I'll vote for Bernie Sanders in New York's Democratic primary on Tuesday even though I expect Hillary Clinton to win it and to be the Democratic presidential nominee, at which point I'll vote for her against the Republican. Sanders has said that he'll do the same, and when he does, the New York newspaper pundits who dismiss him now as a dreamer, nostalgist, or extremist who doesn't know what he's talking about will applaud his sagacity and good judgment.
Voting for Sanders now is the only way to make sure that Clinton and other establishment Democrats know what they're talking about. Her 2008 campaign insisted that Barack Obama didn't know what he was talking about: An idealistic, one-term U.S. Senator wouldn't know what to do with a national-security phone call at 3 am, they told us. Clinton didn't know what she was talking about when she voted for the Iraq War, but she learned enough as Obama's secretary of state so that, last week in Brooklyn, she praised his sagacity and good judgment.
It wasn't the first time the supposedly simple have enlightened the supposedly wise. If anything, it's a recurring irony in American politics: From Herbert Hoover to Alan Greenspan, from Woodrow Wilson and his negotiators at Versailles in 1919 to the architects and apologists of our wars in Viet Nam and Iraq, those supposedly most qualified and most "in the know" didn't know what they were talking about.
So pardon me if I vote for Sanders because I'd rather "find the guts to take on the big money" -- as he put it during the Brooklyn debate last week -- via his "small money" campaign, whose 7 million donations have averaged $27 each. Pardon me if I suspect that, after 25 years in Congress, as an Independent who won many of his colleagues' respect without becoming a Washington "insider," Sanders knows what he's talking about more than Obama did in 2008.
And pardon me if, instead of applauding Clinton's emphasis on government's cooperating with big corporations, as of course government must often do, I prefer Sanders' answer to debate moderator Wolf Blitzer's question about the CEO of Verizon's unkind assessment of him: "This gentleman makes $18 million a year in salary," Sanders answered. "[He] is now negotiating to take away health care benefits of Verizon workers, outsource call center jobs to the Philippines, and trying to create a situation where workers will lose their jobs."
Clinton stayed silent, as she has throughout Verizon's union-busting efforts. Verizon has "cooperated" with her campaign and with the Clinton Foundation to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations.
"We're doing something very radical," said Sanders in Brooklyn, with the faintest trace of irony. "We're telling Americans the truth. We're not going to get our country back for working people until we overturn Citizens United, have real campaign finance reform."
New York City's newspapers, capitalist corporations that they are, couldn't endorse him. The Daily News' "editorial board" grilled him with all the sanctimony of the neighborhood bootlegger or bookie who's dressed up to testify piously that Bernie the revolutionary exaggerates the depth of corruption. The city's other dailies haven't been much fairer. When I vote for Bernie on Tuesday, I'll be voting against their stacking of the deck against him in their reporting and assessments of the campaigns.
Do Sanders' proposals make him a socialist? His embrace of the label heralds a second irony in our politics: When the collapse of the Soviet Union expanded capitalist dynamism, it also expanded some not-so-creative capitalist destruction. But, as the historian and Dissent magazine co-editor Michael Kazin noted recently in the magazine, it also revived some distinctively American, democratic (small-"d"!)-socialist responses that came before Soviet Communism, as in the early 20th-century presidential campaigns of Eugene V. Debs, and that opposed Communism openly in the work of veteran socialists such as United Auto Workers president Walter Reuther, black union leader A. Philip Randolph, who inspired the 1963 March on Washington, and Bayard Rustin, its chief organizer.
Such efforts were dogged by Senator Joseph McCarthy, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, and other Cold War fantasists of a "red menace" under every bed and in every government agency. (Donald Trump exhumed them recently by calling Sanders "our Communist friend.") But Sanders' campaign is remarkable not because many of his enthusiasts are too young to remember McCarthy's false charges but because older supporters like me, who do remember them and who've been told (and have sometimes even told others ourselves) that government is not the solution but the problem, are re-discovering the ways in which government remains our only hedge against degradation and disempowerment in a web of un-elected, 800-numbered, sticky-fingered pick-pocketing machines run by fiduciaries for swirling whorls of anonymous shareholders as powerful as government itself.
You needn't be a socialist to believe that today's capitalism would have appalled Adam Smith or Alexander Hamilton and that, without a good, swift kick in the primaries, neither political party establishment will reconfigure it enough to sustain a decent society or planet. Sanders is the only candidate reminding us that we do have deep republican (small "r"!) ways of "finding the guts" and grasping the sovereignty to curb casino-like financing, predatory marketing, and the dispossession and degradation of ordinary Americans.
The Republican Party has been deranged by its inability to reconcile its virtuous civic, religious, and "family values," pretensions with its knee-jerk obeisance to the unaccountable whorls of investment that are dissolving republican virtues and sovereignty. So, yes, we'll need a Democratic victory to stave off that kind of derangement on the Supreme Court, at the very least. But the neoliberal Democratic establishment will keep trying to triangulate its way around better, braver strategies until it has been frightened and fortified by millions of Americans like the New Yorkers who cheered Bernie in Brooklyn and who'll vote for him on Tuesday.