The Sanders Institute, the vanity project vaguely defined policy nonprofit founded by Bernie and Jane Sanders, has a distinguished list of “Fellows,” a title with few if any actual duties.
It’s impressive. Robert Reich, Bill McKibben, Cornel West, Danny Glover, Ben Jealous, Nina Turner…
… and Tulsi Gabbard.
Gabbard used to be an interesting political phenomenon with some solid progressive credentials, but she long ago became an unreliable self-guided policy missile. She just had a star turn at, ahem, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), where she “defended parents protesting at school boards, attacked Big Tech censorship and referred to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as an ‘autocratic leader’ for his response to the trucker protests against COVID-19 mandates,” according to the Washington Times.
The notion of obsessing over, or even worshipping, an object, is often thought of as a sign of primitiveness. Here in the modern West, we know better than to believe a mere object can be imbued with magical powers or even divinity.
Funny thing is, we don’t act that way.
This is true wherever you look. Donald Trump’s wall is a fetish for him and his supporters: If we build it, we will be protected from malign influences. The American flag is a fetish; many value its security above the Constitutional rights it is supposed to represent. Heck, the Constitution itself is a fetish for those who carry it in their pockets but, when they open their mouths, reveal a lack of familiarity with its purpose. As is the Bible.
But here in Vermont, hoo boy, we’ve got ’em in spades. And far too often, our fetish fetish* sucks time and energy away from actually, you know, tackling the real problems we face.
*See what I did there?
Our latest inanimate fixation is a dying maple tree (link to article behind the Valley News‘ paywall), the last vestige of the Ascutney farm owned by Romaine Tenney. When the interstate freeways were being built, his land was in the path of I-91. Tenney repeatedly refused to sell out. When the farm was seized via eminent domain in 1964, he burned down the farmhouse, killing himself, rather than move away.
Only the maple remains. A state-contracted arborist recently concluded that the tree is beyond saving. Due to a local outcry, the state has postponed plans to cut it down and is consulting a second arborist. This isn’t the tree’s first health crisis; as the Valley News reports, “About 10 years ago, cables were installed to stabilize the tree.” Which is a lot of time and expense devoted to an organism with a lifespan that will inevitably end in death.
You know where I’m going with this.
C’mon, folks. It’s just a fuckin’ tree. Let it go. Death with dignity.
Bernie Sanders has been battling bad news lately. He’s stuck in the polls, or maybe even losing ground. He’s lost the “left/progressive” lead to Elizabeth Warren. He’s had to shake up his campaign organization in crucial states. Key supporters, like the Working Families Party, have abandoned him.
It may well be a blip on the radar, and Bernie may live to be a happy, healthy 120 years old. But he’s the oldest candidate in the race and would be the oldest sitting president at the beginning of his term in office. Medical issues have always been the hidden shoal that could sink his campaign.
Yesterday, VTDigger reporter Kit Norton posted a story that seemed to indicate flagging support for America’s most senior junior senator, Bernie Sanders. Norton reported that “nearly 200” (he never provided the exact figure) of Sanders’ biggest 2016 donors were instead giving their money to Elizabeth Warren this year. The takeaway, I guess, is that crowds of Bernie backers have fled his campaign.
We’ll get to the story’s flaws in a bit. Right now, we move on to a story posted by Norton today, that shows Sanders doing extremely well in the fundraising department. In fact, during the just-concluded third quarter of 2019, Sanders received $25.3 million — as Norton reported, “the largest quarterly fundraising haul of any Democratic candidate in 2019.”
It was a sharp increase from Sanders’ second-quarter haul of $18 million, and shows that, in spite of recent bad news on the polling and campaign organization fronts, Sanders continues to inspire supporters to put their money where their opinions are. It also shows that Sanders is doing just fine, thank you very much, without those big donations from the faithless “nearly 200.”
Which brings us back to Norton’s first piece. It involved a lot of digging through campaign finance reports which, I can tell you from personal experience, is a depressing slog. I always start doing campaign finance pieces with a sense of optimism and purpose, which at some point turns into my inner voice shouting “Why the hell am I doing this?”
So, good on Norton for doing the spadework — and for reaching out to quite a few of the ex-donors for comment.
And now, the bad news. There is no context whatsoever in the story. Nothing to tell the reader how serious a loss this is for Team Bernie.
There’s been a tsunami of bad news this month for The World’s Oldest Junior Senator, Bernie Sanders. The political media reported on shakeups at the top of his presidential campaigns in New Hampshire and Iowa, which is never a good sign. The Working Families Party, which heartily endorsed Sanders in 2016, gave its nod to Sen. Elizabeth Warren instead. He was bedeviled by a throat thing which limited his effectiveness in the most recent debate and caused him to cancel appearances in the early primary state of South Carolina.
And the Sanders campaign’s response to all of this: Crack down on leaks and blame the media.
Also not a good sign. Don’t shoot the messenger, folks.
Then there’s the biggest and most inconvenient truth for Sanders: He isn’t making any headway in the polls. If anything, he has slipped back a bit from his uncontested second place standing at the beginning of the year. Warren, the other contender for the left/progressive vote, is the only candidate who’s climbed significantly. In most polls she’s taken second place away from Sanders, although he’s still a close third — often within a poll’s margin of error.
