I was born in 1970. I have no recollection of Watergate or Jerry Ford taking a tumble down the stairs as he alit from Air Force One. My earliest political memories are of Jimmy Carter hosting the Camp David summit and American hostages being held in Iran. But from before I was a teenager until I was old enough to (legally) drink, Republicans inhabited the White House. It was an awful time for Democrats - Dukakis in a tank and Mondale losing 49 states. As someone born smack dab in the middle of Nixon’s first term, a Democrat had been in the White House for a mere four years of my life until January 20, 1993.
I worked for Bill Clinton in 1992. I was in Little Rock on election night and the sheer euphoria of a Democrat finally winning back the White House is a feeling I still remember. But for Democrats born in 1975 or 1980 or beyond, their relationship to our party’s hold on the Presidency is far different. It is taken for granted that a Democrat can be President. If you are 35 years old, you probably have vague memories of George H.W. Bush, but otherwise, you have lived through four terms of Democratic Presidents with the utter failure of W in between.
In other words, you do not really appreciate what it was like to lose five of six Presidential elections or how hard Democrats had to work to elect a President in your lifetime. So maybe you do not think it is a bad decision to support Bernie Sanders because the causes he believes are ones you do too. You might also believe that a Sanders win would mean a tidal wave of progressive votes that would sweep massive Democratic majorities into both houses of Congress, thus resulting in passage of every pet policy you hold dear – Medicare for All, drastic cuts to the Department of Defense, a minimum wage increase, huge tax increases on the wealthy – and on and on.
But such a belief is pure fantasy. Putting aside the gerrymandered Congressional districts that make it all but impossible to flip the House (and thus, smothering any dream you might have of getting a President Sanders agenda through Congress) and the fact that Democrats would have to carry 14 Senate races to gain a filibuster-proof majority (another impossibility), two of the biggest landslide Republican victories in history occurred when Democrats nominated so-called “liberal” candidates – George McGovern in 1972 and Walter Mondale in 1984. Each lost all but one state in the nation (and two other landslides, Reagan in 1980 and Bush 41 in 1988 were almost as bad).
Why hand Republicans a gift like a peacenik who will be portrayed as wanting to crush our economy under massive tax increases? Democrats have assiduously cultivated the so-called “Blue Wall” (18 states plus the District of Columbia) since 1992, winning what now equal 242 electoral votes in six straight elections. This formula is based on moderation, not revolution. The suburban soccer moms of Montgomery County (Pa.), bellwether voters of Macomb County (Mi.) and the once rock ribbed Republican enclave of Orange County (Ca.) that are now reliably Democratic are not looking to burn down the system and are not going to entrust the nuclear codes to a 74 year old socialist from Vermont.
And to older voters, you should know better. To me, this has the vague feeling of 2000, when just enough people voted for Ralph Nader thinking there was no difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush to nudge the election in the latter’s favor (and do not just look at Florida and its contested vote. Check out New Hampshire, which Gore lost by 1.2% with Nader getting 3.7% of the vote. It’s the only time between 1992 and 2012 that the Democrats lost New Hampshire and would have given Gore the White House regardless of Florida).
Bernie may inhabit the fever dreams of ultra-lefties like the editorial board of The Nation, but the same true believers who thought the country would rally to George McGovern (he got 38% of the vote) are fooling themselves if they think Bernie Sanders has any chance of being elected President. Younger voters, who came of age under Obama can be excused for thinking that someone of Sanders’s political leanings could win a national election, but older voters should appreciate the risk of entrusting our party’s nomination to someone who is not even a Democrat and whose defeat would signal not just risks to things like the Affordable Care Act, but any chance of “flipping” the Supreme Court for decades to come. This election is far too important to throw away your vote on a gadfly from Vermont who has zero chance of ever being elected President.
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