The Democratic Party continued to do its best to eat itself alive on Tuesday night, as the remaining presidential candidates provided potential voters with a full–view of the absurd dysfunction that makes one realize that this party could absolutely pull off the incredible feat of losing two elections to one Donald Trump. To be sure, there’s barely ever anything genuine or important to glean from American presidential primary debates. However, at the tail end of this two hour nightmare, there was a moment that stands out to illustrate just how rare an opportunity America has in electing Bernie Sanders to be its President.
Sanders was attacked throughout the night, which was hardly a surprise given that he has emerged as a clear front–runner in this race. At the time of writing, the results of South Carolina’s primary are unknown, but polls suggest that the Senator from Vermont will remain positioned to do very strongly in the all–important Super Tuesday states. So, his opponents trotted out the same tired critiques that they have been trying to use as he has risen in the polls. He loves Fidel Castro! Putin loves Sanders! Government healthcare would ‘kick everyone off’ their beautiful private insurance! While he did not emerge from these exchanges completely unscathed, he likely did enough to avoid a major fall in support. He refused to relent and said a series of things one has simply never heard on a presidential debate stage. He forcefully called out Bibi Netanyahu. He told Americans that the country’s foreign policy has been brutish and at times anti–democratic. He chose to be substantive at a time when most candidates are trying to manufacture catchphrases and hashtags. Then, at the end of the debate, unwittingly or not, Sanders made it clear that he is a once–in–a–lifetime candidate.
As is the norm, this debate ended with a softball question designed to ‘get to know’ the candidates. Moderators asked candidates to tell voters to name one misconception about themselves and what a guiding motto of theirs is. The answers were painful to witness. Amy Klobuchar said the misconception about her was that she was boring! Then, she followed that up by saying her motto is “Politics is about improving people’s lives”. Truly awesome stuff! Joe Biden’s motto? “When you get knocked down, get up and everyone’s entitled to be treated with dignity.” Ahh, yes, those famous words, that totally aren’t just what you need to say as you try to save your campaign. He then complained he was losing his hair. Then, it came to Sanders. Instead of banalities, he authentically laid out the case for his election. The misconception? That his ideas are radical. He went onto describe how other countries are able to have public healthcare, and that it is a human right. He spoke of the moral imperative to deal with climate change. He discussed ending racist incarceration practices. Then, his quote, from Nelson Mandela, perfectly summing up what Sanders truly believes about this political moment. “Everything is impossible, until it happens.” It’s hard to imagine a better answer coming from Sanders. After all, his opponents cannot dispute the need for what Sanders is running on. Healthcare, income equality, climate change reforms, and so on. Instead, they spend debates like this telling him, telling the country it can’t be done. Sanders soldiers on, unwavering, always pivoting to the voters, always reminding them that it will take work, but it certainly can be done.
This is the dysfunction in the Democratic Party, distilled. Those against Bernie Sanders continue their obsession with an inert politics, one which is grounded in their warped idea of reality. That there are these magical Republican voters that the party can sway by moving even further to the right. That tens of millions of people somehow love their private health insurance. That anything that would truly have an impact on the lives of working class Americans is somehow beyond the realm of possibility. Sanders stands profoundly against that notion, and has for his entire political life. This is why the attacks do not work as well on him. This is why his supporters adore him. The others lie to voters about working ‘across the aisle’, but they fail to see what is really going on over there. The Republicans have no interest in the merely possible. They hand trillions to the wealthy, they deny climate change, they strip away healthcare funding, they ban people, they lock children in cages. All of these things are somehow possible, yet Sanders’ opponents would have you believe that the ability to go to the doctor is a bridge too far. This is zero hour for the American body politic. How will it react to Trump’s trampling of the merely possible? Will it cower and revert to a politics of incrementalism that has not led to the material improvement of the lives of most of its people? Or will it finally make that leap with Bernie Sanders and find out what can happen, and which of these impossibilities can finally come to be. V