In politics, there are some unknowables. Frontrunner status can be a curse. Just look at Hillary Clinton. She was the anointed one until Barack Obama came along. Then she received a huge challenge from Bernie Sanders, who I have interviewed so many times I’ve lost count.
The wife of a hugely popular former president, Clinton was political royalty. She was paid by the inside big corporations; she was bigger than big. Then Sanders came along, a Jewish socialist born in Brooklyn. In his early years, he had spent time on a Kibbutz when Israel was still clinging to a socialist ideology.
He went to Vermont where he improbably said things that people, usually Democrats, had been waiting to hear. Things like supporting free college education to fulfill the American credo of equal opportunity. Slowly, like The Little Engine That Could, he kept on moving forward. The Clinton people did everything they could to bring him down but like a great prizefighter, he stuck to his guns. “Bust up the banks,” became a rallying cry. Even the liberal greats like The New York Times saw the danger in Bernie. They wanted an even break for people but this was scary — this was too much.
Then a funny thing happened. With very few exceptions, one politician after another lined up for Clinton. The newspapers endorsed her but when the pollsters reported in, it turned out that young people were “Feeling the Bern.” It didn’t stop there; the Bernie-ites were taking no prisoners; they were getting mean. I would talk to them on my call in public radio shows and they were not kidding around. They were angry. They hated the insider’s game that is our politics and, in fact, Bernie had the same appeal to them that outsider Donald Trump was showing to the Republicans, wreaking the same havoc to the establishment.
A great many Bernie supporters would tell me that they would NOT vote for Hillary if she ended up as the presidential candidate, no matter how hard I argued with them that there were difficult choices to be made. Not voting for Hillary, if she were to be the nominee, would result in an even more conservative Supreme Court. But a lot of the Bernie people didn’t care. This was a passionate campaign and a chance to set things in America right. The same old arguments didn’t change young people’s minds. They couldn’t get jobs; they couldn’t survive in a bloated world that was keeping them out. The bankers had to be held responsible for the damage they had done.
Bernie stepped into mine field. All of a sudden, the Jewish man was taking on Israel and suggesting that things were not fair. Older Jewish people like me were not convinced. The militant Arabs had made it clear that they wanted to push Israel into the sea and they hadn’t changed their tune. Oh, I voted for Bernie but not without personal reservations.
The polls were interesting. They kept suggesting that Bernie would do better against the Republicans than Hillary would. I assumed that was because the Republicans knew, probably correctly, that Hillary would end up being the candidate and concentrated their fire on her.
Hillary and her surrogates kept their cool. The Democratic “super delegates,” the party insiders including some of the most commendable and liberal among them, were almost Hillary supporters so she couldn’t lose. As she roared into the New York primary she was way ahead but her lead kept dwindling down. It was all about turnout, said Bernie. If the kids turned out he would win. It is an axiom of politics that kids don’t turn out. Maybe, just maybe, the stakes would be so high that they would this time. If they did, America would have seen the unthinkable — a peaceful revolution. Of course, the kids didn’t turn out in large enough numbers.