The illusion of unelectability

Bernie Sanders, unelectable as always, drew nearly 3,000 supporters to his August 21 rally in Greenville. Republican frontrunner Donald Trump’s rally held at the same facility one week later drew less than half that number.

Me:  It sounds like you’re voting for Sanders, then, am I right?

Pragmatist: No, no. God, no.

Me: Wow, so I totally misunderstood what you were saying just now, because it really did sound like …

Pragmatist: Oh, you heard right. I agree with 99% of what he’s saying. I just don’t think he’s electable.

The Nader effect is referenced at this point, the quixotic pointlessness of “voting your conscience,” the assumption that a vote for Sanders would be tantamount to voting for the Republican nominee.

Me: Why do you say he’s unelectable? His rallies attract record-breaking crowds (Boston, Portland, Los Angeles, etc.). He’s leading by significant margins in Iowa and New Hampshire. His national poll numbers have been rising steadily and recent polls show him outperforming not only Clinton, but most Republican candidates in a general election. And how about social media? On Facebook, he’s the Democratic frontrunner by almost 150,000 followers. (1,639,598 to Clinton’s 1,491,924 at the time of this writing)

Pragmatist: Yes, but he’s a socialist. The Republicans would have a field day with that if he became the nominee.

I tell the pragmatist about the $1.2 million blowback that Sanders raised in two days as the direct result of a pro-Clinton super PAC trying to paint him as a Hugo Chavez-loving nogoodnik. Moreover, I say, Sanders is a democratic socialist, but the pragmatist isn’t interested in subcategory nuances.

Pragmatist: Whatever he calls himself, it takes a lot more money than that to get elected.

Granted, I say, but Sanders raised $26 million this quarter to Clinton’s $28 million, despite the fact that she’d held nearly eight times as many fundraisers. And remember, he got into this race only five months ago. His fundraising total represents 650,000 individual donations, more than any other candidate’s head count.

The pragmatist is unmoved.

I tell him that according to the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll of registered voters nationally, Sanders is now within 7 points of Clinton. Even aggregate polling numbers place him within 16 points, and Clinton’s name recognition has been over 20 years in the making. By comparison, Sanders’ rise in popularity is traveling at the speed of light while hers is traveling in reverse.

The pragmatist looks down, chuckles, wags his head. Clearly, I’m missing something.

Me: By what measure is he unelectable, then? Not polling data, not trend, not size of donor base, not social media, not rally attendance, what? All these numbers point to voter turnout overwhelmingly in his favor. How is he not electable?

Pragmatist: Hillary Clinton is the only viable Democratic candidate. There’s no way around it.

It is what it is because it is what it is.

I ask the pragmatist what it would take to convince him that Bernie Sanders is electable, but he waves me away. He’s out of patience. To him, a Sanders victory, in either the primary or the general election, is inconceivable. It’s a pipe dream. A fantasy.

But the real fantasy, dear reader, the illusion if you will, is the one that’s being promulgated by mainstream media. And before you roll your eyes, before you call me a conspiracy theorist (which I certainly am, but please stand by), I invite you to visit a few mainstream media outlets online and gauge relative coverage by searching their landing pages for these surnames: Clinton, Sanders, Trump and Biden. That is to say, the media-annointed nominee, the fast-closing “insurgent,” the reality television star, and the man who isn’t running, but who the mainstream media wishes were doing so.

This morning’s tallies are typical:

  • Trump 5, Biden 5, Clinton 4, Sanders 1 (in the context of a link to an article about Biden)
  • Clinton 4, Trump 3, Biden 1, Sanders 0
  • Clinton 8, Trump 3, Biden 2, Sanders 0

Perhaps the most telling example I can offer, however, is the Times political page: Clinton 18, Trump 14, Biden 5, Sanders 5. Two of Sanders’ references are in the context of Clinton coverage, and one in the context of an article about Biden. Again, Biden isn’t even running.

This is how the illusion of Sanders’ unelectability is being fed to people like my pragmatist friend, people who tend not to dig beyond the links provided by their news sites of choice. They’re the same people who assume that mainstream media exposure is a reliable indicator of what’s worth knowing. They assume that it’s a reflection of what’s important, of what’s real.

And they’re going to persist in that assumption, no matter what their eyes and their ears tell them, because self-directed learning is hard.

And life is hard enough already, isn’t it?

Yes it is.

So please turn out the lights, honey, and come to bed. We have an early day tomorrow.