Two great moments in Bernie Sanders's appearance on This Week. The first happens when, after explaining that he is a democratic socialist along the lines of the political systems that prevail in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, George Stephanopoulos, the show's host, says: "I can hear the Republican attack ad right now: He wants America to look more like Scandinavia."
Sanders responds: "That's right, that's right. And what's wrong with that?"
He says this in such a way as to make his future critics clearly understand that he does not assume American awesomeness. America is not the "top dog" in many areas. There are things other countries do better, such as sharing wealth or providing health services or protecting the environment. What is the use of being the richest country in the world if much of that wealth is concentrated in a tiny part of the population? Why should that fact automatically inspire national pride?
The second best part is at the end of the interview: When asked if he would do more harm than good to the Democratic ticket, he answers that his political career has always been about beating conventional wisdom. He became mayor of Burlington, Vermont, in 1981, when when nobody thought that was possible; he beat an incumbent Republican by 16 points to win Vermont's solo seat in the US House of Representatives in 1990; and he beat the richest person in Vermont to become a US senator in 2006. So, do not underestimate him.
Also, his message is just not radical. This is the thing Hillary Clinton has to worry about. What most people have heard about Sanders, who is still an obscure politician by mainstream standards, is that he is a socialist. But he really is not, and he is not making his case on socialist terms (I know, because I'm a socialist), but on social democratic ones: greater income equality, ending tax havens and forcing the rich to pay their fair share, protecting middle-class jobs, taking the environment seriously, and weakening the political influence of the super-rich. None of this is nutty. And he names the much-liked former sectary of labor Robert Reich as his ideal pick for secretary of the treasury. This is only loony from the perspective of the banks but not many average Americans.
The minute the public sees that he is not Lenin but a lefty in the tradition of Robert F. Kennedy, the more his chances will improve.