Bernie Sanders’ resounding victory in Nevada, and his sweep of the popular vote in the first three primaries, makes him the early front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. It also puts a bull’s-eye on his back and triggers panic across the party’s establishment and much of the mainstream media. A self-professed “democratic socialist” leading the race? Get ready for red-baiting, slander and just plain silliness.

Politicians can’t help themselves. The question is whether the media will pile on – or provide common sense. The early returns aren’t encouraging.

President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign is already gearing up its scare machine, which it will roll out against any Democrat. To impugn Sanders, it will scream about Venezuela, Cuba and economic ruin.

Sanders’ Democratic rivals will surely succumb as well. Mike Bloomberg has already labeled Sanders’ stance on wealth as “communist.” Pete Buttigieg scourged Sanders for pushing an “inflexible, ideological revolution that leaves out most Democrats, not to mention most Americans” – whom, of course, Buttigieg claims to represent. This after Sanders had led the field, and trampled Buttigieg.

The question going forward is whether opinion writers, cable-news contributors and pundits fan the freakout or help Americans cut through the tripe. Fox News is an irreparable Trump propaganda outlet, but can voters expect better from the rest?

MSNBC already exhibits severe Sanders derangement syndrome. Host Chris Matthews has served up the worst calumnies, darkly tying Sanders to a socialist threat of public executions in Central Park. He compared Sanders’ victory in Nevada to the Nazi invasion of France. (Matthews at least apologized for that.) Strategist James Carville accused voters of being dumb while suggesting on MSNBC that Vladimir Putin was the real winner of Nevada’s caucus.

This sort of scaremongering is nonsense. Sanders has made clear what he means by democratic socialism: that quality health care, education and a decent wages are basic rights that should be guaranteed to all.

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He isn’t flashing Mao’s “Little Red Book.” Instead, Sanders has called for returning to the teachings of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the greatest of 20th-century Democratic presidents.

In the midst of World War II, Roosevelt argued that coming out of the Great Depression and the war, Americans had come to understand the need for an economic “Bill of Rights.”

Sanders’ positions are not alien. Nor are his positions Russian. His platform revives the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt.

Sanders has repeatedly invoked Roosevelt when defining what he means by democratic socialism and dismisses the slurs for what they are.

It’s clear what Sanders stands for. Will pundits, opinion writers and cable contributors offer Americans a reality check or add to the confusion?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL is editor and publisher of The Nation.

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