WASHINGTON – It is truly bizarre that a significant percentage (more than 30%) of potential Democratic voters are considering Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders a serious candidate for the White House. So serious that, according to the polls, he might even win in the early Iowa and New Hampshire contests.
But how is this possible? Senator Bernie Sanders is an unreconstructed, old-fashioned ultra-liberal (in fact he calls himself a socialist) who proposes silly leftist reforms, wealth redistribution via dramatic tax changes, and other pie in the sky egalitarian policies. This stuff is junk.
He does not look real
And yet Sanders is considered a legitimate contender. Nobody is laughing when his candidacy is mentioned. But they should. Indeed, if you watch Sanders on TV and listen to him, he looks like a very credible Saturday Night Live comedian impersonating the stereotype of the crazy old liberal politician ranting about injustice and the rights of the downtrodden masses.
But Sanders is not a caricature. He is real. So real that he shares the podium with Hillary Clinton, the anointed establishment candidate. And he is making life a little difficult for her. If he wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, as he may, this would embarrass Clinton.
Sanders will not win the Democratic Party nomination. I see no path to victory. But the fact is that this elderly gentleman who really looks like the crazy uncle in some old comedy show is actually taken seriously by the public and by the media covering the campaign.
Republicans have a much bigger problem
I do recognize that the Republicans have a much bigger problem when it comes to “strange” candidates. Donald Trump is not just a “curiosity”, a thorn in the side of an establishment candidate. He is actually leading among all Republicans, by wide margins. And the runner-up, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, while slightly more polished, is yet another unreliable populist.
Populists with no credible programs
So, here is the issue. A majority of the Republican and a sizable minority of the Democratic voters seem to have lost their minds. They now believe that populists with fiery oratory (this is what passes for “authenticity” these days) but no credible programs would make good presidents.
Of course, it is still very early. Nobody voted yet. Today’s high poll numbers may vanish later on. However, when so many adult Americans express full confidence in would be leaders who peddle fantasies, there is reason for concern.
The system does not work anymore
It is obvious that the established political process is not working anymore. Too many Americans feel alienated. Well, unless we really want to see bizarre outsiders in charge, the traditional political forces should do something –and quickly– to restore genuine confidence in our institutions by putting forward fresh and sound ideas that address real problems, while resonating with the millions of Americans who now feel left out.