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Much depends on the choices Bernie Sanders’ ardent supporters make in the fall

Some Sanders socialists will lose interest, but I deeply hope that, at least in the swing states, they realize they are facing an all-hands-hands-on-deck emergency.

Bernie Sanders rally
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaking during a campaign rally at the University of Houston on February 23.
REUTERS/Mike Segar

As he departs the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, I congratulate Bernie Sanders on another excellent campaign in which he waved the banner for progressive ideas, many of which I support personally, that have generally been considered too far left, too “socialistic” for the U.S. political system to embrace.

To take the most obvious example, I think the United States should be embarrassed to be roughly the only major wealthy, developed nation in which a substantial share of its population lacks health insurance. An enormous additional share of its population would lose insurance if they lost their job, or changed to an employer who didn’t provide it, or if their employer simply stopped providing it to save money. That’s a scandal we’ve been living with our entire lives.

There are lots of ways to cover everyone, as the rest of the wealthy world has demonstrated, and the excuses for the United States to be on the wrong side of that line are lame and disgraceful.

Joe Biden, if he becomes president, will continue the longstanding liberal Democratic effort to reduce the ranks of the poor, which took off under FDR, and the uninsured, which stretches back to Medicare and Medicaid under LBJ.

I hope Biden succeeds in getting more Americans insured. But his ideas will be along the well-established liberal boundaries of incremental change that preserves most of the status quo.

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If I could wave a policy wand, it would be closer to a Bernie wand than a Biden wand, on health care and several other areas. But I have no such wand.

I have never claimed to know whether Sanders had much chance of defeating Trump, but the conventional wisdom (which seems to be confirmed by current polling and by Trump’s obvious fear of running against Biden) is that Biden is the Democrat most likely to end the national emergency that is the Trump presidency. I hope that’s right.

Trump, predictably, tweeted out a half-assed claim, without any details, that Sanders supporters had been treated so shabbily they should join the Republican, aka the Trump Party.

Much depends on whether Sanders and his most ardent followers unite behind Biden. My own gut tells me that Sanders will do what he can to bring that about, but also that some of his furthest-left admirers will view Bidenism as lame old liberal status-quo-ism.

Of course, if Trumpism is the new status quo, that is certainly wrong.

Bidenism would represent at least a restoration of calm, sane liberalism that, given the alternative, will be vastly preferable. Some Sanders socialists will lose interest, but I deeply hope that, at least in the swing states, they realize they are facing an all-hands-hands-on-deck emergency. (And then, after that, we can worry about what Trump might do to steal or even cancel the election.)

The great Tom Edsall’s latest New York Times column analyzes the end of the Biden-Bernie competition and considers the issue just above, as always by relying on very smart scholars who think about these things deeply but are not part of the usual rent-a-pundit circuit, so I’ll pass along some of what he got from his inquiry but you’d be better off just going straight to his column, here.

In the end, Edsall concludes, about 60 percent of Democrats are liberals, not radicals – comfortable with the kind of modest changes that liberalism and Bidenism represent, so that once the race came down to one liberal and one democratic socialist, “Bernie Sanders’s call for a revolution overturning the current American variant of capitalism no longer had a chance.”

But along the way, Edsall quotes those who see the liberal path as a lame replacement for the kind of change needed.

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For example, UCLA political scientist Martin Gilens told Edsall that the Affordable Care Act demonstrates the failure of Democrats to achieve truly progressive goals. Said Gilens: “In 2009, with unified Democratic Party control and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, the Democratic Party failed even to include a public option in Obamacare, much less establish a health insurance program that would cover all uninsured Americans.”

The Affordable Care Act, Gilens continued, is “one illustration of the power of interest groups in constraining Democratic Party policy.”

I get that. I’ve long argued that Barack Obama favored a much more socialistic health care reform, even single-payer, earlier in his career, but in the end, even with Democrats in control of both houses, had to settle for what the most moderate Democrats could tolerate and got the Affordable Care Act through with no votes to spare.

Wrote Edsall:

Critics of Gilens’ argument contend that enactment of Obamacare marks the first major downwardly redistributive federal legislation in generations, a major progressive achievement after decades of conservative success in distributing income and wealth to those in the top brackets.

“The A.C.A. was less sweeping than it could have been because of the constraints imposed by a powerful health care lobby, but it was more sweeping than anything that had come before,” [Political Scientist Jesse Rhodes of the University of Massachusetts] wrote by email. “The fact that significant health care legislation was enacted in spite of substantial resistance was a testament to the strength of progressive mobilization at the time.”

In other words, Edsall wrote, “for Gilens, the glass is half empty, for Rhodes, half full.”

To belabor the obvious, a glass that is half-full is indeed half-empty. I myself favor more expansive changes that would reduce the ranks of the uninsured much closer to zero. The “s” word (meaning socialism) is, to me, just a word, although in U.S. politics it has historically been more of a neutron bomb.

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Donald Trump, who seems impressively unconcerned about the percentage of uninsured Americans, and his minions will attempt to deploy the S-word with abandon against any plan that reduces the share of Americans who lack basic things like health insurance. Trump couldn’t get Obamacare repealed, but he has managed to undermine the Affordable Care Act in ways that have caused the uninsured numbers to rise, and will continue if he gets a second term, to move in that direction, or try to do so.

If Biden takes over, the dissolution of the ACA will end. The damage that Trump has done to it by executive order will be reversed. If Democrats get control of both houses, all of Obamacare will be restored and there will be a serious effort to resume the long liberal effort to increase the share of Americans who can see a doctor when they need one.

There’s much more good stuff in the Edsall column and, again, this link will get you the full piece.