The cam­paign that doomed Hil­lary Clin­ton

The Washington Times Daily - - EDITORIAL - By John R. Coyne Jr. John R. Coyne Jr., a for­mer White House speech­writer, is co-au­thor of “Strictly Right: Wil­liam F. Buck­ley Jr. and the Amer­i­can Con­ser­va­tive Move­ment” (Wi­ley).

OUR REV­O­LU­TION: A FU­TURE TO BE­LIEVE IN By Bernie San­ders Thomas Dunne Books, $27, 450 pages

The 2016 elec­tion year, which dragged it­self across our TV screens and dom­i­nated po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sion for what seemed a decade, is fi­nally wind­ing down. True, one strange fringe can­di­date, on the ba­sis of crack­pot pro­fes­so­rial the­o­riz­ing, plus sup­port from the still-ex­ist­ing Clin­ton cam­paign car­tel, with bar­rels of money still un­spent, is fi­nanc­ing statewide re­counts. And who knows? The 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign may yet col­lide with 2020.

But as of now, we think we know how it all came out. As a re­sult, cam­paign books are dead on ar­rival, marked for the re­main­der bin — un­less, as with this one, there’s some­thing ex­tra there. That some­thing ex­tra is Sen. Bernie San­ders and the story he tells in the first 182 pages of his life, his ca­reer, the unique 2016 cam­paign, and what it may por­tend. The sec­ond half of the book, a staff-stuffed pas­tiche of cam­paign de­tri­tus, is highly skip­pable. But his ac­count of the cam­paign, which brought out a new gen­er­a­tion of vot­ers and doomed Hil­lary Clin­ton, is well worth read­ing.

For starters, it tells us who this man who en­er­gized so many young peo­ple re­ally is — an en­thu­si­as­tic young so­cial­ist trapped in an old cur­mud­geon’s body, his ideas ba­si­cally just as fresh to him today as when he left his na­tive Brooklyn (the di­alect of which he still speaks), for the Univer­sity of Chicago, where he joined a num­ber of left­ist groups, among them the Young Peo­ple’s So­cial­ist League. Off cam­pus, he min­gled and demon­strated with the var­i­ous Chicago protest groups, al­ways in plen­ti­ful sup­ply.

He grad­u­ated in 1964, mar­ried and trav­eled ex­ten­sively, and in 1968, when his young com­rades lay siege to Chicago, re­duc­ing Hu­bert Humphrey to tear gas-in­duced tears and help­ing to elect Richard Nixon, Mr. San­ders de­camped to Ver­mont, where as a third-party can­di­date, he ran un­suc­cess­fully for gov­er­nor and U.S. sen­a­tor, and then, in 1981, was elected mayor of Burling­ton, a job to which he was re-elected three times. He be­lieves his ten­ure proved that so­cial­ism is pos­si­ble in an Amer­i­can city. (But per­haps more ac­cu­rately, it proved that al­most any form of govern­ment can prob­a­bly work in a small north­ern state with a ho­mo­ge­neous, thrifty and hard­work­ing pop­u­la­tion.)

In 1990 he was elected to the U.S House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, serv­ing for 16 years, and in 2006 to the U.S. Se­nate, where he gained na­tional at­ten­tion by fil­i­bus­ter­ing leg­is­la­tion to ex­tend the Bush tax cuts. The left­ist Na­tion pub­lished the en­tire fil­i­buster as a book. The prin­ci­ples shap­ing his fil­i­buster, he writes, were in­spired by Eu­gene V. Debs, founder of the Amer­i­can So­cial­ist Party and six-time can­di­date for pres­i­dent, whose “vi­sion of world peace, jus­tice, Democ­racy, and brother­hood, has al­ways been an in­spi­ra­tion to me.”

Through­out his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer, Sen. San­ders iden­ti­fied him­self as an In­de­pen­dent, but when he an­nounced for the pres­i­dency in 2015, he be­came a Demo­crat. The prob­lems he faced as a new-born Demo­cratic can­di­date were for­mi­da­ble.

The cam­paign mes­sage would be no prob­lem. It would be the “the same mes­sage I had been de­liv­er­ing all my life.” But through an “in­cred­i­bly un­fair sys­tem sup­ported by the Demo­cratic es­tab­lish­ment,” Hil­lary Clin­ton had al­ready locked up the votes of some 400 su­perdel­e­gates, and “re­ceived tens of mil­lions of dol­lars from lead­ing fi­nan­cial back­ers.”

“We were not just run­ning an in­sur­gent cam­paign … we were tak­ing aim at the na­tion’s en­tire po­lit­i­cal and fi­nan­cial es­tab­lish­ment. And we were run­ning against the most pow­er­ful po­lit­i­cal ma­chine in the coun­try … . The Clin­tons had, by far, the most pow­er­ful fund-rais­ing sys­tem in the Demo­cratic Party.”

But in the end, he writes, “In a man­ner un­prece­dented in Amer­i­can his­tory, we re­ceived some 8 mil­lion in­di­vid­ual cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions. The av­er­age con­tri­bu­tion was $27.” Along the way, he beat Hil­lary Clin­ton in New Hamp­shire and went on to win 22 pri­maries and cau­cuses, like Mr. Trump, draw­ing huge crowds at his speeches and ral­lies.

Gi­ant ral­lies, dis­il­lu­sion with es­tab­lish­ment can­di­dates, new vot­ers and alien­ated non-vot­ers — no armies of con­sul­tants, no gi­ant PACs, no ma­jor news­pa­per en­dorse­ments — in many ways, both the San­ders and Trump cam­paigns tap­ping into some­thing ba­sic — a vast wave of dis­con­tent com­ing from two di­rec­tions, the ide­al­is­tic kids and the alien­ated de­plorables.

Could Bernie San­ders have beaten Don­ald Trump? Could he gov­ern the na­tion ac­cord­ing to the pre­cepts of Eu­gene V. Debs? Prob­a­bly not. But he’s suc­ceeded in giv­ing us a well-writ­ten and en­ter­tain­ing ac­count of a prece­dent-set­ting cam­paign. And that’s no small achieve­ment.

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