The Case Against the Liberal Case
Although Eric Alterman makes several cogent points in “The Case Against Bernie” [April 15], he makes too great a leap in saying that the Sanders campaign “hurt [Hillary Clinton] in the general election” and that Bernie was responsible for the 12 percent who switched to Trump. Similar charges were brought against Ralph Nader in the disastrous 2000 presidential election.
In both cases, such arguments start from the unstated assumption that all of the people who voted for the challenger would otherwise have voted for the next most left-leaning candidate (Gore in 2000, Clinton in 2016). It is more likely, however, that many people who voted for Nader or Sanders were previously disaffected. One could as easily argue that Nader and Sanders brought new voters into the election, and that Sanders perhaps inspired some voters who would not have originally supported Clinton and who came to recognize the importance of voting Democrat.
Mr. Alterman, have you no sense of decency? If I did not know who wrote this attack on Sanders, I would have thought the author was a propagandist at the Democratic Leadership Council. The article was replete with DLC tropes. I have only one question: How much did the DLC pay you to write this editorial?
John S. Starsiak Jr.
Alterman gives voice to concerns that all progressives might share: Will we blow it and give Trump another four years in the White House? I disagree with his arguments that Bernie Sanders is particularly vulnerable to Republican red-baiting. Please recall that the Republican attack machine called the centrist Barack Obama a “socialist.” They will call any Democrat any name they think will scare people. Sanders has demonstrated that he can counter such superficial attacks with clear, genuine responses. He is now the best-known leader of a huge grassroots movement for change. If one of the other candidates (someone younger) emerges as the Democrat we need to win the White House, fine. But as I see it, Sanders is our best hope to win in 2020.
Democrats have lost by behaving too timidly. If Alterman watches videos of rallies for Sanders, he will see that something powerful happens when he campaigns—people “feel the Bern.” We need love to overcome Trump’s hate and fear. Sanders’s campaign is the most powerful source for the kind of love that can overpower the lies and fearmongering.
I attended two Sanders rallies and heard nothing antiestablishment. Just good ideas. At a huge rally at the University of Colorado Boulder, when free college was mentioned, the roar was loud enough to be heard in California! During the caucus event, the Hillary Clinton operatives were running around insisting that only Clinton could win, and that a vote for Sanders was a vote for the evil forces.
The sane case for Sanders is much the same as it was in 2016: He is the only progressive who could possibly win. We are living in transformational times. But it seems like the Democrats want to subsidize the old, rather than invest in the future.
Alterman makes a poor case that “Sanders, of all the major Democratic contenders, is the one who will make Donald Trump’s reelection most likely.” He opens with this: Sanders’s criticism of Clinton during the primary “hurt her in the general election.” But Alterman never explains how this bears on who’s most likely to beat Trump.
Alterman then claims that Sanders’s criticism of other Democrats “could conceivably” alienate “most of the electorate.” Why should we think Sanders’s campaign will alienate anyone? Alterman offers only this: “some of the…#Resistance” said that, “owing to Sanders’s harsh treatment of Clinton in the 2016 election, they might sit out 2020 if he’s the nominee.” Would the #Resistance really help reelect Trump because Sanders is critical of other candidates? I doubt they’re that deplorable.
Alterman follows by noting that Sanders has a higher unfavorable rating than he did three years ago. But every candidate who moves from obscurity to celebrity sees a similar increase. That’s how exposure works.
Next, Alterman says that the “right-wing noise machine” will attack Sanders as a socialist. But it attacks every Democrat as a socialist. Does Alterman really think that Breitbart’s audience is more likely to vote for Biden?
Finally, Alterman never considers the many reasons to think that Sanders is the candidate most likely to beat Trump, as any reasonable exploration of comparative likelihoods must do.
Thanks to Eric Alterman for his honest assessment of Bernie Sanders as a candidate. The problem with Sanders’s campaign is not really about “electability,” though. The problem is that he misunderstands the nature of the propaganda war that the right has been winning for 30 years.
We progressives call out and scorn propaganda, while at the same time accepting the framing that the Republicans have carefully constructed. While we insist that “if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention,” they happily fling outrages our way, knowing that this keeps us constantly playing by their rules. While Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Julián Castro, Cory Booker, and others are outlining policies or a philosophy of values that reclaim the terms of the debate, Sanders continues to perform the Republican stereotype of the outraged leftist with revolutionary rhetoric and little in the way of a compelling new message. I fully understand that there is plenty to be outraged about. But unless a candidate has a plan for persuading people who don’t already agree with them, outrage solves nothing.
I have just read Eric Alterman’s column explaining his reasons for fearing a Bernie Sanders candidacy, and I’ve read many of the comments other readers have made, including dozens that accuse The Nation of betraying its progressive mission by publishing Alterman’s views. I’m writing not to support Alterman (though I find his column pretty compelling), but to support The Nation for continuing to publish his work. There is nothing anti-progressive about his argument against Bernie, and those who condemn your decision to publish it are deaf to reason and close-minded in the extreme—not for disagreeing with Alterman, but for insisting that he should be silenced in your pages.