Although Hillary Clinton defeated Bernie Sanders Saturday in the Nevada Caucuses, Fox News reported on Friday a poll that shows him ahead nationally by three points. With the appearance of some support for Clinton eroding, the idea of the self-professed Democratic Socialist being the Democratic Party's nominee for president has become a real possibility.
From the perspective of anyone who supports "limited government," the idea of endorsing someone who wants Washington to play a much bigger role in a variety of areas and advocates greater regulation and redistribution of wealth seems outrageous. Indeed, Sanders and a Congress full of like-minded individuals would indeed fundamentally transform America.
However, there is something to be said for the Sanders candidacy and potential role as the Democratic nominee, if not election to the presidency. To understand why, we must look at his individual platform rather than using the broad brush of painting him as a socialist.
Thursday, The Washington Post published an op-ed by Charles Koch, infamous bogeyman as represented by Sanders and the left. Despite being portrayed by many as essence of all things conservative and Republican and hence, evil, the Kochs have always been libertarians. As the Constitution is inherently fiscally conservative but socially liberal, the Kochs fit the bill. Many readers will be surprised that Koch didn't write the piece to highlight how wrong Sanders is but rather, areas where they agree.
Koch applauds Sanders for giving a voice to many Americans who are struggling even as he disagrees with expanding the role of the federal government. He states at the onset:
"The senator is upset with a...system that is often rigged to help the privileged few at the expense of everyone else... a two-tiered society that increasingly dooms millions of our fellow citizens to lives of poverty and hopelessness. He thinks many corporations seek and benefit from corporate welfare while ordinary citizens are denied opportunities and a level playing field. I agree with him." - Charles Koch
Koch goes on to highlight in detail common ground on the need for prison reform.
The are other areas where Sanders has taken a stance that most libertarians would agree with: ending the War on Drugs, a foreign policy with less military intervention, continued support for marriage equality, a woman's right to choose and others. He is also an opponent of the two-party duopoly and has questioned the role of the Federal Reserve.
Still, as Koch continues, "it is results, not intentions that matter.... I applaud the senator for giving a voice to many Americans struggling to get ahead in a system too often stacked in favor of the haves, but I disagree with his desire to expand the federal government’s control over people’s lives."
Most libertarians would still disagree with the majority of Sanders' proposed solutions even where there is consensus on the problem. So when faced with a possible election of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, or another GOP hawk, what other good does the Sanders candidacy and perhaps presidency bring to the table?
Let's face reality: while "limited government" is a popular buzzword among Republicans including neoconservatives who have spearheaded our continued military interventionist policy for decades, popular memes easily illustrate that the GOP has advocated for plenty of big government. Depending on your priorities, one can easily find as much disagreement with the Republicans and in some cases -- i.e. the propensity for military involvement -- the consequences may be greater.
Sanders is a game-changer because he pushes widely-held concerns that often get buried in rhetoric and lip service.
Mary Frances Berry, former chair of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, observed in 2010:
"Tainting the tea party movement with the charge of racism is proving to be an effective strategy for Democrats. There is no evidence that tea party adherents are any more racist than other Republicans, and indeed many other Americans. But getting them to spend their time purging their ranks and having candidates distance themselves should help Democrats win in November. Having one’s opponent rebut charges of racism is far better than discussing joblessness."
But the strategy wasn't effective enough as the Republicans gained 83 seats later that year. Since that time, the GOP has been diametrically opposed to the Obama administration and despite a slowly improving economy, neither branch has managed to improve the plight of those who are struggling. Sanders has brought their woes back to the forefront with a vengeance, along with millions of true believers who trust his integrity and his solutions or simply feel that he's the only candidate who speaks for them.
For the sake of looking at the issues, Sanders as the Democratic nominee could still be a very good thing for his opponents and not just because of the perception that he is easier to beat than Clinton., which should no longer be a foregone conclusion.
Regardless of whether you or agree or disagree with him, by every indication Sanders is honest and sincere. While he focuses on blaming the haves for the misfortune of the have nots and giving businesses a healthy dose of criticism, he does not otherwise appear to be in league with any special interests. His platform advocates specific solutions to the problems via legislation, rather than vague and general allusions.
The GOP has been accused of being the party of "no," allegedly doing little more than taking votes to repeal Obamacare and obstructing President Obama for the duration of his term. There is nothing wrong with valid criticism and opposing bad legislation. While bipartisanship is usually thought of as commendable and certainly should be when both parties agree to do the right thing, as Louis Woodhill pointed out regarding the 2011 payroll tax cut, "we have a Stupid Party (the Republicans) and an Evil Party (the Democrats). Every so often Congress does something that is both stupid and evil, and we call this 'bipartisanship'."
However, since bills or a president's executive action generally have a specific purpose, if the opposition fails to either explain how the proposal isn't necessary or offer viable alternatives, they are largely responsible for those perceptions. Aside from other policy differences from the Democratic Party, this has been a fair amount of the nature of the GOP during Obama's tenure and to make matters worse, they have continued to be woefully inept at convincing the less fortunate and black voters that conservative policies are better for them.
A Sanders candidacy will force the GOP to address the issues he brings up in a pragmatic way and it gives them an opportunity to discuss core issues where many voters feel the party is disengaged.
A Sanders presidency, without control of both the House and Senate is unlikely to pass much of his legislation but again gives the GOP the opportunity to offer alternative solutions rather than simply saying no. If they fail to do so, they will reinforce the existing narrative, which has some validity even though U.S. Sen. Harry Reid did more than his share of keeping House bills off the Senate floor.
Then again, if they use this opportunity to present serious alternatives and effective arguments as to why they are superior, they stand to gain significant ground.
Just as significantly, Sanders has managed to fracture Democratic Party supporters in a way no Republican could, as evidenced by at least five attacks by Paul Krugman and multiple retorts from Bernie supporters, including in the Huffington Post, Salon and Alternet. Even the Republicans might benefit from that and the sideshow could conceivably rival their own festivities resulting from Donald Trump leading the pack.
After all, one of the primary supporters of the Sanders economic platform is actually voting for Hillary Clinton and with the Clinton surrogates and supporters accusing Sanders and his supporters of everything from sexism to bigotry, this reality show could get even more interesting than it already is. Oh what a tangled web we weave!
Hillary doesn't score well in terms of trustworthiness, even among likely Democratic voters, so it's sometimes difficult to ascertain what she really believes or where her priorities truly are. With Bernie, you can have an honest conversation.
In the end, while many will fear any progress Sanders makes will put us on the slippery slope toward becoming communist China, that's not likely. There is always the danger that Congress may do things that are both evil and stupid, but on the other hand, as Ulysses S. Grant once noted, "I know no method to secure the repeal of bad or obnoxious laws so effective as their stringent execution."