Boomer, Hold Thy Tongue

Fellow baby boomers – would it be too much to ask you to stop hurting the chances of the presidential candidate you say you agree with? The candidate I’m talking about is, of course, Bernie Sanders. And the particular boomers I speak of are the ones who opposed the Iraq War, who want to reverse the trend toward greater income inequality, who believe in increased rather than reduced Social Security benefits, etc., but live in the thrall of the Great Fear.

One of the more recent iterations of the Great Fear argument appeared in a New York Times opinion piece, “Bernie Sanders Has Already Won the Democratic Primary.” Not wishing to bite the hand that pats me on the head, I welcome the article’s recognition that the Sanders campaign is not only right on the issues, but has also been a transformational force shaping the very nature of this year’s debate. What I do not welcome, however, is its contention that Sanders can’t win the election – and Joe Biden can.

Since the belief in Sanders’s unelectability is, for the most part, not evidence-based – it’s certainly not based on past poll results, for instance – the arguments for it do tend to run thin. In this case, the article’s primary evidence is the failure of three Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez-type candidates in Super Tuesday primaries. But there are better places to find an explanation of the source of the reservations about the electability of Sanders, specifically my boomer peers who, for better or worse, do tend to be more forthright on the topic. They’re often quite clear that the reason is the Great Fear of socialism.

Before going further, may I suggest a thought experiment? Imagine two different presidential debate scenarios: Sanders-Trump and Biden-Trump. If you’ve watched the Democratic debates thus far and come out of them feeling more confident about the second match-up, then you need not read any further. If not, please read on – if not for yourself, maybe for a friend, since the argument that Sanders can’t win is seldom advanced in terms of what people themselves think, but rather what other people are thought to think.

That is to say, one rarely runs into voters who say they agree with Sanders on the issues and then turn around and say, “But I’m against electing a socialist.” No, usually it runs more like, “I like Sanders myself, but (other) people just won’t vote for a socialist.” This, of course, is a line of argument that has been advanced against the electability of candidates from any number of social groups over the years.

By now, we’re all familiar with the irony of voters closest in age to Sanders being the group least likely to support him. But before writing them all off, let’s pose a couple of questions. There were an awful lot of baby boomers who opposed the Iraq War. Why would they support Biden, who voted for it, over Sanders who opposed it?

Or how about Social Security? Fairly or unfairly, in some circles the boomer generation has developed a reputation for selfishness – that they consider programs benefitting them sacrosanct, and everything else – not so much. Well, even assuming the worst on this score, there should be no reason for Social Security recipients to prefer a candidate whose history of protecting that program would have to, at the least, be characterized as shaky – Biden – over one who has been rock solid in support, i.e. Sanders. Why then do so many of them appear to prefer Biden?

The answer in both cases—or at least a substantial piece of it—appears to be that they keep hearing that Sanders can’t be elected. Why? Because so many people say that other people won’t vote for a socialist president.
Which brings me to my reason for writing. It’s very simple, really. If you fall into the category of voters who generally agree with Sanders on the issues but fear that he can’t be elected, then puhleez, at the least, stop acting as an echo chamber for the supposed irrational fears of your peers. In short, I respectfully ask that if you can’t say anything good about the candidate you actually agree with, please shut the bleep up!

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