In truth, all this bad publicity doesn’t matter very much. The political media like to pile on when there seems to be a trend forming.
The worst news for Team Bernie is that, after all these months and all that organizing and speechifying and social media activity and Ben Cohen ice cream socials and the million-plus unique donors, the Sanders campaign is stuck in the same position it’s been in since day one.
Back in January, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver assessed all the Democratic candidates’ prospects. His take on Vermont’s hometown hero: “Sanders looks like a candidate with a high floor and a low ceiling.” By which he meant that Sanders had a strong and solid base of support, but relatively little opportunity for growth.
His floor hasn’t fallen, but his ceiling has yet to rise.
This week’s certification of the state election results brought a popular headline: Bernie Sanders drew more than 18,000 write-in votes for president.
On the one hand, impressive. On the other, that and a buck-fifty will buy you a cup of coffee. It provided some warm fee-fees to Bernie loyalists, and in Vermont it was a no-risk move since there was no way Hillary Clinton was going to lose Vermont. (As for those who voted for Bernie or Jill Stein or Vermin Supreme in the states that were close, well, thanks for helping elect President Trump.)
But there is one significant implication of Bernie’s write-in total, and it has to do with the gubernatorial candidacy of Sue Minter.
In the immediate aftermath of the election, I theorized that the long, expensive campaign had had little impact — that Phil Scott entered as the favorite and exited the same.
In the campaign of 2016, Bernie Sanders offered a progressive critique of our economic/political system that resonated with a broad swath of the electorate. He articulated things that many of us had been thinking for a long time, and did it in a way that cut through the white noise of political discourse.
He did a lot of things right. There’s one thing he got wrong — well, let’s say he got it partly right — and as it turned out, that one thing may have made a crucial difference for Donald Trump.
Bernie’s analysis of trade and domestic job losses focused mainly on one element: international trade agreements.
He’s about one-fourth right. We’ll get to the other three-fourths in a bit.
His simplified message proved very powerful in his fight for the Democratic nomination, and was a core argument in his case against Hillary Clinton. But afterward, it became a potent weapon in the Trump arsenal. One could argue it won him the election, since his extremely narrow victories in Rust Belt states were due to economic anxiety focused on those evil trade deals.
A lot of Bernie backers are reacting to Donald Trump’s victory by blaming the victim — Hillary Clinton — and asserting that Bernie Sanders would have won this thing.
Which, first of all, is absolutely unknowable.
Second, the odds would have been longer for Bernie.
There are a couple of layers to this. First, the belief that if the DNC hadn’t had its thumb on the scale, Bernie would have won the primary. And second, as the nominee he would have been a more effective opponent to Trump.
Let’s take the first. Bernieacs are fond of blaming the superdelegates for Clinton’s victory. But the fact is, Hillary clinched the nomination without the superdelegates. Throughout the primary season, she ran ahead of Bernie. Slightly ahead, but ahead.
Bernie never showed that his progressive agenda could attract voters beyond his core support. He racked up a lot of his victories in caucus states, where a small but enthusiastic base could carry a candidate. He was never able to consistently beat Clinton in actual primaries.
In my partial defense, I got just about everything else right: the breakdown of the new Legislature, the failure of the Republican ticket below the top line. But my prediction on the biggest race in the state couldn’t have been more wrong. I went further than most in predicting a Sue Minter victory, but I don’t think anybody — not even Republicans — saw a near-double-digit win for Scott. Heck, Vermont Pundit Emeritus Eric Davis said it was “too close to call.”
I warned you I wasn’t very good at predictions. I hope I’m a little better at analysis. Here goes.
After an epic-length campaign lasting a year and a half… after the spending of insane amounts of money by Vermont standards… after a unified Democratic homestretch with a healthy assist from Bernie Sanders… after a tsunami of outside money and endless TV ads and mailers… we might as well have had no campaign at all. The fundamentals going in — Phil Scott’s personal popularity, fatigue with the Shumlin administration, and Vermonters’ clear pattern of switching parties when there’s a vacancy in the corner office — were the deciding factors at the end.
I just realized that it’s been a long time since I’d given any thought to the Progressive Party as a force in state politics.
What reminded me was Terri Hallenbeck’s piece about the Stanaks, “a family divided over a Vermont election.” It’s the story of a stalwart progressive (and Progressive) family that’s gone in different directions this cycle. Paterfamilias Ed Stanak, motivated by opposition to ridgeline wind, is backing Phil Scott. Daughter Lluvia Stanak is working on the Sue Minter campaign. Her sister Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, chair of the Vermont Progressive Party, is officially neutral.
That’s because the Progs opted to sit out the gubernatorial race, failing to field a candidate of their own and refusing to endorse anyone else. I vaguely recall knowing that at some earlier point, but I’d managed to completely forget it until now.
The non-endorsement kinda made sense at the time. Sue Minter looked like an offshoot of the Shumlin administration, which had burned the Progs twice over by snagging their endorsement in 2010 and 2012 and then bailing on their number-one issue, single-payer health care. The Progs were, understandably, twice bitten and thrice shy.
It looks a lot worse now, what with Prog stalwart David Zuckerman fully on board with the Democratic ticket and Bernie Sanders going all-out to boost the Minter campaign. Indeed, the Progressive Party looks out of touch and almost irrelevant.