshire folks are relatively affluent compared to many states. Most Americans are not.

A journalist was asked, after their primary was over recently, about New Hampshire voters, who turned out early: just how did they get there?

“In their four-wheel drives” was the reply.

Of course we all know that the 2016 Bernie for President campaign never died. Like his nemesis Trump, Sanders has been campaigning for four years. Campaigning as the ‘outrider’, the guy from the ‘outside’. Just like Trump.

The Don called him “crazy Bernie” in 2016. He pointed out, every chance that he had, that Sanders was being done down by Evil Hillary.

Some of the ‘Bernie Bros’ I know heard that dogwhistle and voted for Trump. But Trump has no fear of Sanders.

His fear of Joe Biden ended up with Trump being the third president to be impeached and the first to have a bipartisan vote in the senate against him on one Article of Impeachment. History will not see this condemnation as water under the bridge, as his supporters believe.

“Impeached” will be pretty close to his rank in the list of Presidents. That’s how history rolls and you can count on it.

Trump weaponises the dreaded ‘s’ word for all to fear. And that might create that Holy Grail for Republicans: a brokered Democratic Party National Convention.

A brokered convention is one in which the delegates are unable to agree on a nominee during the first round of voting. Then horse-trading starts; old score settling is displayed etc.

This, of course, would be a disaster for the Dems and it would be played out in prime time. With Bernie, it might happen.

This year ‘Super Tuesday’, the date where the delegate haul will be brought in and the nomination locked, is on March 3. Not June like it was in 2016. This does not give a long space of time leading up to the summer which could give the party the chance to sort itself out. No. It’s next month. Early next month.

The superstar state on Super Tuesday is California, with 415 delegates. The delegates can only vote once.

This year, there will be 4,750 delegates, of whom 3,979 are ‘pledged’, that is, the voters have elected them. Some 771 are automatic delegates or ‘super delegates’. This category was created in the 1960s so that African Americans could vote at the national convention, by-passing their segregated Southern state conventions.

To win the Democratic Party presidential nomination, a candidate must have 1,990 delegates on the first ballot. If not, the horse-trading or brokering begins.

Before Super Tuesday, we will have other votes. Nevada’s caucus is this weekend.

The state’s powerful Culinary Workers Union has decided not to endorse a candidate, the same action they took in 2016 amidst the Bernie and Hillary fight in the party. This is a huge blow to Joe Biden. And a rebuke to Sanders.

The union criticises Medicare For All because it would take away their existing health coverage. That seems pretty obvious. The union has a large Latino membership, working in restaurants and hospitality.

Nevada is the early-voting state with the largest Latino population at 29%.

The Culinary Workers Union leaflet criticising Medicare For All outraged Sanders’ supporters and progressive groups. The union itself likes the candidate.

The Democratic Party’s Hispanic Caucus called the dispute an “unforced error”. Sanders has momentum going into Nevada, so things may change. But those railing against the Democratic Party ‘establishment’ once again may ask themselves why these people are the establishment. Maybe because the people back them.

Which goes back to the first dilemma: why is Sanders calling himself a socialist. Because he isn’t. He likes Scandinavia. They aren’t socialists.

Maybe he calls himself a socialist because it’s a kind of short-hand. Or maybe it’s personal branding. Maybe because it pisses people off. I don’t know.

Of course, if Sanders gets the nod at the convention in Milwaukee, all Democrats and those of us who vote Dem should enthusiastically get behind him.

But with his socialist shtick, Sanders is handing Trump such a gift.

Makes you wonder why political parties and their activists don’t listen to the people who vote for them.

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