October 11, 2019 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Time for Bernie Sanders to Quit?
He may not know when to stop.
I’ve given Bernie Sanders on occasion a pretty good drubbing here at the Editorial Board, but I have never questioned his character. No matter how much I disagreed with his policy choices (well, only one policy, actually), and no matter how much his critics decried him, I never thought he had anything but good-faith intentions.
But now that he’s suffered a heart attack on the campaign trail at the age of 78, and now that he insists on continuing to campaign though it may be his undoing, I have to wonder about the senator’s state of mind. It’s one thing to say that, “I have one life to live and that I’m going to fight for what I believe it until the day I die.” It’s another thing to say, however, that, “I’m going to die soon so I may as well die fighting.”
Is he going to make a point until his heart gives out or is he going to kill himself to make a point? Is his campaign about his ideas or his ego? The longer this goes one, the harder it will be to tell where the greater good ends and vanity begins. What’s the difference between Bernie the Revolutionary and Bernie the Nihilist? As long as he avoids the subject of dropping out of the race, it’s reasonable to ask such questions.
What’s the difference between Bernie the Revolutionary and Bernie the Nihilist?
As I said, I’ve taken umbrage with Sanders. On policy, I said he was wrong to vote in the 2000s to protect gun manufacturers from tort claims. On staffing, he was wrong to hire a bomb-thrower as his communications manager. On politics, I said he was wrong to remain an independent. On strategy, he was wrong to attack the Democratic Party in his bid for the party’s nomination. (I also think he was wrong to dismiss, or even ridicule, allegations that the Russian government aided his 2016 campaign even as it prosecuted a long-planned cyberwar against his then-rival, Hillary Clinton.)
But none of these arguments were meant to disqualify. I love his politics, more or less, especially his effort to bring the idea, if perhaps not the reality, of Medicare for All to the mainstream. I will always be grateful for his revealing in 2016 that the Democratic Party had been moving leftward since at least 2004. And I still believe nearly all of the candidates now running for the Democratic Party’s nomination would make decent presidents. That includes Sanders. As I said, pick a Dem; (nearly) any Dem will do.
Moreover, his age never bothered me. I figured if Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren can campaign, why not Sanders? (Biden is 76 and Warren is 70.) I didn’t see much to quibble about age-wise as long as all three of them were in reasonably good health.
But things are different now. No one can reasonably claim a 78-year-old man who just suffered a heart attack is in reasonably good health. And no one can claim that such a man who continues to keep a breath-taking pace on the trail is campaigning responsibly. It’s not fair to followers. It’s not fair to donors. It’s not fair to the country.
He’s earned his place in history. His “revolution” has deep and broad roots in the electorate.
To be sure, others have campaigned despite heart conditions. The most conspicuous example is probably Dwight Eisenhower. He had a massive coronary at the end of his first term. He won a second term, anyway. But Eisenhower was an incumbent. There was no way he wasn’t going to run again. Sanders, however, doesn’t have to run. He’s earned his place in history. His “revolution” has deep and broad roots in the electorate. There are plenty of people equally capable of being the next Democratic president.
Which brings me back to Warren.
She’s his ideological twin. Polls show he’s losing ground to her. She seems to defy age. She runs to audiences waiting for her, and she stands for hours taking selfies. She’s getting more attention from voters, donors and the press. She’s dominating the “lane” Sanders used to own. She’s bringing to the masses pretty much the same message (though they differ significantly on foreign policy). So the longer Sanders campaigns in poor health, the more it tends to look like sour grapes. Again: Is this about his ideas or his ego? If it’s ideas, they will live long and prosper in a Warren administration.
It may be that Sanders can’t tell the difference between himself and his “revolution,” and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I think it’s healthy to have such faith in oneself in order to realize the impossible (i.e., winning). The problem will come if and when it’s clear Sanders can’t win the Democratic nomination but keeps going anyway, bringing everyone down with him, even perhaps giving a lift to Donald Trump.
Is this about his ideas or his ego?
We may not know until it’s too late.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.
Warren is not Sanders’ twin. And are you really telling the millions of grassroots $ supporters they’re all wrong and should be ageist 5 months before the first primary? He’s the driving ideological voice of the party; for better or worse he’s built up Warren’s legitimacy and will probably contribute to Biden’s fall (about time). Let voters decide. In retrospect I was wrong to jump on the McCain cancer health risk when he ran. I’m not a doctor. People have heart attacks, strokes and other nasty episodes and then long happy lives. I want an exchange of ideas in this primary, not a whittling down of candidates based on age and perceived health risks. I’m sorry but you’re just wrong here.
Hi Matt please don’t apologize for disagreeing with me! These are very strong points. JS
This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot since the news broke. I can see why he won’t and that he’s likely literally choosing this hill to die on while I don’t really agree I can’t blame him overmuch. Given how the last election shook out. Simply, he’s put too much in and gotten too close to stop at this point.
To be utterly, heartlessly pragmatic while he’s not in my top three picks I would accept him as president but I’d be looking very closely at his VP and expecting them to likely take over at one point or another. Which would effectively undermine him as I doubt I’m the only one that thought is going to occur to regardless if it comes to pass or not. We’re going to need all the stability we can get trying to somehow undo even a little of this mess and if folks are worried if he’ll be healthy enough to actually lead during what promises to be a very hectic and stressful time. It just seems… wasteful for him to continue on this path. If he continued his work as a senator I would applaud him but as commander-in-chief, I cannot.
The pragmatist in me simply says that is a risk I believe we can ill afford at this time.
I’m right there will you Celia. He could end up making a difficult situation more difficult, and when what? It’s hard to say.
Bernie looks closer to 90 than he does to 80.