Jim Therrien: A modest proposal for Sen. Sanders


PITTSFIELD >> It's not easy letting go and climbing down from a political high, but I wonder if any disappointed Berniacs out there would consider something completely different for their grand old man — a role I think would prove a better fit for his talents than the presidency.

I don't use that nickname disparagingly, by the way, having voted for the Bern Man several times myself (but not for president); met him a few times and interviewed the guy. I just never thought, from watching Bernie Sanders over the years, that the job he now seeks is one he's ever been suited for, or would ever want.

The presidency, the way I see it, is a bad fit for an anarchistic, advocate personality who's always operated outside of established parties — in his case within the progressive paradise cocoon of Vermont.

Bernie launched his bid saying he wanted to make a progressive statement and move the Democrats in that direction, and I believed him, and still hope that's his goal.

Face it, the presidency is the most establishment, buttoned-down role in the federal government. It's one that demands endless ceremonial statecraft and wheedling or wrestling with Congress to get something passed — not marching on the sidelines shouting the progressive perspective; which he does, by the way, better than anyone else.

Off the bandwagon

To his passionate supporters: I'm with you if you voted for Bernie as a protest, to move the Democrats to the left. But when it comes to actually nominating this too-recent Democrat from a tiny liberal state who will be 75 before the election, and has always operated solo, I'm jumping off that bandwagon.

So have most pre-primary Democrats, by the way, which should come as no surprise. They just might be averse to a takeover fueled by unenrolled voters — and to the denial of their nomination to a overqualified female for the second time in favor of a less-qualified male.

Anyone wringing their hands over a Bernie rejection backlash should consider what that scenario would produce. But in fact, as everyone I hope realizes, Bernie has already shoved the Democrats to the left, and more importantly shown them they can do that without getting killed at the polls. So he has won that battle several times over, and it's time to cut the pretense that he could — or should — win the nomination of a party he never joined until it was expedient to deliver his message.

So here comes a modest proposal, one I hope even a few Bernie ultra-purists can embrace:

Rather than follow the too-familiar leftist formula of the past 50 years of torpedoing the Democrats in the November election because their candidate was not progressive enough, why not leave the presidency to the most experienced pol out there and focus instead on the spectacularly dysfunctional U.S. Congress?

That task sounds much more exciting to me — and right now maybe a Herculean challenge but eminently doable for a guy who can raise tons of money and push the debate: Bernie. The presidency, on the other hand, will present a nearly hopeless challenge — if not a palatial prison — unless Congress is overhauled.

And note: Both Bernie and Hillary would get pretty much what they want, which, believe this, is very close enough to the same thing — especially if they have the votes in Congress.

Yet, at this point, judging from the junior-high cyberbullying attacks on Hillary in the social media echo chamber, I can easily imagine what will happen next — beginning inside and outside the Democratic convention hall, not to mention during the fall campaign against one of the loosest cannons ever nominated by a major party.

Isn't it obvious by now that both the left and the right take turns destroying the party that generally promotes their views, either by refusing to vote or by backing fringe candidates with zero chance of working with others in Congress or a state legislature?

I'm not just talking about the presidency here; I'm talking about the prime cause of the political gridlock everyone is apparently so angry about. I'm talking about something that is in large part self-inflicted.

Many Bernie acolytes probably have no nightmare visions of what could be the result of a split Democratic Party, because they haven't yet seen those nasty scenarios play out. Some Dems have, though, over and over.

The most recent debacle occurred in 2000, when Ralph "No Difference Between the Two Parties" Nader cost Al Gore Florida and the election and effectively installed George W. Bush as president. Which resulted in massive, unnecessary tax cuts for the wealthy, unnecessary war in Iraq, financial meltdown and the Great Recession and its aftermath — which, duh, is what has so many voters suddenly so furious in 2016.

Hey, I agree with anyone who hates having just two viable candidates to choose from for president. But, as has been proven many times over, it is vitally important in our political system to choose, regardless.

We should probably ditch the Electoral College and make other changes to allow more than two viable candidates for president — giving every voter a candidate they can support other than as the lesser of two evils. But making those changes is a long-term prospect, at best. It's a reform to consider next time around.

History's judgment

For now, there actually is a huge difference in 2016, and the outcome really will affect your life for many years to come. If you don't understand that yet through bitter experience, this could be your year to learn.

Or ... Bernie Sanders could single-handedly level the playing field in congressional races all across the nation in a year when the Democrats could conceivably win back both the House and Senate.

Let that thought sink in, as you feel the burn.

Berniacs, the choices you make in the coming months will also dictate how history judges you. Let that sink in as well. Please, don't give us another Nader nadir.

Jim Therrien covers city government and politics for The Eagle.


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