I came to have a higher opinion of Bernie Sanders, as I followed him in the primaries. My opinion of both candidates, in fact, was much higher at the end of the primaries than the beginning: I seem to be the only human being in the nation of whom this is true. I liked him. He was civil and respectful throughout the campaign. And of course I agreed in principle with a lot of what he was saying, because I am way off to the left of the American electorate, and he was saying a lot of lefty sorts of things.
In fact, I see that I have to back up a bit to explain my initial bias against him, which may seem a bit mysterious, at this point.
Once upon a time I was an opinionated young man -- even more opinionated than I am now, I mean; a really opinionated young man -- and like many young men I took my opinions very, very seriously. I measured politicians by how much they agreed with me. If you agreed with me about a lot of things, then I thought you were a good politician. If Bernie Sanders had been a national figure at that time I have no doubt he would have been my favorite guy. I was a sucker for third parties, in those days, and I was predisposed to like someone who bucked the parties. "Independent" and "maverick" were words that deeply appealed to me.
Well, time went on, as it does, and my respect for opinions -- mine, everyone's -- dwindled. Everyone's got them, and it doesn't actually matter all that much what they are. When it comes to things actually happening, it's not the politician with the right opinions who matters. It's the politician who can wheedle, threaten, beg, or bargain enough to get other people to go along. And those politicians were the people who took their party machinery seriously, and who worked to get their hands on its levers.
The other thing that became apparent to me, with the passage of time, and the reading of history, was that the two party system was not an accident or a happenstance. There will always be two parties, roughly equal in power, in the United States, apart from re-alignments once or twice a century. It's baked into the Constitution. (That's ironic, because the writers of the Constitution hated parties, and hoped we could have a political life without them; but hey. They were doing this democratic republic thing for the first time. Cut them a little slack.)
So anyway -- whether that's true or not, it was the way I was thinking by the time Sanders came to my attention. "Independent" had lost its charm for me. So had opinionated guys. I cared about legislation, and tax structures, and the composition of the Supreme Court.
Over the course of the primaries, I learned more about Sanders, and though I never learned much respect for his ideas about foreign policy, which were at best sketchy, nor about banking, which I thought were uninformed, I did learn to respect him as a politician. He did lots of progressive networking, and his relationship with the Democratic Party was nuanced and fruitful. He wasn't just exploiting the Democrats by staying outside the party and then running inside it. He was trying to move the party, and he understood how difficult it is to do that from the inside. So I liked him, and I like him still. I hope he's in the Senate another thirty years, and I hope someday we will have made the Democratic Party a place he can call home.