By C.J. Atkins
Bernie Sanders has a sexism problem.
Bernie Sanders doesn’t get black voters. Bernie Sanders is becoming unlikable.
Bernie Sanders is too old. Bernie Sanders is too white.
The television talk circuit,
newspaper op-ed pages, and Twitter are all filled these days with analysts
eagerly making the case that Democratic voters shouldn’t give the independent
senator from Vermont a second shot at the presidency in 2020.
It’s time to realize, detractors
say, that his run for the Democratic nomination was never the people-powered
“political revolution” it claimed to be. Instead, it was just another campaign
machine defined by racial blind spots, unequal pay for women staff, the
downplaying of harassment claims, a male-dominated management, and the like.
There are some valid points here,
for sure. Sanders himself essentially admitted his messaging was a bit too
narrow, prompting him to broaden his policy focus to include criminal justice
reform and poverty in minority communities in 2016. (It’s worth noting, though,
that extensive research has put to rest the myth that black voters don’t like
Sanders.) And his flat-footed response to recent allegations of sexism inside
the campaign that he would “do better next time,” can rightly be characterized,
if we’re being generous, as more than a bit tone deaf.
So Bernie Sanders isn’t flawless.
His campaign had some problems. He’s still got some problems.
Of course, few serious people in the
Sanders camp were ever claiming that Bernie was the savior to lead us into
utopia. Sure, some adherents have built him up as the socialist saint who would
have torn down the neoliberal establishment in the Democratic Party, overturned
capitalist corruption on Wall Street, and, if he hadn’t been “cheated” out of
the nomination, sent Donald Trump back to his gold-encrusted Manhattan perch
atop Trump Tower.
But even if we decide to set aside
the overhyped promises of the Sanders zealots, does that mean we should jump
all the way to the other extreme and conclude that Bernie Sanders is not a real
progressive, as some who adhere to identity politics argue? Should we really
turn our backs on the message of class struggle economics and coalition
politics that were the heart and soul of his campaign?
That’s exactly what the Wall Street
Democrats want us to do. And whether some progressives realize it or nor, when
they expend so much effort tearing down Sanders, they’re helping make the case.
Last summer, Third Way—the
“center-left” think tank that represents the interests of corporate America
inside the Democratic Party—held an exclusive, invitation-only conference to
tell Democrats to stop talking about inequality. Quit worrying about how much
the rich have and just encourage the working class and middle class to focus on
moving themselves up the ladder—become “opportunity Democrats.”
The conference was bankrolled by New
York real estate titan and billionaire Winston Fisher. The clear target of the
whole shindig was the class struggle platform that Sanders and the movement
behind him built in 2016, strengthened in 2018, and are set to deploy again in
“Once again, the time has come to
mend, but not end, capitalism for a new era,” Third Way President Jon Cowan
told the crowd of movers and shakers. Ohio Congressman (and potential
presidential candidate) Tim Ryan was even more blunt: “You’re not going to make
me hate somebody just because they’re rich. I want to be rich!”
Rich people are not the problem.
Wall Street is not the problem. An unfair economy is not the problem. No, for
Third Way, we need to worry about adapting people for life under modern
capitalism. Stop concerning ourselves with the fanciful idea there is any
Third Way says we need things like
private pensions, not a stronger Social Security program. A Small Business Bill
of Rights, not a beefed-up regulatory regime for the big banks and hedge funds.
A negotiated deal with Republicans to bring “stability” to our current health
care system, not Medicare for All.
The strenuous opposition has nothing
to do with any accusations of sexism against the Sanders campaign, nor his
blind spots on racial equality, nor his age. Sanders is anathema precisely
because he helped build a movement of working-class people that, despite what
some may argue, crossed racial, ethnic, and gender lines. It’s a movement that
has challenged both politics as usual and chipped away at the notion that
capitalism should never be questioned.
Indeed, no one at a national level
in recent memory has more consistently called out the crimes and corruption of
the ruling class on Wall Street and in Washington than Bernie Sanders. But the
vision represented by the Sanders campaign is bigger than Sanders the
candidate. It’s a program that goes beyond electoral politics and aims at
empowering working-class people to unite and fight for their own interests
against a system that has been long tilted against them.
Whatever legitimate criticisms might
be made of Bernie or his campaign—and there are plenty—it’s important to keep
in mind the larger context in which attacks on him are taking place. The target
for many is not actually Bernie Sanders the imperfect person, but rather the
economic program and class-based politics that nearly overturned the 2016
Democratic presidential primary.
That is exactly what the Wall Street
Democrats are determined to prevent happening again. Are progressives going to
help or hinder them?
The way forward is to perfect and
strengthen the political revolution of 2016. Integrate the intersectionalities
of class, race, gender, immigration status, and sexuality into the program’s
DNA. Talk about how the failures of capitalism affect all people—and how they
affect different groups of people differently. Develop policy proposals that
address the common and the specific.
Above all, don’t get too caught up
on Bernie Sanders the person. The struggle ahead is still a long one, and
Bernie isn’t always going to be around to lead it. Focus on the Sanders
platform, making it stronger and more comprehensive. Expand the movement of
people for whom questioning capitalism is now common sense. (IPA Service)
Courtesy: People’s World