Lefties, meet your candidate: Why Bernie Sanders is the only authentic alternative to Hillary Clinton

Dissatisfied with Clinton's centrism? Well, Warren won't run and O'Malley's a poser. Embrace the blunt Brooklynite

Published April 30, 2015 9:59AM (EDT)

  (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
(AP/Carolyn Kaster)

If the left flank of the Democratic Party is looking for an alternative to Hillary Clinton around whom to rally, there are no perfect figures.

When the Clintons led the centrist iteration of the Democratic Party in the 1990s, two of her potential Democratic challengers, Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee, were actual Republicans. So, no.

Another of the men was a good DLC soldier within the Clinton Democratic Party when that suited the advancement of his career, and now he's acting like Pete Seeger out there because an opportunity has arisen. I cannot think of a better image of Martin O'Malley's career than him walking through the protests in Baltimore to get his picture taken. He was the one who turned Baltimore over to the wolves of "no tolerance," broken-windows policing during his tenure as mayor from 1999 to 2007, using his get-tough approach as a stepping stone toward the governor's mansion.

The only authentic guy on the Democratic side of the ledger is the one declaring his candidacy today.

Bernie Sanders is an old leftist crank -- we mean that in the best possible way -- from Brooklyn. You can tell that he is from Brooklyn if you listen to any word that he says. We will be hearing a lot more about the MILLIONAYUHS AND BILLIONAYUHS over the next year or so, and we'll be hearing it from someone who didn't just arrive at his opinions yesterday after commissioning a few focus groups.

Among this field, the 73-year-old Vermont senator is the natural recipient for anti-Clinton votes. Yes, there will be a lot of theater criticism surrounding Sanders' announcement: He's too old, he's too left, he's too regional. He doesn't properly comb his hair; he hunches over. But what if Democratic voters like him anyway because they agree with his policies -- like single-payer healthcare, financial reform, massive infrastructure investments, and campaign finance reform? A revolutionary notion, sure.

Once people wrap their heads around the fact that Elizabeth Warren is not running for president, a significant number of votes are going to free up. Recently we asked why pollsters continue including Elizabeth Warren in their surveys, since she's said repeatedly that she's not getting into the race, and there's little reason to believe that's some sort of long-game ruse.

The two most recent polls from Iowa offer an interesting contrast in how the field shapes up with and without Warren. In both cases, sure, Hillary Clinton is crushing everyone. But who at least can break double digits against her? In a Loras College poll from last week that includes both Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden, Clinton takes 57 percent to Warren's 15, with Biden at 6 and Sanders at 2. A PPP poll from this week, though, excludes Warren and Biden. (The conventional read on Biden, for what it's worth, is that he'd jump in if Hillary Clinton imploded and had to drop out. The conventional read on Hillary Clinton is that there is no scandal imaginable that could persuade her to drop out. So.) In this Warren-less, Biden-less survey that more accurately resembles the look of the probable Democratic field, Clinton wins 62 percent of likely Iowa caucus-goers. Bernie Sanders comes in second place with 14 percent, followed by the Baltimore Healer with 6.

Fourteen percent is far less than 62 percent -- specifically it is 48 percentage points less, my insider sources tell me -- but a decent enough base for a candidate like Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has nothing to lose and issues of great importance to promote, to examine and think, Fuck it, I'll give it a try. Last month, word got out that he was wavering on the possibility of running. But if he can start polling in the double-digits and persuade the well-funded progressive groups to turn to him once they've given up on their Draft Warren fantasies, then why not? If someone out there can consolidate the anti-Clinton vote, why shouldn't it be Bernie?

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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