Few people thought that Bernie Sanders would still be giving Hillary Clinton fits six weeks into the primary season. That is, except his supporters, who have anointed him with a messianic status not seen on the political since…well, only eight years ago with a guy by the name of Barack Obama. But as similarly inspiring as the messages of the young upstart from Illinois and the older man from Vermont were and are, 2016 is not 2008 despite a common foe — Hillary Clinton — and the difference that eight years makes is why Obama succeeded and Sanders will not.
That is a bitter pill for the foot soldiers in Sanders’ young army to swallow. But all is not fair in war as in love, and to mix another metaphor, times change but Clinton has not: She is the ultimate establishment Democratic candidate — a deeply knowledgeable and battle-scarred veteran able to seem liberal or moderate depending upon the occasion, and an accomplished debater with a substantial war chest and sophisticated campaign organization. And just enough seemingly fresh new ideas to not seem ossified compared to Sanders.
The differences between 2008 and 2016 are sizable even if Sanders is facing pretty much the same Clinton as did Obama. After eight dark years of Bush and Cheney, and an unnecessary war and a crippling recession, voters were thirsting for change, and Obama promised to deliver it. All things considered, he has, even if Washington changed Obama more than he changed Washington.
Obama has implemented far-reaching reforms in a dysfunctional health-care system, raised school academic standards, legislated pay parity for women, revolutionized the way we produce energy through harnessing renewable resources, fought back against global warming, taken on the epidemic of childhood obesity with his First Lady, provided deportation relief to young immigrants, legalized same-sex marriage and opened new opportunities for women and gays in the military,saved the domestic auto industry, has added nearly four million jobs, reduced unemployment to 5 percent and the deficit by two thirds to a puny 2.5 percent of GDP, engineered egalitarian tax reforms and eliminated the most usurious of credit card abuses, while today the U.S. is an island of relative calm amid the global financial crisis. He also took out Osama bin Laden, isolated Vladimir Putin, normalized relations with Cuba, stabilized relations with Iran and ended the war in Iraq. And his administration has been remarkably scandal free once you discount the innumerable faux scandals ginned up by Republicans.
That is the record that Clinton is running on and Sanders cannot run on if he is to be the anti-Hillary. And even if Washington remains a cesspool, the anti-Hillary’s promises to inspire a “political revolution” ring hollow.
Asked to be specific about his revolution will be carried out, which is something Sanders has been notably reluctant to do, his stock reply is that “The only way we can take on the right-wing Republicans, the only way we can get things done is by having millions of people come together.”
Thanks for the pablum, Bern’.
And now for the first part of that cold shower: In 2008, Obama helped Democrats win 255 seats in the House and 56 seats in the Senate. Despite an absence of Republican support, the young president did get Congress to pass an ambitious stimulus package, health-care reform and a host of smaller but still important laws. The circumstances would be much worse were Sanders to be elected even if Democrats manage to eke out a Senate majority.
There is nothing in Sanders’ stump speechifying or own history to suggest that he will succeed with obdurate, governing-resistant Republicans where Obama has repeatedly failed, and it is important to remember that Obama’s first-term accomplishments were because he had the support of every Democrat in a majority Democratic Senate, including centrists like Joe Lieberman and Evan Bayh, who pushed him toward a political middle that sometimes made a mockery of the Hope and Change mantra. Sanders would have to similarly capitulate if he were to accomplish anything, and so Washington would yet again remake a newly-minted president.
As for the second part of that cold shower: Sanders’ primary victories in nine of the 22 states contested so far, most notably his upset win in Michigan on Tuesday, have been salutatory and pushed Clinton further leftward than she would have gone if she had been able to sent packing a 74-year-old socialist. And her penchant for going negative — as in falsely equating Sanders’ 2008 vote against a bailout bill as a vote against the auto industry — backfired on her in Michigan. Same with her ridiculous efforts to tie Sanders to the National Rifle Association.
But primaries are elections for delegates (and indirectly that strange Democratic super delegate hybrid). Primaries are not popularity contests. Clinton has amassed 1,221 delegates to Sanders’ 571, and is well on her way to capturing the 2,383 needed for the nomination, which she is likely to do in mid-April.
As the Michigan results showed, Sanders’ black support runs a little deeper — at least in Northern states — than had been supposed. He also has been helped by getting pretty much a free ride from the news media, which has not given him anywhere near the scrutiny Clinton has received. But the biggest reason for this disparity is not Clinton with her many blemishes, it is the bombastic Donald Trump, who unlike Sanders and Clinton, would rather shock than seriously address the issues and thereby keeps the attention of the sensation-hungry media.
I have written early and often that my biggest problem with Clinton is trust. She is not inevitable, but she is the best Democratic candidate and will be the best president. And make no mistake about it — she will beat a Trump or Ted Cruz, probably in a landslide of historic proportions. Sanders? I’m not so sure, but then we’ll never find out.
Recall that in 2008, Clinton did not accede to Obama until early June. I’ll give Sanders another six weeks.
Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on March 11, 2016, on Kiko’s House, a website featuring commentary by journalist and author, Shaun Mullen. It was reproduced here with the consent of Mr. Mullen.