Groucho Marx famously said he wouldn’t join any club that would have him as a member. Bernie Sanders last week turned that on its head, saying he wouldn’t remain a member of any party that wouldn’t have him as its leader.
Mr. Sanders decided to become a Democrat only last year and only so he could seek the Democratic presidential nomination. He went on to wage an energetic and occasionally entertaining campaign. In the end, which came at the Democratic National Convention last week, he endorsed Hillary Clinton. The next day, he told reporters he again considered himself an independent, not a Democrat.
His supporters, who doubtless saw that as principled rather than petulant, went on to protest more than participate in the proceedings — as Leon Panetta soon discovered. Mr. Panetta is a lifelong Democratic stalwart, a former member of Congress who served as chief of staff to President Bill Clinton and as both director of Central Intelligence and secretary of Defense under President Obama. In other words, he is someone worth listening to whether or not you agree with everything he has to say.
But when Mr. Panetta took the stage, Mr. Sanders’ supporters began chanting “No more war!” so loudly and incessantly that it became nearly impossible for him to speak or be heard. Four-star Gen. John Allen received the same treatment. So did Medal of Honor recipient Florent Groberg, who lost part of his leg in Afghanistan four years ago after tackling a suicide bomber.
It should go without saying that such behavior is rude, disrespectful and thuggish. Was it the goal of the hecklers to shut these speakers down entirely? And what substantive point were they were trying to make? That al Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Taliban are peace-loving victims of American imperialism? That those who call themselves jihadis have “legitimate grievances”? That “Death to America!” doesn’t apply to Americans who eat organic foods and oppose fracking?
The Nation magazine asserts that “Bernie Sanders and his supporters are bending the arc of history toward justice.” More plausibly, they are pulling the Democratic Party to the left — into regions where Bill Clinton, John Kennedy, Harry Truman and Franklin Roosevelt would not have set foot.
On the final day of the convention, Siobhan Hughes reported in The Wall Street Journal that, thanks in large measure to Mr. Sanders and his supporters, Democratic “centrists,” those who believe in “capitalism and compromise,” had been “keeping a low profile,” indeed that they have now become an “endangered” species in the Democratic Party generally.
She then quotes Jared Hicks, a 25-year-old delegate from Massachusetts who supports Mr. Sanders. He tells her: “Do you know how many college-grad friends I have who are suffering, who are not living the lives that they planned, that they wanted, that they were told they could have?”
Oh, the humanity! At the advanced age of 25, Mr. Hicks still does not have the life he was told (by whom?) he “could have.” The Christians and Yazidis of the Middle East, not to mention the black Muslims of Darfur, must be shedding salty tears and wondering: What kind of uncaring government stands idly by while Mr. Hicks and his “college-grad friends” are missing out on the lives they planned and wanted?
Ms. Hughes goes on to quote another “moderate” who traveled to Philadelphia to protest. “The Democratic Party is no longer for the people,” Henry Hernandez laments. “It’s for Wall Street and the establishment.” She identifies him as “a 46-year-old retired government worker from Yonkers, N.Y.”
Does your heart not bleed? If the leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties had even a modicum of Bernie Sanders’ concern for economic and social justice, wouldn’t such government workers be able to retire at 40 or maybe 35 or how about 30? After that, they’d of course receive pensions and health care for life as well as child care and college tuition, should their progeny require it.
All that and more would be free — or, more precisely, all that and more would be paid for by “Wall Street and the establishment” — until it turns out that there isn’t sufficient money in those pockets. Then working stiffs in the private sector would just have to turn over to the government a larger percentage of their salaries. To paraphrase George Orwell: All working people are equal, but some working people — such as government workers who retire in their 40s — are more equal than others.
On the basis of this and other evidence, I am here to tell you that Mr. Sanders’ supporters are not, as some imagine, romantic idealists. Many are ignorant, naive, selfish and whiny. As for Mr. Sanders, he is not Don Quixote as portrayed by Larry David, the curmudgeonly star of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
Mr. Sanders has praised such repressive regimes as Castro’s Cuba and the Soviet-backed Sandinistas in Nicaragua. In recent years, Venezuela, a nation with enormous natural and human resources, has been impoverished — if not destroyed — by socialist policies. What does Mr. Sanders have to say about that? Go to the Feelthebern.org website and here’s what you’ll find: “Bernie brokered a deal with Venezuela to provide discounted heating oil to low-income families in Vermont.”
In less than a month, Mr. Sanders will be 75. This campaign was likely his last hurrah. But his supporters are mostly young. That suggests they will be a force in American politics for years to come, pushing for socialism at home and appeasement of America’s enemies abroad. Moderate Democrats, those who understand that such policies are hazardous to the nation’s health, should be confronting, not coddling, the Sanderistas.
• Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for The Washington Times.