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The Bernie Sanders dilemma: Are Dems pining for the days of smoke-filled rooms?

By Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

As I watch the deeply divided Democrats try to unify around a presidential candidate who can beat President Donald Trump, I find myself longing surprisingly for the days of the smoke-filled room.

No, children, it's not just because I'm getting old and cynical, although that helps.

For most of my adult life, I have been a "goo-goo." That's a good-government reformer who applauded the demise of the legendary "smoke-filled room," places where powerful politicians, party bosses and other insiders meet to cut deals and decide what candidates would appear on the ballot.

Appropriately, Chicago, where politics is never an art for the squeamish, gave birth to the term. The Encyclopedia of Chicago states that, according to legend, it was at the Blackstone Hotel in 1920 that a small group of powerful U.S. senators arranged for the nomination of Warren G. Harding to be the Republican presidential candidate. (Yes, kids, Republicans were much more plentiful in the city then than they are today.)

Today the Dems are in full freakout over the rising tide of Bernie Sanders and the "really big risk," as former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called it, of having an avowed "democratic socialist" at the top of the Democratic ticket.

"In the last hundred years, three Democrats have won reelection for president: Franklin Roosevelt, President (Bill) Clinton, Barack Obama," Emanuel explained on Stephen Colbert's "Late Show" this week. All three, he said, ran with a goal of building "an urban, suburban, metropolitan coalition."

 

And now? "Bernie is saying, 'Forget that. Screw it,' " Emanuel continued. "Basically, (Sanders argues that) there are about 70 million socialists ready to be awoken to their inner socialist. And I would just say to you if our No. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 goal is to get rid of Donald Trump, it is a really big risk to go on a political strategy that has never been tried before."

Famous Democratic consultant James Carville, veteran of Clinton's campaign war room, expressed a similarly pessimistic view in various media appearances, although louder.

"The entire theory that by expanding the electorate and increasing turnout you can win an election is the equivalent of climate denial," Carville fumed on MSNBC last weekend about Sanders' expand-the-base strategy. "All right? When people say that, they're as stupid to a political scientist as a climate denier is to an atmospheric scientist."

Not to be outdone for passion, MSNBC's Chris Matthews apologized Monday for his own unfortunate comparison of Sanders' Nevada victory to the Nazi invasion of France. As a loyal friend of Matthews, a former aide to the late House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neal, I'm glad he apologized. But I also know he was expressing a general concern that a lot of old-school Democrats were keeping to themselves.

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(c) 2020 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
 

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