US Politics

Bernie’s Coronavirus Problem

Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable – the next best

Otto Von Bismarck

It’s no secret that I – like most other sentient beings – would prefer a progressive candidate to some brain-dead party stooge like Joe Biden. In any other year, the Super Tuesday results notwithstanding, Bernie would have had a very realistic shot at the nomination: there are a few more large, progressive states like Oregon, NY, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and some newly-progressivized ones like Wisconsin that are yet to caucus. In any other year, it would have been possible for Bernie to hold on and hope for the best.

But not in 2020, for 2020 looks to be the Year of the Virus. And the Virus – COVID-19, Coronavirus, SARS 2.0, “Chinese Pneumonia”, whatever you want to call it – is taking its toll on the world’s economy and political institutions. In authoritarian regimes like Iran, Russia and China, the Virus is being credited with weakening trust in the state and opening up an avenue for reforms. In failed and flailing states like Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans, it is going practically unchecked and is thus sowing the seeds of a future revolution. In Italy, which has fast turned into the largest non-Chinese center of the pandemic, the virus has taken its toll on the newly-elected government, its stability and the entire economic system. It doesn’t help that even without the Virus, Italy was close to a recession and people’s lives were pretty miserable already.

In stable economies, however, the virus is actually leading people to dig in and repose greater faith in their elected democracies. In India, South Korea, Israel and Japan, the growing concern over the virus is leading to mass hysteria and confusion. Savvy governments there have used this to their advantage in two ways: first, by making it seem like the spread of the Virus is a purely chance event and second, they have made themselves the arbiter of decided what is “fake news”, thereby gifting themselves the power to intervene in any misinformation campaigns. The latter case is obvious in Singapore, where a recent anti-fake news measure has been used to gag journalists and bloggers, leading to a chilling effect on free speech.

The US is quite different but entirely recognizable. The broken healthcare system in that country is making everything worse, and confounding statements by the CDC, White House and Congress are adding to a sense of widespread confusion and contributing to creating mass hysteria around an infection that is still (as of this writing) only lethal in 3% of all cases. Statistics aside, there are more political concerns for anybody watching the news: if everybody stays home, though, what does that mean for the presidential contest that was front and center just a couple of weeks ago?

The worst hit by widespread calls for self-isolation is, of course, Bernie. Bernie’s strength lies in his popular following, and the massive rallies his devoted followers congregate in to celebrate the rise of a social democrat in an age of hyper-capitalism. But the very same rallies that brought him fame and immeasurable relevance in 2020 are now out of the question. Televised debates, in which he has generally done pretty okay, are also unlikely to have a live audience, which means that Bernie can no longer get the audience all fired up and rooting for him – a tactic that he’s used to spectacular effect in the past. More than that, the mass panic and confusion around the Virus is making Trump some sort of a paternalistic figure, the “savior in the White House” that’s going to save the country. To a beleagured White House with no real popularity or credibility, mass confusion and a vulnerable populace is creating some semblance of a fan following.

For the most part, Bernie’s loss is Biden’s gain. As the only other horse in the Democratic race, Biden stands to gain from every follower and rally Bernie cannot hold. His centrist position has been thoroughly embraced by every other candidate’s followers. And as far as his campaign managers are concerned, every rally Biden doesn’t have to attend is a rally he can’t fuck up and say something stupid in. And every debate without a live audience is an audience that Bernie can’t steal with his charisma and populist charm. In fact, the Virus is practically Biden’s buddy right now. As VP to Obama – who presided over the last time the country was in the grips of mass panic – Biden’s campaign is getting a boost as undecided people previously attached to Obama now turn their backs on Trump and flock to a familiar, authoritative figure in the face of an unfamiliar threat.

In the end, of course, it all boils down to the popularity of the two candidates – Trump and whoever else the Dems pick. I’m okay with the choice being less than ideal and the choice being a Trump v. Other Guy because as Birmarck said, that’s just politics. I’m just sad that the Other Guy won’t be Bernie. Again.

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