Politics & Policy

Bernie Sanders, King of Dysfunction Junction

Sanders campaigns in Appleton, Wisc., March 2016 (Reuters photo: Mark Kauzlarich)
A broken Democratic party hasn’t stopped feeling the Bern.

Poor Tom Perez. The new chair of the Democratic National Committee just can’t catch a break. It’s quite heart-wrenching, really: On his new cross-country “unity tour” with socialist superstar Bernie Sanders, he’s even been pelted with boos.

Perez is so desperate, he’s tossing out bad words: “Those Republican leaders and President Trump don’t give a sh** about the people they’re trying to hurt,” he cried at a rally in Maine. The line earned muted, perhaps even embarrassed, applause. Later, with yeoman-like dedication, Perez went back to the well: Republicans “call it a skinny budget! I call it a sh***y budget!”

Oh dear.

Apparently, “when they go low, we go high” didn’t sell: Visit the Democratic National Committee’s website, and you’ll find the s-word proudly emblazoned on a $30 T-shirt, praising Democrats for supposedly giving a you-know-what about people. Presumably, Democrats wearing said T-shirt in public don’t give a you-know-what about the parents of enthusiastic small children who recently learned to read things like bad words on T-shirts out loud — but tomato, tomahto.

Welcome to today’s Democratic party, where dysfunction reigns — and fittingly, the wacky, melancholy Bernie Sanders, who refuses to even call himself a Democrat, is king.

To be fair, there is something truly majestic about a Bernie speech: The intensity, the deadpan delivery, and the fleeting impression that the senator is actually clinging to the lectern for safety, lest he slowly collapse into some invisible cavern of quicksand gurgling right below his feet. As he barks through a break-the-bank socialist laundry list, his hands occasionally float through the air, with loose jabs accompanying random syllables — the last two of “administration”; the first three of “irresponsible.” His ideology is a political cough drop, long-expired, crusty, and found at the bottom of your great-grandmother’s purse, right next to some equally old butter crackers secretly squirreled away from the local all-you-can eat buffet.

But to millions of Americans, he is a hero. His new podcast, The Bernie Sanders Show, hit the No. 2 spot on the iTunes charts in its first week. A new Harvard-Harris survey reveals that he is the most popular politician in the country, earning favorable marks from 57 percent of registered voters. Among Democrats, his favorability hits 80 percent. (Interestingly, just two-thirds of Republicans view the senator negatively, leading one to wonder whether the other third never heard him opine about how there are too many different brands of deodorant.)

Bernie’s impressive poll numbers, reports The Hill, “could buoy a potential 2020 presidential run.” Drumroll, please: Yes, ladies and gentlemen, things are that bad. A 75-year-old socialist who once literally honeymooned in the USSR is the brave new face of the Democratic party. America, it is apparent, has not suffered enough.

This is all quite weird, is it not? Following the painful and otherworldly election of 2016, after all, it seemed reasonable to assume that Berniemania would fade. Throughout the months in which many Americans desperately searched under their mental couch cushions for Anyone but These Two, the Bernie craze was at least somewhat understandable: He was the anti-Hillary.

Clinton was the candidate hand-picked by the establishment, cold and aloof, dogged by ties to big banks and shadowy interests. If Sanders looked like a guy who occasionally shakes his fist at oblivious clouds, well, at least he seemed to mean what he said.

The radical transformation Sanders seeks is surprisingly hard to pin down.

But now, the electoral dust has settled, the crying is almost over (Oh, who am I kidding? It will probably never be over!), and Bernie is still rallying for socialism, as enthusiastic as ever. “Our job is to radically transform the Democratic party,” he declared at the same Maine rally where Perez unrolled his unfortunate S-bombs. Bernie, however, earned enthusiastic whistles and applause from the crowd.

(This raises an important question: Who on earth would take time out of his day to attend a Bernie Sanders rally? Rest assured, my mystification is nonpartisan: I’m always slightly astounded that well-adjusted people would willingly participate in what are essentially multi-hour advertisements for various politicians. For sheer educational and entertainment value, I can think of at least five dozen better ways to spend one’s time, including a goat rodeo.)

The radical transformation Sanders seeks is surprisingly hard to pin down, but the increasingly popular idea that drives him and his fans is clear: In their minds, government is and should be the primary solution to every single problem in the world.

“What kind of morals do these people have?” he booms, questioning Republican spending cuts as supporters nod in solemn approval. Government spending, of course, does not always relate to “morals,” and “progressive” policies often fail to help the poor in rather disastrous ways. But no matter: They’re rolling, people. Buckle up, and get ready to feel the Bern.

— Heather Wilhelm is a National Review columnist and a senior contributor to the Federalist.

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