Every time I've written about Bernie Sanders there are two things I've been sure to mention. The first is that no matter how you feel about him, he stands almost no chance whatsoever of becoming the Democratic nominee, let alone President of the United States. The delegate math is simply too prohibitive and always has been and if he were to somehow be the beneficiary of an epic campaign miracle, the Republicans would savage him in the general election, turning his "democratic socialism" into pure, un-American Marxism. And if you don't think their attacks would work, you're either a political neophyte or you're hopelessly naive. As for the second thing, it's a disclaimer and it has to do with who I believed Bernie Sanders to be as a person and a politician. Put simply, I've always made it clear that I liked and respected Sanders and found his vision to be a noble one. Despite the sometimes blind outrage behind his lifelong obsession with wealth inequality, he struck me as a fundamentally decent man. That's how I used to feel, anyway.
While I've dedicated more than enough copy space here to attacking Bernie Sanders's most fervent disciples, criticizing their fanaticism, irrationality and political nihilism, I've for the most part avoided saying anything negative about Sanders himself. But here's the thing: We're now well past the point where Bernie Sanders needs to share responsibility for what his supporters are doing and saying. When he entered the presidential race last year, he promised a different kind of campaign from a different kind of leader. He went to great lengths to cast himself a moral man fighting not for himself but for the benefit of those he wanted to make his constituents. He said he'd always take the high road and would avoid underhanded attacks and character assassination. Granted, his slew of angry little myrmidons has never been inclined to be so dignified, seeing as how they've spent months burning up the internet in the attempt to cast Hillary Clinton as evil incarnate, but the past couple of weeks have shown us that their mindless vitriol may have, since day one, been sanctioned by Sanders himself. At the very least, this supposedly moral man is more than happy to look the other way while his acolytes and surrogates behave atrociously, likely because now that it's become obvious he's not going to win, the gloves, I suppose, must come off.
But that's not how it should be at this point. As Paul Krugman pointed out in The New York Times last week, in a column he was predictably vilified for by Sanders's army of True Believers -- which descends like locusts on any published act of apostasy -- now that Sanders is staring down the barrel of political extinction he should be cranking down the negativity rather than ramping it up. What he definitely shouldn't be doing is taking a scorched earth approach to the Democratic party and fueling the fires of disunity. But then again, maybe it shouldn't be surprising that he's engaging in and encouraging lies and distortions against Clinton given that no one should've been under any illusions that Sanders was ever a fan of the Democratic party. He was more than happy to exploit the party's infrastructure and vast resources to help propel his candidacy to legitimacy, but never forget that he spent years before that barely tolerating the Democrats as he accused them of simply being the flip side of the same corrupt establishment coin as the Republicans. Want to know why the Democratic superdelegates aren't siding with Sanders and why nothing short of a last minute rout -- which he won't get -- will lead them to flip on Clinton? Because Bernie Sanders isn't a Democrat.
When you consider this -- that Sanders hijacked a party he doesn't even much like for entirely self-serving reasons -- and he's perfectly fine with his surrogates leveling out-of-bounds attacks via insinuation of "Wall Street corruption" and with his supporters going on rampages against even good faith opposition, Sanders begins to look less like someone taking the moral high ground and more like, well, Donald Trump. An egomaniac. A spoiler. A boilerplate bully. No, as of yet Sanders's acolytes haven't physically hurt anyone, but their manic devotion to their candidate has created an ugly atmosphere and physical violence isn't the only way to behave thuggishly. Just ask some of those Democratic superdelegates, who claim to now be on the receiving end of harassment and threats, often tinged with misogyny, aimed at getting them to change their votes over to Sanders. (Again, that's not going to happen, and if anyone doing this thinks it's the best way to get someone to look upon Sanders as a more favorable choice, they're obviously out-to-lunch.) Between that and Sanders's own insinuation that his campaign might seek to subvert the will of the voters when it comes time for the superdelegates to throw in their votes -- poaching from states he didn't even win, which he once decried as undemocratic -- and we have an election cycle dominated by the extremes on both the right and the left.
The most obvious problem with this for the Democrats is that Bernie Sanders is doing the job of Republican strategists for them. His campaign was always a problem to some extent given that he's running against the policies and progress achieved by Barack Obama, a sitting Democrat in the White House -- all because Obama doesn't pass Sanders's rigid standards of ideological purity -- but lately he's given the Republicans an easy means of attacking Hillary Clinton. Wittingly or unwittingly, he and his supporters are now allies in the GOP's war against Clinton. Since the beginning of the campaign, the Republicans tried to exploit Sanders's venom for "the establishment" and Clinton as a means of getting the left to turn against the candidate they most feared having to face -- and as time has gone on, that kind of "ratfucking" has paid big dividends. It doesn't take much to get the far-left to go into a fusillade of attacks against Clinton given that the "Bernie or Bust" crowd has already turned this election less into an opportunity to vote for Sanders than a giant referendum on Clinton's alleged misdeeds. Had Sanders stuck to his initial promise about not going negative, maybe the damage could be mitigated. But he let his most frenzied fans off the leash and now joins them in assaulting Clinton on issues he has to know are garbage.
Look, Bernie Sanders is in a presidential race and regardless of his lofty self-regard -- bested only by the idol worship of his fanatical supporters -- there's an argument to be made that he can't be blamed for doing what it takes to win. An article in Sunday's New York Times implies that Sanders's campaign managers pushed for him to take it to Clinton over her personal e-mail server and her "ties to Wall Street" earlier in the process but that Sanders shot that down. The problem is that that same piece also makes it clear that his tone actually has changed recently and we're at a point in the campaign where the fiery invective engaged in by the Sanders camp, its firebrand surrogates like Rosario Dawson and Tim Robbins, and of course its supporters could permanently damage the presumptive Democratic nominee. Of course, for some that's exactly the idea. Like Sanders, many of his far-left disciples see the Democratic party as no better than the Republican party. They see them both as the corrupt "establishment," which should to any thinking individual invalidate their opinions entirely. To claim at this point that the Democrats and Republicans are the same is to dive head-first into laughable delusion.
The math has been laid out so often by so many objective sources that it's almost not worth it to reiterate the nearly impossible series of events that would need to happen for Bernie Sanders to overtake Hillary Clinton and win the Democratic nomination. Unlike Donald Trump, Sanders is well behind the 8-ball and so his insurgent "revolution" isn't going to in any way come to fruition. But in order for his campaign to have any positive impact at all, its legacy has to be one of unassailable integrity. That's a built-in defect with crusades like Sanders's: If they can't win they have to be paragons of virtue. But Sanders's campaign is insurgent; like Trump for the Republicans, it's a war of ultimate destruction being waged against the Democratic party from inside its own gates. And like Trump, it's being led by someone promising his particular fringe to turn the country into its utopian ideal. But in Sanders's case, he's making empty promises because he'd never get his proposals past an obstructionist opposition Congress (and he certainly doesn't have a coherent plan for trying to, leaving him to spout it'll-happen-because-I-want-it-to nonsense of the Trump variety). In that sense, his campaign is the worst thing it can be: unrealistic.
But that hardly matters at this point given that the race is all but over. All that's left now is for Sanders to decide if he really wants to go down flailing wildly and angrily, which in this particular election season, fairly or not, will get him lumped by history into the extremist outsider rebellion with Trump. I have to imagine Sanders doesn't want that. But then again, now that the end is pretty much here and Sanders and his people are still wailing into the darkness, who knows what he's thinking anymore.