It's tough not to admire Bernie Sanders. He's a ferocious advocate for his constituents and the middle and working class as well as a guy willing to openly identify as a socialist in a country that's always considered that a dirty word. Sanders is a genuinely decent guy and his voice in the Senate has been an invaluable one. He doesn't mince words or pander and he doesn't worry about much other than representing voters to the best of his abilities and sticking to his political guns as best he can. Even if you disagree with his worldview he deserves a good amount of respect for walking the walk in terms of being a man of the people.
With all of this in mind it's easy to see why Sanders has a legion of supporters for his 2016 presidential campaign -- and why those supporters are largely the kind of people you've already unfriended on Facebook because they won't shut the fuck up about how Bernie is the Great Liberal Messiah come to save us all. The Sanders fanatics are hands-down the most insufferably self-righteous among the politically motivated these days, proudly aiming hosannas in the direction of any word that tumbles out of their candidates's mouth and touting each and every poll that shows him gaining ground as proof that America is "feeling the Bern" and turning its back on literally everything it's voted for up to this point in its history. Sanders is a far better person than, say, a Ralph Nader -- at the very least he's running because he genuinely wants to do good and not simply to hear the sound of his own voice -- but his supporters love him for the same reason the left loves anyone who forcefully speaks anti-establishment shibboleths: because they believe anything else to be hopelessly corrupt, the product of a broken system.
But here's the problem: The office of the President of the United States is arguably the most establishment position in the world and anyone who ascends to it automatically becomes the head of a machine the left, by its very nature, dislikes and doesn't trust. The left, certainly the strain of the left that would get behind someone like Bernie Sanders, is notoriously anti-authoritarian and while this doesn't necessarily mean it wouldn't be thrilled to see Sanders become the ultimate authority, it would make it suspicious of his intentions and actions from that point forward. The benefit of the doubt likely wouldn't last for very long and former acolytes would quickly become attuned to signs of betrayal. And that betrayal would absolutely arrive at some point.
If there's anything we've learned from the presidency of Barack Obama it's that a lot of self-described progressives are petulant children for whom no candidate will ever be good enough, fair-weather friends who are more than happy to support a candidate but who turn up their noses as soon as he or she is put in a position of actual governance. See, there's no such thing as an elected official who will give you everything you want, and more than any other partisan bent it's the left that reacts terribly to not getting every single thing it wants. The left loves to ignore inconvenient political reality -- and the impact of political reality is simply an inevitability for elected officials.
No matter how confident Bernie Sanders may be of his ability to change the status quo in Washington -- and no matter how confident his supporters may be in him -- in order to get anything at all done Sanders would be forced to compromise and pick his battles. He's not the only person with power in our government and while it's almost impossible to imagine him winning the presidency at all given that almost half the country is diametrically opposed to his political viewpoint, it's absolutely impossible to imagine the Republicans just giving him a walk on everything he wants. Think of the difficulty President Obama has had dealing with people who decided from the beginning they would obstruct his entire agenda; now think of how many of those on the left have responded to Obama not being able to follow through with his plans, or how they've reacted to Obama's realization that there are some personal beliefs he simply had to adjust once the reality and responsibilities of being president materialized.
A President Bernie Sanders just wouldn't be able to do a lot of what he wants to. And his supporters in particular likely aren't the kind of people who tolerate being let down, given that they're trained to expect the worst from those in authority and the liberal tendency toward independence means they're somewhat famous for killing their idols in that position. Hell, Barack Obama is the most progressive president this country has seen since FDR and yet many of the hardliners on the left still aren't willing to give him a break. All it would take is a couple of drone strikes by a President Sanders -- a man suddenly in the position to potentially understand the value of them -- and a deal with Congress that's nothing more than a best-he-can-do and the knives would come out, the Tweets would pile up, and cries of betrayal would echo off every flat surface in D.C.
It's worth reiterating that Bernie Sanders deserves plenty of respect -- I really like the guy -- but what he wants for the U.S., while awesome in a perfect world, is unrealistic in this one. His supporters don't see it that way, though. They're idealists who are tired of compromises and half-measures and they believe something even more potent than that is possible. But it's not, not really -- because the system, as utterly fucked-up as it is, is supposed to deliver compromises and half-measures more than straight-up victories. That's what the checks and balances are. And if Bernie were to win, he'd be in the one position in government impacted most directly by this fact. And he'd pay dearly for it as the disappointed people who once supported him so obsessively ran for the hills.