I’ve been seeing a lot of chatter recently about Democrats being uncomfortable with Bernie Sanders now that he is emerging as the front-runner early in the campaign. In the New York Times, Thomas Edsall quotes one center-left economist declaring that Sanders’ “economists don’t understand basic economics. They are not just dangerous, they are clueless.” Others worry that Sanders proposes solutions “from the heart and not the head” and that his platform is “chock full of fuzzy math and wishful thinking.” They are worried that he is too radical and too crazy, that he might not be electable, and worse, that they themselves might not want him to be elected.
Ah, how familiar this all sound, though it’s all in reverse this time.
Yes, Democrats, your worries are justified. I can tell you exactly how this is going to go, point for point, and I can already predict how you will be pressured to go along with it, slowly and inexorably, to let one inhibition drop, then another, until you go full Bernie Bro. Here is a preview of the future that awaits you—unless you turn back now.
First, you will start to search for a viable alternative to Bernie Sanders among the other Democratic candidates. After all, there are so many of them! You might start with Beto, but he seems kind of wishy-washy and insubstantial. Then you go to Boot-Edge-Edge, but he seems too young and soft and mild, even if his dad was a Marxist. Elizabeth Warren is too boring and awkward and has her own struggles with economics. Biden is too much of an old white guy. Somehow, not enough of you will be able to coalesce around any one of these candidates in sufficient numbers to elevate a real challenger to Bernie. He has the momentum, and most crucially, he can channel the anger among the party’s base—which, you have to admit, you have indulged and even helped to stoke. So if you can’t figure this out, if you can’t help somebody else pull ahead of the pack, then you’ll be stuck with him.
When Bernie finally clinches the nomination, you will agonize about it for a while, but then you will reluctantly swallow your doubts and vote for him because it’s a “binary choice.” You don’t want Trump to stay in the White House, do you? You have been programmed for years to hate Bernie’s opponent reflexively, and you will go with that reflex.
Then, if Bernie wins in November 2020, you will not exactly support him, not at first, but you will be Anti-Anti-Bernie. You will spend the presidential transition and Sanders’s first few months in office pushing back against angry and hyperbolic attacks on him from the “right-wing media”—which you have also been programmed for years to hate reflexively.
Then mainstream Democrats who have been opposed to socialism—and there are still quite a few of you—will start to toy with the idea that maybe socialism isn’t all that bad and can be embraced in a reasonable form, and at the very least it shouldn’t be treated like it’s scary or off-limits. Socialism has gone bad in a lot of places, and some of you will even acknowledge that Venezuela is one of those places. But if you work hard enough, you can imagine a tame, moderate, unthreatening form of socialism that just means a little more of the welfare state, which is what you’ve always wanted.
You might be worried that Bernie has said some things in the past about how great Fidel Castro and the Soviet Union were, and he sure does seem to have a soft spot for guys like Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro. And say, whatever happened to all that stuff about being scared of the Russians?
But as you will keep finding out on Twitter, and among the rank-and-file partisans who constitute the bulk of your friends, supporting Bernie and embracing socialism is the new vox populi, and who are you to go against it? Or at least, it’s the vox populi among those in your bubble. It may not be all that popular in the rest of the country, but that’s among the bad people, among the globalist elites—no, I’m sorry, among the toothless racist rednecks—and who cares what they think?
You certainly don’t want to be branded as a #NeverBernie holdout or as suffering from Bernie Derangement Syndrome. Those people are totally powerless and irrelevant, which is why Bernie and his supporters keep yelling about them.
So you will bend over backward to give Bernie the benefit of the doubt on everything. You will become accustomed, slowly but inevitably, to parsing every crazy, offbeat thing he says—and boy is he going to say them—to show how it really sort of makes sense if you squint at it right. Or maybe the quote was taken out of context. Or maybe it was just a joke and what’s wrong with people, don’t they have a sense of humor? And when he says those Antifa thugs who beat up innocent people at a protest were “very fine people,” what he really meant was—well, you guys are going to have to come up with that excuse on your own.
You will get used to waking up every morning and finding that Bernie has tweeted some brain-melting idea that makes no sense at all—the U.S. government can’t run out of money because the airlines can’t run out of frequent flyer miles!—and it won’t even shock you any more. It will be just another Tuesday, and you will pray that President Sanders’s more sober advisers will quietly bury or water down this idea before it becomes policy.
And if Bernie gets to make a Supreme Court appointment, then it’s Katie bar the door, because you will get your own “But Gorsuch” rallying cry.
Eventually, you will look around at the left-of-center media and at the rising Democratic Party politicians, and it will be all Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez talking about how great the Veterans Administration is and people having a “conversation” about how the Boston Marathon bomber should be eligible to vote from his prison cell—sort of like now, actually, but all the time, as the dominant voices in the party with only very rare dissenters. And you will feel the pull and the pressure to go along, against your better judgment—until you have no better judgment left.
Democrats, this is just a vision of your future, one you probably recognize based on the GOP’s recent past. It is not an inevitability. But if you dismiss it as ridiculous or overblown—well, I thought the same thing about my Republicans friends four years ago.
If you don’t want this to be your future, the time to start resisting is now. Find some hard and fast principles to stop yourselves from going off this cliff. On the right, I thought we had those, and I was still surprised at how many people gave them up rather than be caught on the wrong side of partisan battle lines.
So Democrats, look to your intellectual defenses—and if that doesn’t work, the more rational among you will simply have to fall back on your resources and try your best to preserve your sanity.