Bernie Sanders isn’t going to be President. His chance of POTUSing went out the window when he rallied against tax relief then the got up, dusted itself off, and threw itself out the window again in the form of the term “rigged economy.” No reasonable person thinks Sanders has a chance against that Hillary’s Brooklyn-based juggernaut or, for that matter, Martin O’Malley’s Baltimore-based juggersomething, but that isn’t stopping anyone from donating. The leader of the People’s Republic of Burlington raised $1.5 million in 24 hours and has been chugging ever since, leading prominent political observers to wonder what supporters are getting for their money.
Here’s the answer: Pure joy.
The presidential race is going to get real and, when it does, the word “spoiler” will hang around Bernie’s neck like Nader Bling. And that’s awful. Bernie Sander is not a spoiler. Like Rand Paul and Nader for that matter, he’s a political eccentric with internally consistent views that happen to be abhorrent to a lot of people. He’s not less deserving for be unelectable. Giving money to Bernie (or non-candidate Brian Schweitzer or even a homophobe like Dr. Ben Carson if that's what you're into) feels great precisely because it isn’t really a political action. It’s a vote for ideas free of the context that devalues them.
I gave money to Bernie just after he released a clarifying statement saying that, yes, he actually does want to President, which is precisely the sort of soundbite you don’t have to give if you’re going to be President. I don’t care. I like his stance on the deficit (he thinks austerity is ridiculous) and I like his New English stubbornness. Do I think the "deficit owls" can survive a hawk attack? Not really, but I don’t have to be realistic because I know who’s gonna win New York. There’s a net named Clinton beneath me so I can get downright weird without too much concern. By the same token, conservative voters have a Bush in the race so they can have a fling with Bobby Jindal’s cultural war nostalgia trip.
Post announcements and pre primaries, voters have the chance to be more romantic about their politics and put their money where their hearts are. Their mouths (and minds) will likely end up elsewhere in a year, but such is life. Having a political relationship is hard work. Having a political fling is guilt-free fun as long as you use protection - lowered expectations work.
I also realize that all money isn’t equal. Hilary and Jeb will have coffers full of funds from bundlers and operators that want something. I don’t want anything. I don’t expect anything. The quid exists without a quo, which means that my donation is just that, a donation. And being generous feels great, like buying someone flowers or picking up the check.
Is it free speech? Well, it’s not terribly expensive and it says something: I like you.