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Bernie Sanders’ presidential run will be a tonic for those who crave straight talk

His presence might also put some pressure on Hillary Clinton.

Sen. Bernie Sanders addressing the International Association of Firefighters delegates at IAFF Presidential Forum in Washington in March.
REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Bernie Sanders voted against the Iraq War resolution of 2002. He wasn’t the only one, but it’s a badge of honor, courage and good judgment.

Sanders voted for the Affordable Care Act, but always made clear that he considered it a weak half-step compared to single-payer.

He voted against Bill Clinton’s “Defense of Marriage Act,” which has since been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court as an unconstitutional form of discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Today he will file papers to formally become a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president (even though he’s not a Democrat).

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He says he has never run an attack ad in his long political career and he won’t start now. He says he won’t have any SuperPACs helping him.

Those for whom the meaning of life is handicapping the likely outcome of political races will likely rate him an ultra-longshot, and I have no serious reason to doubt them. The New York Times story this morning about his candidacy quotes him as saying: “I think people should be a little bit careful underestimating me.”

His presence in the race might put some pressure on Hillary Clinton. Like most front-runners, she will try to energize the liberal base of the Democratic Party but will be reluctant to take strong, concrete liberal positions that might interfere with her appeal to moderate swing voters in the general election campaign. Sanders presence in the race will complicate those calculations a bit. The Times put it this way:

Mr. Sanders’s bid is considered a longshot, but his unflinching commitment to stances popular with the left — such as opposing foreign military interventions and reining in big banks — could force Mrs. Clinton to address these issues more deeply.

For those, like me, who crave honest conviction and straight talk (which the pundits have decided to call “authenticity”), Sanders will be a tonic, however long he lasts in the race.

Writing this morning for Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi, who followed Sanders around for a month, described him thus:

He is the rarest of Washington animals, a completely honest person. If he’s motivated by anything other than a desire to use his influence to protect people who can’t protect themselves, I’ve never seen it. Bernie Sanders is the kind of person who goes to bed at night thinking about how to increase the heating-oil aid program for the poor.

This is why his entrance into the 2016 presidential race is a great thing and not a mere footnote to the inevitable coronation of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee. If the press is smart enough to grasp it, his entrance into the race makes for a profound storyline that could force all of us to ask some very uncomfortable questions.

By the way, I mentioned above the strangeness of Sanders seeking the Democratic nomination, since he is not a Democrat. He calls himself a “democratic socialist.” He caucuses with the Senate Democrats, which enables him to have better committee assignments (for example, he is the ranking minority member on the Senate Budget Committee) in exchange for which he agrees to vote with the Dems on procedural but not substantive matters.

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In some of his early successful campaigns (for mayor of Burlington, Vt.) he benefitted from a multi-party split. Vermont Democrats seem to have ultimately figured out that running a candidate against him would only increase the chances of a Republican winning the seat.

In recent campaigns, he has reached an agreement with the Vermont Democratic Party that enables his name to be on the Democratic primary ballot, with the understanding that he would decline the Dem nomination if he won it. He does win it, and does decline, but no one else gets the Dem nomination, which enables him to go on the ballot as an independent often with only a Republican opponent or some minor parties. In his most recent race (2012) he defeated his Republican opponent by 71-25 percent.

Sanders released some excerpts from the statement he will be making to declare this candidacy. It includes:

“It’s not just that, for forty years, the middle class has been disappearing. It’s that 99% of all new income is going to the top 1%, and the grotesque level of wealth and income inequality today is worse than at any time since the late 1920s. The people at the top are grabbing all the new wealth and income for themselves, and the rest of America is being squeezed and left behind.”

You can read the longer excerpt here.