by John Kass | May 26, 2016 12:02 am
Was it only yesterday that Hillary Clinton and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz couldn’t explain the difference between a Democrat and a socialist?
They pursed their lips. They hemmed. They hawed. Their eyes got big and watery, with much blinking, like startled birds in some cartoon.
It wasn’t that they didn’t know. They knew all right. They just didn’t have the guts to say it. There really is no difference.
But to say it out loud, to name it, or worse, to respond with something stupid like, “Democrat, socialist, what difference, at this point, does it make?” might have called forth the demons.
So they hushed and waited for American journalism to hit the gas and drive quickly away from that Democratic establishment roadkill to focus on something more accessible: Donald Trump and the Republican revolt.
But war has come to the Democrats anyway, inevitable since Bernie Sanders rides the insurgency from the hard left just as Trump rides from the nationalist right.
Bernie being Bernie, with his olive oil voice and his crazy-commie-uncle-from-Brooklyn charm, has made Clinton and Wasserman Schultz look ridiculous.
And people in their position cannot afford to look ridiculous.
So as the summer begins, where are we?
Sanders refuses to give in to Clinton and bend his knee, though he’s been taking a beating lately from pro-Clinton pundits hoping to shame him out of the race.
Months ago, they appealed to his wisdom and decency. Now, they’re clawing at him in desperation to protect Clinton’s control of the party.
All Sanders has to do is bow his head and herd his voters into her loving arms, and he’ll be pronounced wise and thoughtful by her media biscuit eaters. But he won’t quit.
The longer this goes on, the more Democratic operatives fear that even though he won’t get the nomination, many Sanders voters will have been lost beyond the horizon. Will they return?
Why should they? I suppose Hillary’s super PACs will come up with lists and bang the Trump drum. But for that to work in this election you need a candidate who inspires something other than fear and regret.
People rally to Sanders, even with his nutty “Big Rock Candy Mountain” economic plan. Clinton has tacked to the political left, too, but when she does it, she sounds like some angry suburban grandma in the back of the van on a family road trip, forcing the kids to sing Pete Seeger songs.
It happened to conservatives and others when they broke with the Republican Party after years of betrayal. They returned again, were again betrayed and finally, after the conservative high priests could no longer give them back their faith in a collapsing Republicanism, Donald Trump was born.
Many thinking liberals suffer similar disillusionment. The political hacks see a meal ticket, but thoughtful progressives can’t deny Hillary the corporatist, the establishment Wall Street doyenne, the war hawk, the insider whose message is about those on the outside.
Add the multibillion-dollar Clinton Foundation — that multinational political slush fund that should offer lifetime employment to future special prosecutors if she ever does become president — and it’s difficult to generate enthusiasm for her.
The center collapses because there is no there, there. A reformation begins. We don’t know how it ends.
And now Clinton surrogate and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is reportedly under federal investigation over campaign funding through Clinton Foundation contacts.
He told reporters the investigation “has nothing to do with the Clinton Foundation.”
Of course it doesn’t, Terry.
And still, Sanders pushes on toward the California primary. He keeps harping about Clinton’s corporatist ways and her Wall Street connections — and those $250,000 speeches that she refuses to release the transcripts of.
And he complains about Clinton skipping out of a debate.
Is it getting personal? Of course it is.
“I gotta tell you this,” Sanders was quoted as saying. “I think it is a little bit insulting to the people of California, our largest state, that she is not prepared to have a discussion with me about how she will help the Californians address the major crises we face.”
For Clinton to skip the debate with Sanders is to offer contempt to his voters, while showing fear. She’s been doing a remarkable job reinforcing that for months now.
By not debating Sanders, she shows herself to be weak when strength is required. And this makes it more difficult to bring her party together.
On the tactical side, Sanders is running candidates against the establishment, which is always a declaration of war. He’s endorsed Tim Canova in the Florida August primary for Wasserman Schultz’s House seat.
For Sanders, riding the liberal end of the American insurgency, going up against Wasserman Schultz is smart and necessary if he is to maintain his standing in that movement.
“Clearly, I favor her opponent,” Sanders said the other day to Jake Tapper on CNN. “His views are much closer to mine than as to Wasserman Schultz’s. Let me also say this, in all due respect to the current chairperson: If (I am) elected president, she would not be reappointed chairwoman of the DNC.”
What is at the heart of Sanders’ appeal should have been clear back a few months ago when Wasserman Schultz and Clinton were afraid to explain the difference between a socialist and a Democrat.
He’s not negotiating. He won’t be bought off. And Trump watches.
(John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. His e-mail address is [email protected], and his Twitter handle is @john_kass.)
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