“You can’t always get what you want”
The Rolling Stones
A few words in defense of pragmatism.
That ideal has taken quite a beating lately, mostly at the hands of Bernie Sanders and his supporters. The Vermont senator faces a virtually impossible deficit in his battle with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. Pragmatism would seem to suggest it’s time for him to pack it in.
But pragmatism don’t know Bernie. Or Bernie Nation.
If this weren’t clear before, it has been made abundantly so in the last two weeks, beginning with Sanders supporters in Las Vegas tearing open the Nevada Democratic convention in a protest so angrily chaotic it was shut down by security, fearing violence. But Sanders supporters weren’t done yet; they also sent death threats to party officials.
The proximate cause of this Trumpish behavior was a dispute over rules, a claim that, as Sanders’ campaign manager put it, the convention had been “hijacked” to award more delegates to Hillary Clinton. Politico rated that false.
Not that this has made much difference to Sanders, now locked in battle with the party he ostensibly seeks to lead. His denunciation of the convention chaos was as tepid and belated as Donald Trump at his worst. He has blasted the party for being, as he sees it, in the pocket of the rich, and specifically denounced Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. In a Monday interview, Sanders told the Associated Press that this summer’s convention will be “messy,” though he later insisted that was not a tacit suggestion of violence.
Given the intensity of the emotions at play and the behavior of his supporters in Vegas, it’s hard to see how it could have been anything but. Which is disappointing. A few days ago, Sanders’ campaign seemed headed for an honorable legacy. But he has apparently decided instead upon a legacy of peevishness and sore losing, which is, as Frank Bruni noted a few weeks back in the New York Times, a hallmark of this political epoch.
Look: There is something to be said, under certain circumstances, for fighting to the last breath. Under certain circumstances, it is noble to stand one’s ground, come what may. Under certain circumstances, it might even be heroic to soldier on past the point of defeat.
These are not those circumstances. Trump awaits. And every second the left spends arguing with itself is a gift to the presumptive Republican nominee.
Let’s not get it twisted. For all that some people now seek to normalize him and his campaign, for all that they fool themselves into thinking he wouldn’t be so bad, for all that a party once appalled to find him its leader now coalesces behind him, Trump is still what he’s always been: a tire fire in an expensive suit.
Yes, Clinton is, putting it mildly, a flawed candidate, stiff at the lectern, shameless in her pandering and disliked for reasons both substantive (she sometimes seems to have only a nodding relationship with truth) and not. (Since when is it a sin — or a surprise — for a politician to be ambitious?) But she’s also intelligent and experienced. And compared to Trump, she’s a plate of Lincoln with a side of FDR.
As such, she might make a good president, might be a middling president, might even be a bad president, but at a minimum, she would be a president unlikely to hand out nuclear weapons like party favors or require customs agents to ask would-be visitors, “Are you now or have you ever been a Muslim?”
Clinton is, in other words, a good, pragmatic choice. And no, that’s not an inspiring battle cry.
But a reality-show buffoon unburdened by knowledge, decency or dignity is closing in on the White House. We should probably take a little inspiration from that.