Budowsky: Bernie Sanders, dream merchant

Budowsky: Bernie Sanders, dream merchant
© Greg Nash

American politics is continuing its long season of dysfunction and discontent. If the elections were held today, the president-elect would wake up with negative approval ratings (Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCollins walks impeachment tightrope Hill.TV's Saagar Enjeti rips Sanders for 'inability to actually fight with bad actors' in party Hill.TV's Krystal Ball knocks Clinton's 'mean girl' comments against Sanders MORE with 55 percent, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpMnuchin knocks Greta Thunberg's activism: Study economics and then 'come back' to us The Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' What to watch for on Day 3 of Senate impeachment trial MORE with 62 percent), members of the next Congress would celebrate their wins with negative ratings of 77 percent, and the Supreme Court would convene with only 8 justices.

By contrast, there is only one candidate running for president who stands head and shoulders above all competitors, winning widespread respect and admiration from voters.

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According to the summary of polling in The Huffington Post, Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' Tensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum Sanders wants one-on-one fight with Biden MORE wins a favorable rating of more than 51 percent and an unfavorable rating of slightly above 40 percent — an achievement no other candidate in either party comes remotely close to matching. And according to the summary of polling in RealClearPolitics, Sanders would defeat Trump by almost 14 points and would defeat Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzWhat to watch for on Day 3 of Senate impeachment trial Democrats' impeachment case lands with a thud with GOP — but real audience is voters Restlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on MORE by almost 12 points.

Insiders throughout the establishment barely acknowledge the phenomenon of Sanders’s huge lead in public approval, match-up polling and campaign fundraising. The purpose of this column is to explain why Sanders dramatically outperforms all other candidates in these metrics of national politics.

My conclusion is simple: Sanders is the last dream merchant in American politics, and lots of voters love it.

The concept came to me last week on YouTube when I was revisiting some of the great miniseries of the 1980s, a time when the most trusted man in America was Walter Cronkite, a network news anchor. One of those miniseries was titled “The Dream Merchants,” about the pioneers of the movie business who asked customers to give them a nickel to watch actors perform silently in moving pictures. 

In politics, a dream merchant is a candidate who sells a big idea about what America can be, offers big proposals that could make it happen, and campaigns with a sincerity and passion that voters believe is real, true and appealing.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a dream merchant. He dreamed of lifting himself out of his wheelchair and lifting the nation out of the Great Depression, with big bold programs for change he pioneered as governor of New York.

John F. Kennedy was a dream merchant. He dreamed of inspiring a new generation of leaders who came out of the Second World War, to lift America out of poverty, roll back the nuclear arms race and dare to touch the moon.

Ronald Reagan was a dream merchant. When he dreamed of abolishing nuclear weapons, he deserved consideration for Mount Rushmore.

Sanders is the dream merchant heir to Roosevelt, Kennedy and Reagan. When Clinton criticizes him for not being practical, she forgets that the New Deal, landing on the moon and abolishing nuclear weapons were often called impractical by opponents of FDR, JFK and Reagan.

Sanders calling for his revolution is like Robert Kennedy paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw: “Some men see things as they are and say, why; I dream things that never were and say, why not.”

Sanders at his best calls on America to dream of big things again. The senator at his less-than-best offers personal attacks against Clinton, which makes him look more like a conventional politician than a dream merchant — one major reason his small donations and vote totals fell in April when he became more negative.

Leaders lead. They seek the greatest common denominator of our aspirations, not the least common denominator of what cynics claim is possible in a political system voters believe is corrupt. This is why Clinton, Trump and Congress have such disastrous ratings.

When Sanders campaigns as the last dream merchant, he becomes the most trusted person in presidential politics. 

Budowsky was an aide to former Sens. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Contributors blog and reached at brentbbi@webtv.net.