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.