The jokes fairly assemble themselves, mostly along the lines of: Sanders is far from the first Socialist presidential candidate, he’s just the first to admit it. You may assemble your own snarky rejoinders as the cranky 73-year-old gears up a challenge to Ms. Inevitability, Hillary Clinton.
But once the chuckles fade, it is worth noting that Sanders brings some wild cards to the table. None of them suggest strongly that he will be the nominee, but they do suggest that he could easily be the strongest alternative to Hillary, which could become very interesting if she is derailed by any of the several obstacles before her.
Those obstacles— multiple scandals, a veneer of dishonesty and a complete lack of personal campaign skills— would have torpedoed any other candidate of either party by now. So what gives Sanders any kind of shot against the Clinton juggernaut?
First is the slim possibility that this whole Hillary thing may actually collapse under the weight of its numerous flaws. Second, we haven’t seen anything like Bernie Sanders on the campaign trail before.
The other Democrat names bandied about as possibilities since Elizabeth Warren opted out— Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, Lincoln Chaffee— lack any burst of compelling narrative to recommend their entry.
But Sanders is an instant jolt of energy to a race that otherwise buckles under the prospect of a dreary march to a Hillary coronation. She certainly provides no spark, and no other rival packs a wallop.
But Bernie brings a gift. Bernie doesn’t care.
I say that as praise. I love candidates that don’t care. I wish the GOP had more of them. By this I mean: the candidate has views and shares them without a lot of hand-wringing and navel-gazing about how they will go over. The candidate’s demeanor says “Here is what I believe; if you like it, great. If not, whatever.” I don’t see Bernie lying awake at night fretting over messaging, focus groups and handlers.
For this reason, he may be incredibly refreshing. He will surely energize the liberal base, some of whom view Hillary as too Wall Street, too one-percent, maybe even too hawkish for her sliver of time spent supporting the earliest moments of the War on Terror.
Sanders connects on the sacraments of the left. He is viscerally opposed to America as a force for good around the world, positively bristles at the notion of wealth held by anyone, and unapologetically yearns for the redistribution of income from the haves to the have-nots. For a hardcore liberal, what’s not to love?
And yet he’ll throw a curveball from time to time. In 1993, as a fairly new Congressman from Vermont’s only district, he voted for an NRA-backed bill restricting lawsuits against gun manufacturers. He also voted against the Brady Bill.
In recent remarks about America’s role in the global marketplace, he called for re-invigorating domestic industry, weaning ourselves from foreign goods cheapened by near-slave wages and sparking a fresh wave of passion to buy American, a pitch that would draw smiles at a Tea Party rally.
But make no mistake. Bernie Sanders does not have hidden conservative DNA that could surface on the campaign trail. He is a liberal’s liberal. But he draws from a broad instinct for populism that could have appeal that sneaks out across some ideological lines to score points among some independents.
He will bring class envy, aversion to fighting global jihad, global warming quackery, and the rest of the catnip Democrats deploy to score points. But unlike Hillary or any of the other pretenders in the on-deck circle, he will be fun to watch.
And if enough Democrat voters grow weary of the stilted, clumsy contrivances of their ethically challenged heiress-apparent, there Bernie Will be, all 74 years of him this September, ready to blow through the usual pretense of a campaign with a comfort in his own skin that could mean trouble for other Democrats seeking to take advantage of Hillary’s stumble.