“And now, the end is near, and so I face the final curtain.”
Those are, of course, the opening lyrics to Frank Sinatra’s immortal recording of “My Way.” They are also a succinct description of the state of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.
Last week, the candidate announced he was laying off hundreds of staff members after a series of bruising primary losses to Hillary Clinton. She increased her lead in the delegate count and Sanders, who was already walking a narrow pathway to the Democratic nomination, now walks a high wire in a high wind.
Though the campaign spun the layoffs as forward-leaning strategy, it was difficult not to read them as a tacit acknowledgment that “the Bern” has all but burned out. Indeed, Sanders has begun to openly ponder – though he still rejects – the idea of losing.
It may not be over yet, but the fat lady is running the scales. Now, how to break that to Bernie Nation?
Once in a while, a politician leads not a campaign, but a movement. Think Obama in 2008, Reagan in 1980, Bobby Kennedy in 1968, John in 1960. Such candidates catch the Zeitgeist in a bottle. They have not voters, but believers, receive not support, but faith. That’s Sanders in a nutshell.
Small wonder people love him. He has spoken against the corporate hijacking of American government and dreams. And he has pulled the Democratic Party back toward progressive values of which the party has seemed vaguely ashamed ever since the Reagan tsunami rendered “liberal” a four-letter word.
But Sanders is not going to win the Democratic nomination. As this sinks in, many of his believers are declaring their intent to boycott the fall election. A recent McClatchy-Marist poll tells us that 1 in 4 citizens of Bernie Nation will refuse to support Hillary Clinton if she is nominated.
It was recently suggested on “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore” that this may not be the smartest strategy in an election where the specter of a Donald Trump presidency looms. In response, Sanders believer Susan Sarandon invoked John F. Kennedy – “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
“This was our peaceful revolution,” she warned.
On the same program, comedian Mike Yard said, “People that supported Bernie are not people that play the game. They’re not afraid to blow (expletive) up. Maybe we need to blow this (expletive) up.”
They sound like Republicans did in 2008 and 2012.
They sound like the kid who snatches his ball and storms out of the park after losing a game.
But worse than churlish and childish, they sound Cruz-ish, as in Ted, who is hugely unpopular not just for his harshly conservative ideology, but even more for his hard-line absolutism, his willingness to drive the nation off a cliff rather than bend. He, too, is unafraid “to blow (expletive) up.” Wasn’t that the takeaway from 2013’s disastrous government shutdown and multiple iterations of the manufactured debt ceiling crisis?
It comes, then, to this. The extreme left now mirrors the extreme right, each reflecting the anger and unbending rigidity of the other. And the idea that politics is the art of compromise, where everybody gets something but nobody gets everything, seems a lost artifact from a distant age.
How ironic that the Sanders campaign, conducted mostly on the high ground of ideas and ideals, descends to cries of boycott and even revolution as it nears its end. Granted, nobody likes to lose. But the loss was fair and square and those citizens of Bernie Nation who can’t deal with that, who want to opt out of the system or take up arms against it, should be ashamed of themselves. One feels sorry for them.
The nomination is the least of what they’ve lost.
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald.
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