Wehner’s Case For Democratic Extremism Manages To Grow Weaker

Last week I went to probably more trouble than it was worth to deconstruct a very weak case Peter Wehner made in a New York Times op-ed, claiming Democrats were the party that was really off the deep end into extremism.

I would have figured this effort, pallid as it was, earned Wehner a GOP loyalty chip, which he might need since he’s been known to criticize his own party. But here he is again at his regular Commentary digs, with a new argument about those crazy Donkeys: Bernie Sanders is drawing big crowds in Iowa!

The New York Times published a story reporting that Bernie Sanders — that would be the socialist Bernie Sanders, referred to by the Times as “the Senate’s most left-wing member” — is not only gaining momentum in Iowa, he has “been inspiring fervor among the Democratic base.” And how he has.

The Times story points to the fact the Sanders drew 700 people to an event on Thursday night in Davenport, the largest rally in the state for any single candidate this campaign season. His stop at a brewery in Ames on Saturday “was so mobbed that more than 100 people who could not fit inside peered through the windows.”

Wehner goes on and on and on with this story, in which you’d think he was describing Lenin arriving at the Finland Station. It all leads up to a Red Scare graph that’s pretty hilarious to anyone familiar with Sanders’ mostly conventional agenda of stuff liberals have been talking about for decades:

Bernie Sanders — democratic socialist, 73-years-old, a man who is on the outer edges of American politics and on whose wall hangs a portrait of Eugene V. Debs, the Socialist Party presidential candidate of the early 20th century — is setting Democratic hearts aflutter. Senator Sanders won’t win the nomination, but he — along with Elizabeth Warren and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio — is stirring something deep within the souls of Democrats. They are giving voice to what many Democrats genuinely believe, what they long for, what they are desperate for: Progressivism in its most purified and unalloyed form.

Yeah, I’m sure Peter Wehner knows a lot about what lies deep within the souls of Democrats. You’d think in all the space he devoted to the proletariat of Iowa marching with Sanders he’d mention that the dude is at 16% in the latest polls from Iowa–not bad, but not exactly proof that he’s “giving voice to what many Democrats are…desperate for.”

Meanwhile, all but a couple of the 18 presidential candidates on the Republican side never utter a breath without a prayer to the Golden Calf of Movement Conservatism. Conservative activists do not have to wish and hope that someday they will have a candidate who gives voice to pure, furious ideology: that’s just about all they ever hear on the campaign trail.

Yet in an insult to the syllogism, Wehner concludes:

Progressives have created an alternate reality in which they are moderate, temperate, centrist, the very model of reasonableness. They are blind to their own zeal and dogmatism, their own immoderation and intolerance.

Just because you say it’s so doesn’t make it so.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.