Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam.
Win or lose, the Sanders campaign has its story. Bernie Sanders is the authentic candidate; the unapologetic progressive who pushes the left’s agenda without worrying about offending anyone.
Bernie doesn’t pander. Just look at him glaring into the camera, angrily delivering the same “smash capitalism” stump speech and then waiting for the local college students to take selfies with him. You may disagree with him. But he’s authentic, a curmudgeon who says whatever he really thinks.
And if you believe that, there’s a bridge in Bernie’s old Brooklyn neighborhood you can buy.
The left is not an authentic political movement. It values dogma, not passion. What it sells is the appearance of passion and the hollow illusion of self-expression while pushing a rigid agenda.
The real story of the Bernie Sanders campaign is not that voters reward authenticity, but the illusion of it. Obama beat Hillary because he seemed more authentic. But he was just better at pandering to the left while appearing to be natural and rehearsed in a way that you have to rehearse a lot to achieve.
Bernie Sanders has thrived by abandoning whatever made him authentic and becoming a robot reciting dogma in a voice borrowed from Larry David. Hillary Clinton never had a soul, but Bernie Sanders sold his in the hopes of beating her. And he got a bad deal on his soul because he can’t even seem to do that.
Originally Bernie Sanders was an independent who held unconventional views on some issues and wasn’t tied down to the Democratic Party and its widely loathed identity politics. Instead he could just do his old time Wall Street Socialist shtick and score populist points with angry voters without having to pander to every group and cause in the progressive politically correct spectrum of stupidity.
This was the Bernie Sanders who told Ezra Klein that he opposed open borders because it “says essentially there is no United States” and “would make everybody in America poorer.”
“You think we should open the borders and bring in a lot of low-wage workers, or do you think maybe we should try to get jobs for those kids?” Bernie barked.
Liberal heads exploded. Bernie tried to defend his views and then surrendered. Instead he adopted the Democratic Party’s prevailing program of treating illegal immigration as a civil rights issue. A few months later, he was calling for amnesty for everyone, even illegal immigrants who had already been deported, without securing the borders, and attacking Hillary Clinton for being too hard on illegal aliens.
Currently Bernie Sanders is calling for putting “a stop to the notion that the border must be secured before legalization can happen,” abandoning “boondoggle walls” and dismantling deportation and detention, and letting illegal aliens buy ObamaCare. That last one may be more of a punishment.
It took only a few months for Bernie Sanders to go from blasting open borders as a right-wing Wall Street conspiracy to becoming an open borders candidate. Which, by his own definition, would make him a right-wing Wall Street tool of the capitalist conspiracy.
That’s how “authentic” Bernie really is.
The Bernie Sanders who attacked open borders at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was authentic. He’s gone. In his place is Bernie Sanders 2.0, an authentic robot spewing authentic progressive talking points about the wonders and joys of illegal immigration. That’s what an authentic sellout Bernie is.
What happened to Bernie Sanders on immigration is the same thing that happened to him on a range of issues where he formerly deviated from the political orthodoxy of the Democrats. The deviations have been smoothed away. Hillary Clinton has been mocked for adopting Bernie Sanders’ positions, but Bernie adopted more of her positions than she did of his. He sold his soul to try and win. And failed.
When Hillary Clinton attacked Bernie Sanders from the left on gun control, he reinvented his views. When Clinton’s political allies sent #BlackLivesMatter activists to harass him, he hemmed and hawed and then endorsed the worst of his new party’s identity politics pandering. Every time Hillary Clinton hit him on a position where he was out of step with political dogma, he scampered to adjust his views.
And it wasn’t just Hillary Clinton.
Bernie Sanders was constantly adjusting his views to atone for past violations of party dogma. Any authentically unconventional views in the past had to be denounced and disassociated from.
The latest Soviet spectacle came when Bernie Sanders delivered an anti-Israel speech in Utah while refusing to come to the AIPAC convention. In Arizona, his campaign placed a member of the anti-Semitic hate group, Students for Justice in Palestine, behind him while he talked.
Bernie was telling the left that he was disavowing the Jewish State. The authentic candidate was desperately pandering to left-wing donors to keep funding his failed campaign. He was lashing out at Jews for “disportionately” fighting the Islamic terrorists who were killing their children. He was appealing to the left-wing bigots who might have believed NPR’s Diane Rehm when she accused him of having dual citizenship in Israel. It was an authentically disgusting moment.
But his anti-Israel Utah speech was more than a shift, it was an apology. One of his more infuriating moments for the left had been his attack on Hamas supporters at a town hall in Vermont. His Utah speech obsessively attacked Israel for having bombed Hamas terrorists in Gaza several years ago. It’s 2016 and Gaza isn’t a current issue. Even Obama and Kerry don’t dwell on it anymore.
Why did Bernie Sanders suddenly feel the need to unload on Israel over its last war with Hamas?
Why focus on Gaza rather than any more current issues and controversies? Bernie was disavowing his past half-hearted defense of Israel. He wasn’t just pandering, he was trying to retroactively rewrite his views as if they had never existed. We have always been at war with Eastasia. Bernie had always been on the right side of the left when it came to Israel or immigration or gun control… or anything else.
Israel may be the last piece of Bernie’s tattered soul that he has to sell to the left for more money to keep going until Hillary’s superdelegates finally crush his miserable campaign. The Jewish State is the last shred of his “authenticity” that he has to give up to become an authentic left-wing hack.
But it’s not as if Bernie Sanders hasn’t done it before.
Back when Bernie Sanders was with the Liberty Union Party, he was militantly anti-Israel. Then when he went mainstream, he softened his views. Bernie was anti-Israel before he was pro-Israel before he was anti-Israel. The “authentic” candidate has spent his political life pandering to someone.
There was never really an authentic Bernie Sanders. Bernie was always a politician who reshaped his views when he needed to. Bernie’s supporters like to claim that he isn’t for sale. But Bernie Sanders sold his soul long ago. Now he’s auctioning off the used pieces of it a second and a third time for a few bucks.
The left’s greatest lie is that it is a movement for rebels, non-conformists and independent thinkers. It’s impossible to be authentic and left-wing. The left values conformity above all else and harshly punishes even mild forms of dissent. On the left, speaking freely is impossible. Even thinking freely is dangerous.
Bernie Sanders is selling the same illusion as Obama, that it’s possible to be left-wing without sounding like an ideological robot. That you can be progressive without being Hillary Clinton. And that’s a myth.
Hillary Clinton is too clumsy to mask the rigid process by which leftists adopt the party line. Obama and Bernie Sanders obscure the same creepy process with personality and style. But they are no different. They can’t be. There’s no room for dissent, independence and authenticity on the left.
Bernie Sanders sold his soul to be an authentic leftist. Souls are the price of membership in the left.