The politicians, plutocrats and pundits of the Democratic Party establishment have no answer to Bernie Sanders' blistering critique of their failure to defend the interests of the voters who have kept them in power. Neither have they a substantive case against his policy agenda, which would shift government from working for the rich to working for the rest of us. Nor has it been easy for them to mount a personal attack on someone who says what he believes and acts on what he says.
They have one argument: he can't win. Why? Well... he's too radical, he lacks charisma, he doesn't connect with minorities, he's a secular Jew, etc. Don't waste your vote, they say; the risks of electing a Republican are too high.
But prematurely presumed losers have won enough elections in our history to make this glib conventional wisdom suspect, especially this year when voter anger at the Washington-Wall Street axis that dominates American politics is so widespread. Even Republicans are, rhetorically at least, trying to distance themselves from being associated with welfare for the rich. In this environment, Sanders' rivals, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden -- whom the Wall Street Democrats are keeping in reserve in case Hillary implodes -- carry a lot of negative baggage. Hillary's recent drop in the polls, driven by a dramatic decline in the support of women, has already undercut her claim to be the Democrats' strongest champion in next year's election.
More important, those who are Democrats because they believe the Party should be an instrument for building a better country- rather than just a personal career ladder -- need to think through the larger probabilities. Whatever the odds are for Bernie Sanders becoming president, the odds that Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden would, as president, seriously address the issues that the Democratic rank-and-file care about are much longer.
Both Clinton and Biden have been leaders of the crony network of Democratic Party enablers who have colluded with the GOP on the domestic policies that have relentlessly eroded economic security and opportunity for the vast majority of our people. They both are also major promoters of the reckless foreign interventions that have cost thousands of American lives, trillions of dollars and generated fierce hatred of us throughout the world.
"Not our fault," shrug the Democratic elite. "The country has moved to the right." True. Yet these same people have controlled the White House for 15 of the last 23 years. The problem is not that the Republican Party has moved to the right; that has always been its natural tendency. It's that the Democratic Party has willingly moved with them. The signature self-proclaimed "successes" of both the Clinton and Obama administrations - criminal justice and welfare "reforms," deregulation of trade and privatization of government, Wall Street bailouts and a health care program whose major beneficiaries are insurance and drug companies - are all Republican ideas.
Democrats, of course, have been much better at expressing compassion for the people left behind. Thus, Hillary and Bill Clinton are said to be so beloved by African-Americans that Sanders has no chance with this critical Democratic constituency. But thus far about 80 percent of black voters have not even heard of Sanders. They will, and when they compare his actual record on civil rights and combating racism with the Clintons', Bernie will not come up short.
Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign was marked by two transparent appeals to white racism -- the gratuitous public denunciation of an obscure black pop singer whom he made a symbol of black hatred of whites, and, as governor of Arkansas, the execution of a mentally impaired black man.
As president, Clinton signed the 1994 Crime Bill that massively increased the incarceration of African Americans. His welfare reform - administered by the states -- was much harsher on poor blacks than on poor whites. And his trade policies and promotion of privatization undercut the two most important ladders of upward mobility for African-Americans - jobs in manufacturing and government service.
As senators, both Hillary and Sanders received high ratings for their voting record from the NAACP. But Sanders has not just talked-the-talk. He was an activist in the Civil Rights movement - a member of the Congress for Racial Equality and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, he fought discrimination as a college student, and was even arrested in a civil rights demonstration in Chicago.
Nowhere does the record show that either of the Clintons ever took a personal risk for their proclaimed liberal beliefs about race relations. Or seriously inconvenienced themselves; for example, while Governor of Arkansas in the 1980s, Bill Clinton regularly played golf at a segregated all-white golf club.
Democrats concerned about the future can apply a similar reality test to foreign policy. Hillary voted for the Iraq War. As Secretary of State, she facilitated its expansion to the rest of the Middle East, pursued a hawkish foreign policy to the right of Obama, and oversaw the inexcusable betrayal of the elected President of Honduras in the interests of the thuggish oligopoly that engineered a military coup. Sanders opposed the war, has long argued against military adventurism and has consistently worked to stop US support of corrupt and brutal Latin American governments.
Unlike Sanders, Clinton and Biden are comfortably nestled with most of the other Democratic Party leadership in the left hand pocket of the country's military-financial complex. Would either be better for the country than one of the crowd of reactionary clowns running for the Republican nomination? Most probably. But given our experience with them, can we seriously think that Hillary or Biden would stand up to Wall Street? Clean the neo-con networks out of the Pentagon and State Department? Reverse the relentless march to inequality? Most probably, no.
Thus, Bernie Sanders' candidacy has created a moment of truth for Democratic voters, testing how serious they are about changing the country's direction. We cannot be certain, of course, that even a President Bernie Sanders could loosen Big Money's stranglehold on our democracy. But we can be certain that neither of his rivals would even try.