Vox has made an entire news site out of writing “Ackshullly…” articles, by which I mean articles that attempt to undercut the conventional wisdom. So with many moderate Democrats in a panic about Bernie Sanders, it’s not very surprising that Vox’s Matthew Yglesias has a piece out yesterday arguing that Democrats should just relax. Yglesias’ basic pitch is that Sanders isn’t nearly as extreme—and therefore unelectable—as his rhetoric makes him sound.
For all the agita around his all-or-nothing rhetoric, his behavior as a longtime member of Congress (and before that as a mayor) suggests a much more pragmatic approach to actual legislating than some of the wilder “political revolution” rhetoric would suggest.
On the vast majority of issues, a Sanders administration would deliver pretty much the same policy outcomes as any other Democrat. The two biggest exceptions to this, foreign policy and monetary policy, happen to be where Sanders takes issue with an entrenched conventional wisdom that is deeply problematic.
Well, if it’s just foreign policy and the economy where he’s dramatically different…I guess that’s no big deal? Let’s let Yglesias try to sell this a bit more:
The specter of “socialism” hangs over the Sanders campaign, terrifying mainstream Democrats with the reality that when asked about it by pollsters, most Americans reject the idea. Given that Sanders himself tends to anchor his politics in Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal, it seems as though everyone involved would be better off if he labeled himself a New Deal Democrat and let us revert to the normal pattern where Republicans call mainstream liberals “socialists” and liberals push back rather than accepting an unpopular label.
Yglesias isn’t a dumb guy, so this is one of those cases where he’s just choosing to ignore a lot of evidence to the contrary. Sanders was arguably a communist into his 30s, one who wanted to nationalize major industries including banks. He claims he’s more moderate than that now, calling himself a Democratic Socialist which (in his mind) means advocating for the Scandinavian model here in the U.S.
But it’s a real stretch to suggest that Sanders and the Democratic Party that nominates him could “push back” on the label of socialist at this point with any real effectiveness. He’s been saying he’s a socialist his entire life. Now is probably a little late to claim otherwise. All of that to say, this time the Republicans will be absolutely right if they label him a socialist. Yglesias goes on to point to Sanders’ convincing wins in Vermont as proof that he’s electable.
Winning elections in Vermont is not, per se, incredibly impressive. There are plenty of left-wing Democrats who win elections while underperforming simply because they run in such blue states (Elizabeth Warren fits that mold), as well as plenty of moderate Democrats who overperform in tough races even while losing (former Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill is a good example).
Sanders, however, overperforms in his easy races.
Isn’t the reason he overperforms in a state like Vermont because he’s such a uniquely home-grown, far-left figure? I don’t see how Sanders overperforming in Vermont translates to doing well in battleground states where he ostensibly needs to pick up swing voters who voted for Trump four years ago. If anything, the reason many Democrats are panicking is because it seems very unlikely he can appeal to those voters.
I don’t have time to look at Yglesias’ pitch for Sanders as a disrupter on foreign policy and monetary policy. I think the more important point is that he would be a disrupter in a lot of other areas that Yglesias is skipping over. For instance, his approach to the border wouldn’t just be a break from Trump, it would be a significant break from Obama as well.
Vox loves to produce “actually…” articles but this one isn’t terribly convincing. Bernie Sanders may not be as extreme if elected as he sounds, but that’s only because Congress will never pass most of his agenda. But the bigger problem for Democrats is that, because his agenda is so far left, he probably can’t win a general election. That’s why so many moderates are freaking out and they are right to do so.