This presidential primary season has been like none other, and now New York is poised to play a pivotal — make that a “yuge” — role.
Bernie Sanders is riding high after scoring repeated victories over Hillary Clinton in other primary states, cutting into her lead.
Sanders grew up in Brooklyn, then moved to Vermont where he has a long history as one of the Senate’s leading progressive voices.
Clinton, a native Midwesterner, relocated here, to suburban Westchester, to be exact — after years in Arkansas and then in Washington, D.C., as first lady — to further her political ambitions, becoming a senator and, after a failed presidential bid, secretary of state.
This primary season, in many ways, has been the year of the anti-establishment upstart. We see it in Sanders and, on the Republican side, in Donald Trump. Clinton, meanwhile, is clearly the establishment Democratic candidate. Indeed, the party elite did their best to clear the field for her, but that didn’t deter Sanders.
He started out slowly, essentially running as a part-time candidate, feeling it was still important to attend to his duties in the Senate, and doubting if he could really win, anyway. But as his campaign caught fire, and people started “feeling the Bern,” he realized he could grab this thing, and has been campaigning all out. And it’s working; he’s been winning.
Meanwhile, Clinton, the mainstream media and Democratic Party insiders are keeping up the drumbeat that she has the race in the bag and that Sanders should drop out. But that’s all spin. And, more important, the Democratic process must be allowed to play out. There will be plenty of time later to focus on Trump, Ted Cruz or whoever the G.O.P. nominee is.
In fact, polls repeatedly show Sanders doing better than Clinton versus Trump, Cruz or John Kasich.
What sets Sanders apart is his blunt honesty, integrity, humanity and deep track record of progressive values. Clinton has been pushed to the left by Sanders, but where she really stands on the issues is often murky.
Sanders, for example, has been outspoken against trade agreements that hurt the working class, and fracking and oil pipelines that would endanger our environment on many levels. Clinton has waffled. He supports a national jobs program to put people to work and free college education and healthcare. Clinton pooh-poohs all this as unrealistic. Yet Sanders offers hope and vision. He is an aspirational candidate — just as Obama was — and it’s showing at the polls.
Clinton’s vaunted foreign policy experience can’t hide the fact that she is clearly an interventionist. Indeed, she has been blamed for the mess in Libya. In a telling moment in an early debate, Clinton defended Henry Kissinger as her foreign-policy guru, while Sanders called him a total disaster. Sanders mentioned how Kissinger authorized the bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Clinton just shrugged and said Kissinger was still her man. Sanders simply sees it and tells it like it is. No B.S.
Sanders has been criticized for not being sufficiently pro-Israel, yet he supports a two-state solution, as do most progressive Jews. He is also being hit for saying gun manufacturers should not be held liable for selling a product that is currently legal. Clearly, what needs to happen is that civilians should not be allowed to buy these military-style automatic weapons in the first place.
In historic firsts, Clinton would be the first female president, Sanders the first Jewish one. Some argue that it’s so hard to elect a woman president that, despite Clinton’s weaknesses and faults — and her copious baggage (Clinton Foundation fundraising, illegal home-brew file server, etc., etc.) — we should vote for her. However, many women, especially young women, respond to that by asking, “Yes, but do we have to elect this woman?”
Indeed, Clinton’s negatives are very high, and she would likely be viciously and relentlessly attacked by the G.O.P. nominee. Sanders — frustrating his advisers — started out like a gentleman, going easy on Clinton, being respectful, but now at last has begun to go after her as his campaign has taken on new life. He has hit her on her Wall St. connections and fundraising, and has scored points as she continues to refuse to reveal the transcripts of her handsomely paid speeches to Wall St. firms. Those transcripts should be made public. Let’s see exactly what she tells her Wall St. buddies while we’re not listening.
Meanwhile, Sanders is energizing voters. And Democrats are going to need that energy and turnout in the general election, because the G.O.P. primaries have been seeing voters flock to the polls in high numbers, too. In short, this is no time for “Clinton fatigue,” something even her supporters concede has set in.
This election also has opened our eyes to the atrocious superdelegate process. Clinton already has won the backing of the majority of these party insiders, such as Governor Andrew Cuomo, Congressmember Charles Rangel and others, in New York State. The superdelegates were put in place in the 1980s to prevent candidates who were considered too liberal by the Democratic establishment. However, this process is simply super-undemocratic.
If Sanders continues his surge and is tied or ahead of Clinton at the time of the convention, and the superdelegates throw the race to her, there will be deep repercussions. And we’re not just talking about an avalanche of Sanders write-ins on Election Day, as Susan Sarandon and others have insinuated could happen.
Young voters are overwhelmingly backing Sanders. More power to them. They are the future of the party and of our country. If they feel disenfranchised, and if the party elite says, “Sorry, we know best. Plus, it’s our party, anyway,” it ultimately will come back to bite the Democrats. For a long time, this country has needed a viable third party, and if young Democrats feel their votes don’t matter, we may soon see the rise of one.