Recently I blocked a number of people on my FB page who have attacked me personally for criticizing Bernie Sanders’s positions and record. They warn of the need to be careful not to offend Sanders voters who threaten to not vote for the Democratic nominee if it’s not Bernie. My response has been we can’t be held hostage by this group of individuals. They are the ones who should be called out for not understanding the repercussions to the programs they espouse, and democracy as we know it, if they help to reelect Trump by not voting for whoever is the Democratic nominee.
Every Democratic candidate is flawed just as every voter is flawed. Sorry Bernie Bros you aren’t perfect and neither is your vision or your candidate. Fact is each of the Democratic candidates is more progressive than Trump by a mile and support a more overall progressive agenda than any previous Democratic nominee. The issue is about scale and scope.
It is also about the American electorate. How far and how fast they are willing to support change. In many ways it is even more important to win the Congress than it is the presidency. By winning the Senate we can stop the appointment of ultra-conservative judges and if we have the Congress can stop budget cuts to programs like Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security, the dismemberment of the Environmental Protection Agency and halt future tax cuts for the rich. So it is crucial Democrats have a nominee at the head of the ticket who will not be a stone around the neck of all down ballot candidates.
Some of the online debate has been about whether we are really a socialist country because we collectively fund schools, our police, the military and programs like social security. Should we really compare ourselves to Sweden and Norway? When Sanders does that we must question whether the American electorate believes it and will vote for a candidate who is a self-declared Democratic Socialist? Will the average voter understand what socialism really is and the difference between socialism and democratic socialism? More likely they will simply fear ‘socialism’ and vote against the candidate who espouses it.
Voters will buy into the ads Trump and his acolytes will surely run attacking Sanders. Trump and his minions will never use the word Democratic along with the word socialist. Because of this each of our down-ballot candidates from school board to United States Senate will be spending half their time distancing themselves from the “socialist” at the head of our ticket if our nominee is Bernie Sanders.
Those defending Sanders keep pointing to how he polls well against Trump. What they conveniently disregard is the Republicans have yet to attack Sanders because they want to run against him. They are just waiting with baited breath and a billion dollars to go after him if he wins the nomination. While it may all be nonsense the commercials will come reminding people of how he spent his honeymoon in the Soviet Union, his support of the Sandinistas and Ortega in Nicaragua, and of Fidel Castro in Cuba. I won’t bother going into the nuances of his support because neither will the Republican attack machine nor will the American public.
The president will also use Sanders call for a “revolution” against him. The majority of Americans don’t want a revolution. We are seeing that even in the Democratic primary electorate. Sanders underperformed in New Hampshire by a wide margin. He even lost one of the big college towns he won in 2016. He didn’t get the big boost in Iowa failing to bring out the hordes of new voters he predicted. He is actually running second to Pete Buttigieg in the delegate count with his 21 to Pete’s 22.
In 2018 Democrats took back the House of Representatives by having moderate Democrats win in swing districts across the country. The progressives Sanders and those like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez supported in those districts all lost either in a primary or in the election. Primary voters in both parties tend to be more right-wing or left-wing but the general electorate when polled show the majority are middle of the road voters. According to a Gallup poll while Democrats are more liberal Americans as a whole remained center-right ideologically and therefore to win Democratic candidates need to be more moderate. If we field those kinds of candidates we can win. Simply look at Kennedy, Carter, Clinton and Obama as examples of how we win. The goal in 2020 must be to rid us and the world of Trump.
Peter Rosenstein is a D.C.-based LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.