WASHINGTON — “Enlightened statesmen,” wrote James Madison, “will not always be at the helm.” His genius extended to understatement, and until Tuesday it was approaching probable that by midnight of November’s first Tuesday, sensible Americans would be elated and distraught — elated because someone grotesquely unsuited to the presidency would have been denied that office, but distraught because such a person had won it.
Together, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump would constitute the most repulsive presidential choice in U.S history. The Democratic Party, however, is not the world’s oldest party because it fecklessly allows its presidential nomination to be grasped by someone who — let us plainly state the most important fact about Sanders — dislikes this nation.
Joe Biden has little to say that is remarkable and he says it in a remarkably meandering manner, but grant his request: Don’t compare him with the Almighty, compare him with the alternative. Florid Bernie Sanders, with his relentless, arm-waving, high-decibel depiction of America’s history and present as a sordid story of injustices, resembles the woman in the Anthony Trollope novel who scolded “frightfully, loudly, scornfully, and worse than all, continually.” Having called this country a “hellhole,” Donald Trump’s first presidential words lamented “American carnage.”
Michelangelo could see a statue in a stone. Sanders and Trump, those temperamental twins, see failure in a republic that multitudes risk death to reach. Whether Biden or Trump is inaugurated next Jan. 20 depends on whether or not Democratic primary voters complete the task of using warm patriotism and cold arithmetic to extinguish Sanders’ fantasies.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, who noted Theodore Roosevelt’s “strenuous vagueness,” would have marveled at Sanders’ pixie-dust calculations. Trump’s congressional accomplices will solemnly lecture that Sanders portends fiscal recklessness, but a nation snoozing through trillion-dollar deficits might shrug about Sanders’ indifference to multi-trillion-dollar details about his agenda. “Yeah, but I won’t be here,” was Trump’s response when someone possessing the patience of Job explained to him the unsustainable trajectory of entitlement programs. Sanders’ response probably would be similarly breezy were he informed that confiscating every dime of every billionaire would not come close to paying for his Tinkertoy approach to government: Pull apart and reassemble entire sectors of society (e.g., health care’s one-sixth of the economy). Gulliver in his travels met someone like Sanders working on “a project for extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers.”
If Sanders is not nominated, his seething core supporters, for whom indignation is as delicious as bacon (or the vegan equivalent), will not use their indoor voices or play nicely with a nominee who won fewer delegates than Sanders won before the convention. Sanders, who is nonjudgmental about Cuba’s “different value system,” has said — stay tuned — it is a high moral imperative that the convention jettison the rule that the nominee must have a majority, not a plurality, of delegates. A second convention ballot would create a second convention by infusing 771 superdelegates — elected officials and other party leaders — into the process. Excluding them from this year’s first ballot advanced the century-old progressive goal of reducing conventions to ratifying rather than deliberative bodies.
The convention will act on something made obvious by Sanders’ most telling shellackings Tuesday, in the swing states Virginia and North Carolina: With Sanders atop every ticket, down-ballot carnage probably would engulf many state legislature candidates in this census year — before 2022, some state legislatures will redraw congressional districts — which would enable Republican-controlled legislatures to disadvantage Democratic congressional candidates for a decade.
After Tom Steyer spent about $400 for each of his 61,048 South Carolina votes, Michael Bloomberg’s approximately $500 million bought this pearl beyond price: the affection of American Samoa. These redundant refutations of the theory that money can make vanity candidacies viable should calm those campaign “reformers” whose superstition is that the power of political money is such that government should regulate it (and by doing so stipulate the permissible quantity of political speech it can finance).
Sanders’ prodigious fundraising can keep him campaigning but cannot fend off the failure that certainly awaits him now that Bloomberg, by his withdrawal, has underscored Democrats’ determination to let nothing interfere with defeating Trump. So, the country soon can turn to considering this:
Biden has twice experienced an agony that has become relatively rare but until recently in the human story was commonplace, that of a parent burying a child. This might be related to his approach to politics as an arena of transactions, not of ever-impending tragedies. Such emotional maturity is a prerequisite for restoring national equilibrium.