Is Bernie Sanders Just the Latest Goo-Goo Candidate?

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Jonathan Chait argues that the appeal of Bernie Sanders isn’t truly rooted in his ideology:

It is certainly true that Sanders pushed the debate leftward, by bringing previously marginal left-wing ideas into the Democratic discussion….But to understand the Sanders campaign as primarily a demand for more radical economic policies misses a crucial source of his appeal: as a candidate of good government.

American liberalism contains a long-standing tradition, dating back to the Progressive Era, of disdain for the grubby, transactional elements of politics….Candidates who have fashioned themselves in this earnest style have included Adlai Stevenson, Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Gary Hart, Jerry Brown, Howard Dean, and Barack Obama. These candidates often have distinct and powerful issue positions, but their appeal rests in large part on the promise of a better, cleaner, more honest practice of politics and government.

I’ve made much the same argument myself, so you’d think I’d agree with Chait. But after hearing from a lot of pissed-off Bernie supporters over the past few days, I’m not so sure anymore. For example, here is Ryan Cooper explaining why non-Boomers like Bernie’s ideas:

Though I can’t speak for everyone, I’d wager that young people are attracted to those ideas because they know what it’s like to graduate with a crushing load of student debt or to have a baby in a country with no paid leave but which also expects both parents to work full-time. Or maybe they can just feel that the bottom half of the income ladder is getting a raw deal. They’re not idiots in thrall to a political charlatan.

I’ve gotten an awful lot of responses like this. The gist is usually a combination of (a) my “statistics” about the state of the economy are totally bogus, and (b) I’m too fat and contented to understand what life is like for anyone less fortunate than me. But here’s the thing: most of these responses seem to come from folks who themselves have student debt or low incomes. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I’d fully expect these folks to appreciate Bernie’s message. But they’re not arguing for good government, they’re arguing for policies that would help them personally. That’s your basic transactional politics, no matter how you dress it up.

POSTSCRIPT: I think Cooper is very, very wrong about the history of health care reform too, but I’ll leave that for another time.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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