by Bob Cesca
Ten years ago, I bought my first satellite radio for all of the usual reasons. Commercial terrestrial radio had become a torturous hellscape of 10-minute ad blocks, and, myself, having departed radio for the internet, it just seemed like a dying format. Along with the industry's slow-motion suicide, progressive talk shows as well as talkers like Howard Stern were driven from terrestrial broadcasting due to its dwindling revenue base and the lack of any talk outside of right-wing hate radio.
You can imagine how refreshing it was, then, in the last fading years of the Bush administration, to have discovered both the Stephanie Miller Show and the Thom Hartmann Show, both of which became appointment-listening, especially as my political writing career was advancing upward and my thirst for political news reached an all-time high.
Of course, anyone who's listened to the Hartmann show knows that Fridays were all about "Brunch with Bernie." It was perhaps the second best feature of Hartmann's show, trailing closely behind interview segments in which Hartmann would skillfully destroy the talking points of his various conservative guests. But the hours in which Bernie Sanders took calls and spoke with bold authority about the middle class and the dismal status of the American economy during the dark ride of the Bush administration were almost as compelling.
Whether Bernie was right or wrong on the wonky details didn't seem to matter. The Vermont senator, then in his middle 60s, comported himself just as he does today -- with unwavering articulation and a level of expertise on a variety of domestic issues unrivaled by his peers in the upper chamber of Congress. Even more astonishing was the fact that Bernie absolutely forecasted the Great Recession. In fact, both he and Hartmann seemed to grasp what was forthcoming before Wall Street itself knew.
Unfortunately for me, I didn't take those predictions seriously enough, and was therefore plowed under by the crash three years later.
Eight years after first listening to Bernie on Hartmann's show every Friday, I found myself writing an article for The Daily Banter in which I more or less predicted how Bernie's emerging presidential candidacy would turn out. Not to toot my own horn, but I was pretty close. It was clear to me, at the time, that Bernie's run wouldn't be successful and that his most exuberant supporters would end up emotionally crushed, having expected an issues-based candidate to be a realistically viable presidential contender.
I didn't predict that outcome based on any kind of animosity toward Bernie himself or his platform. I simply didn't believe that Bernie was in it to seriously compete against Hillary Clinton. Rather, I assumed correctly that his candidacy was more about injecting his progressive message into mainstream politics. On this front, I was half right. Bernie's campaign clearly started out that way, but as his polling success snowballed, he began to realize -- perhaps too late -- that he was capable of competing on delegates in addition to getting his message out.
Regarding "too late," it was ultimately the calendar that doomed Bernie's campaign. His momentum translated into actual delegates two months too late in the contest. Put another way: if the primaries were more spread out, pushing the schedule into, say, late July, he might've actually won the nomination -- or come much closer to that prize. Instead, he simply ran out of both time and primaries. And Bernie is solely to blame here, having not foreseen the enthusiasm he would eventually foment, nor planning for a winning campaign.
It wasn't his only mistake, by the way.
Bernie suffered from a lack of get-out-the-vote (GOTV) infrastructure. Unlike Barack Obama eight years ago, Bernie failed to parlay his massive crowds into actual primary voters. By themselves, those gigantic crowds were worthless if not backed by voter registration efforts and GOTV database building. I witnessed this firsthand, having attended two Bernie events. I was there when the first Black Lives Matter protesters interrupted his remarks at Netroots Nation in Phoenix; and I was there the following night when Bernie delivered his now well-known stump speech before a packed arena. In neither instance was I, nor anyone I was with, approached by campaign volunteers collecting email addresses and cell numbers. Actually, I don't recall seeing any Bernie staffers beyond the immediate staging area. If you were wondering why Bernie had giant crowds, but not so giant results in crucial primaries, this could be the culprit -- he wasn't ready with a strategy to exploit his rally sizes.
