Last week, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders tried to force the Democratic National Convention into a shape more to his liking by demanding that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a supporter of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, be booted from a high-profile chairmanship. He failed, but the fact that he tried says something about both Malloy and the dangerous state of our politics today.
Sanders’ argument is that Malloy and fellow co-chair former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., were unreasonably hostile to Sanders, and that they were “aggressive attack surrogates” for Clinton. As evidence, Sanders pointed to interviews the two men had given slamming Sanders, suggesting that Frank and Malloy would be “unsympathetic” to the views of Bernie voters.
An eye-rolling DNC rejected these claims in less than 24 hours, but the mini-fracas made national headlines as the primary season mercifully limps into its final contests this month. It was one more headache for Clinton, who has had to endure attacks from both Sanders and Trump as she prepares for the general election, and it spawned forth many, many breathless columns about the coming crackup of the Democratic Party and the potential for violence at the convention.
Never mind that Sanders has no chance to actually win, and hasn’t for months. His only remaining power is the passion of his fans and voters, and he’ll gleefully hold the party hostage by vowing to keep fighting to the convention unless he gets what he wants.
There’s two things going on here.
First, remember when Malloy was a hero of progressives for standing against austerity, tussling with conservatives like Chris Christie and Bobby Jindal, and enacting minimum wage increases and other liberal legislation? Those days are pretty obviously done.
For example, back in April Sanders blasted Malloy at packed rallies in Hartford and New Haven for draconian cuts in this year’s budget, and the national left has soured on him thanks to his support for Clinton.
Connecticut progressives, though, have been cool to Malloy for a long time. From education reform to demanding union concessions, Malloy has infuriated plenty on the left around here. He even briefly drew a liberal primary challenger, the hapless former state representative and blogger Jonathan Pelto.
But the enmity goes back farther than that. Liberals labeled Malloy as “DLC Dan” as far back as 2005 and 2006, during his first race for governor. The DLC, or the Democratic Leadership Council, was a centrist organization associated with former Sen. Joe Lieberman, among others, and a particular target of liberal fury.
Malloy is a ruthlessly pragmatic moderate with a liberal streak on certain issues. He’s a prickly policy wonk who often fights charges of being unlikable and brusque, and he’s never inspired much passion in his supporters and voters. It’s no wonder he’s a Clinton supporter; they’re two peas in a pod.
The problem with pragmatic moderates, though, is that nobody likes them.
This is a year in which any kind of centrism is absolutely anathema to the many, many voters who are looking for someone to deliver them from economic malaise, social upheaval, and the general feeling that the country is slowly sinking into the muck. The years since George W. Bush took office in 2001 have been a long slog of war, crisis, polarization, anger, and despair, and people are desperate for some kind of relief.
Both Trump and Sanders have tapped into that frustration by finding someone to blame. Sanders’ musty line attacks big banks and corporate America, while Trump loudly points the finger at Obama, the Republican establishment, and anyone who isn’t in his good graces.
This is nothing but populist demagoguery, obviously, but Sanders has tellingly chosen to define his campaign and supporters as a “political revolution.” I flinch whenever I see that phrase. Revolutions are not easy things to keep a handle on. What happens when Sanders loses? Where does all that anger go?
I still think a lot of Democrats will reluctantly back Clinton, but with the way this year has gone so far I feel like anything could happen.
I also wonder about what happens to Connecticut Democrats in 2018, when all the bad feelings the Malloy administration generated finally come back to haunt them. If President Trump is still allowing us to have elections then, we’ll see if they can survive.
For now, though, we have a long summer of anger, recriminations, and rising extremism to get through. And when that’s over, all we have to look forward to is a future that seems to get darker by the day.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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