Stalking horse Sanders enters the race

Last week marked the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby, “the most exciting two minutes in sports.”  But the “horse race” that matters most takes place every four years in the political arena.  And though the outcome may not be known until after election day, the build-up to the race can last for years.

To enter America’s presidential sweepstakes doesn’t require a pedigree or a winning streak.  The event is open to anyone who has the monetary support to keep running until convention time.  And some of the horseflesh in the upcoming race doesn’t look all that prime or promising.

Bernie Sanders has tossed his hat into the ring for president.  It’s no big surprise.  He has nothing to lose…and lose he will.  What’s puzzling is why he is doing it, and even more importantly, who’s behind it?

I don’t think I have ever seen news of a wannabe greeted with such undisguised amusement.  The senator may have gotten his share of press coverage, but it was delivered with a universal guffaw, as though a septuagenarian had suddenly announced a run for the Mr. Universe title.

For starters, Bernie Sanders is a relatively unknown political figure representing a small New England state.  That doesn’t mean he hasn’t been around for a long time.  Actually, in terms of political experience, he exceeds many other presidential contenders.  He began his career in politics in 1981 as mayor of Burlington, Vermont’s largest city.  After nine years, he was elected to represent his state’s at-large congressional district, a position he held for sixteen years before being elected in 2006 to the U.S. Senate and again in 2012 by a landslide.

So just what about a possible President Bernie Sanders makes pundits chuckle?  And why does his entry into this race seem so ludicrously meaningless?  Sure, some liberal commentary purports to take Senator Sanders’s bid seriously.  But nobody takes that seriously.  Not that others seeking high public office in the past haven’t been blown off as equally preposterous.  Many Democrats greeted John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin with hoots of derision.  But there seems to be no anger or resentment against Bernie’s intrusion into the political equation.  And if he isn’t perceived as a joke, his candidacy certainly is.

That’s because nobody is worried about his even coming close to winning the Democratic primary, much less the general election.  The reasons are obvious.  He’s old and he looks and sounds like a screwball leftist academic, at a time when the American electorate is trending younger and slightly right of center.

So is it just a matter of ego that propels Bernie into the limelight? At 74 years of age, he may figure that this is his last chance to gain national recognition.  Or maybe he is up to something more substantial – even maybe more sinister.  It’s true that Hillary needs some primary sparring partner to keep her on her toes.  But the Clintons would never allow anyone into the Democrat ring who might seriously injure the frontrunner.  No knockout candidates, and no knockout punches.  So if they have not put a contract out for Bernie, it must be because they figure his entering the race could actually work to Hillary’s advantage.

And on two essential fronts, it could.  One is the matter of age.  When challenged by a deep bench of younger Republican candidates, Mrs. Clinton’s accumulated years, declining energy, and retro look and feel have become more apparent than ever.  But if in the primary she battles an older guy, she may come off looking a lot less shopworn by comparison.

Then take the matter of Bernie’s outright socialist beliefs.  For independents and those Democrats who worry that Hillary is at heart a good deal less moderate than her husband, Bernie is the perfect foil to allay their fears.

Despite his credentials, Senator Sanders will no more likely excite the far left wing of the Democratic Party than Colonel Sanders would.  (We’re talking chicken wings here!)  But there could be a more nuanced reason for Bernie’s run – that is, as a stalking horse for the real darling of the progressives, Elizabeth Warren.  In the event that some scandal somehow implodes the front-running Democrat, the junior senator from Vermont will have warmed up the crowd that’s been waiting eagerly in the wings for the real star of the show.

Stranger things have happened to Hillary Clinton in her run for the roses.