Bernie's other fatal flaw emerged when, earlier this year, he began to accost the Democratic Party, turning the word "establishment" into an insult. It was gold for his true-believers, but it was a horrible idea knowing that Bernie might need superdelegates to win the nomination. And now that his campaign is nearing the end, he's making a play for the very establishment that he once ridiculed. I don't personally know any superdelegates. However, in my experience, no one likes being insulted and then asked to support the guy who was insulting them. It's a lot simpler than political strategy. It's basic courtesy. (It's also baffling to know that if Bernie had won, and gone on to win the presidency, he would've become the official head of the Democratic Party establishment.)
And then there was the fact that Bernie routinely delivered lines that could and will inevitably be used by the Republicans to attack the general election nominee -- especially if that nominee had been Bernie himself. You can't run a winning Democratic campaign by insulting the sitting president, who happens to be a relatively popular Democratic chief executive. The GOP super PAC ads could write themselves: "Bernie says Obama's unemployment rate is actually double what Obama says. Obama's lying, and Bernie knows it. So why elect another Democrat?"
Surprisingly, none of these mistakes influenced my opinion of Bernie himself. I merely questioned, privately and publicly, whether his missteps in the primaries were indicative of how he'd conduct his general election campaign. Frankly, they seemed like amateur blunders. Unforced errors, as they say. And this is chiefly why I was routinely critical of his campaign -- and not Bernie himself.
That is until he doubled-down on his position regarding the gun manufacturing industry and the Sandy Hook families. You've read this before, but it bears repeating: How can a candidate who's perhaps the most vocal anti-corporate-greed voice in modern presidential politics take a position in which the for-profit death industry gets a free pass from litigation? And why isn't this a matter for the courts to decide? It turns out, I'm decidedly more liberal than Bernie Sanders on guns. And, more importantly, you don't attack the Sandy Hook families, who are still grieving the horrifying loss of their children at the hands of Adam Lanza and his AR-15, otherwise known as America's most popular firearm. Not only did this signal a major point of hypocrisy, but it was utterly tone deaf. For me, it was an almost unforgivable trespass.
Just to be clear, I really wanted to support Bernie's campaign. But these flaws held me back and confined me squarely in the undecided category.
I always felt like Bernie was running a campaign from a different election year against a sitting Republican president. Returning to my point about Obama, if you happened to have been a space alien who landed in the middle of a Bernie rally, you'd probably believe that Bush was still president. On countless occasions, Bernie's diagnosis of the state of the union was invariably dismal. While, sure, there's anecdotal evidence showing many Americans still hurting due to stagnant wages and the echos of the recession, which Bernie predicted. In terms of economic indicators, however, it's difficult to see Obama's record on the economic as anything other than a success, given the slagheap he inherited from the Bushies.
Ultimately, my skepticism about Bernie's prospects emerged from observing his rickety campaign strategy. And it was made worse by the tone of his base. Bernie's core supporters behaved so poorly as to drive many would-be Bernie voters into the more receptive arms of Hillary Clinton. This isn't to suggest that Hillary's supporters didn't behave like assholes, too. But Bernie supporters looked familiar. Too many of them were/are Occupy Wall Street young people combined with insufferable Glenn Greenwald contrarian types dabbling in a variations of the Underpants Gnome business model: 1) Destroy the system, 2) ????, 3) Progressivism! I simply couldn't, in good conscience, sign onto a movement with a base composed of progressives whose means and methods are loathsome to me. This happens to include the misinformation campaign from voices like Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks podcast and rookie blogger H.A. Goodman. No way I was going to team up with a crowd that played fast and loose with the facts -- and especially who dabbled in nihilism, as well as kooky conspiracy theories.
And now, he's screwing around with the idea of a contested convention.
These are all reasons why I'm likely going to be voting for Hillary Clinton in the California primary, even though there was a time when I considered voting for Bernie. I believed, at the time, I'd be casting a vote to endorse the candidate (Bernie) who had the vision and foresight to see the 2008 economic collapse before anyone else, and who possessed solid ideas for how to avoid another one. I felt I owed it to my recession-suffering self from 2008. But I simply couldn't stick with him once I witnessed where his campaign was headed; how his supporters conducted themselves; and his current behavior now that the chips are down, threatening to blow up the Philadelphia convention.
At the end of the day, I'm not a Bernie Sanders Democrat. And I doubt I'll ever be.