Editors note: This column reflects Kartik Krishnaiyer’s personal views and is not necessarily endorsed or supported by TFS’ other writers.
Bernie Sanders is running for President again. The video announcement by the Vermont Senator have dominated cable news shows and Twitter conversations over the past several days. Sanders 2016 run for President was an important pivot for the nation’s political discourse. The concept Democratic Socialism, a staple of leftist thought in western democracies outside the US and Japan finally become acceptable in the United States. For that everyone in this nation owes Senator Sanders a massive thank you.
Democratic socialism which has been a fairly mainstream movement in the U.K. since the 1940’s and in continental Europe since the 1960’s was long overdue in the United States. Critiquing capitalism does not make one a communist, a subversive or a Russian agent – it makes someone objective about a society, its failings and its accumulation of wealth in the hands of a limited percentage of people. Sanders critiques of American wealth and democracy were long overdue and have been a service to this country.
However since 2016, many of Sanders most ardent supporters have created a cult-of-personality around their candidate that inoculates him from the critiques that would be applied to just about any other candidate or public official. The defenses of Sanders and the unwillingness to address any criticism of him or his policies are reminiscent of Trump supporters in many ways.
The assumption among a not so insignificant group on the left is that anyone who ever dares criticize Sanders is a handmaiden for the neoliberal Democratic establishment or has been bought off by a large corporation. So since I have retired from taking any political work, this is a jump into the dark which might end up seeing me attacked without mercy – but I am willing to take that chance in a way perhaps I was fearful of a few years ago.
Sanders’ policy views are one thing but would he actually be able to govern? Jeremy Corbyn has proven a disaster as the leader of Labour in the UK and while that is not the US, UK and US politics have since the end of World War II often been in close or total sync. Corbyn and Sanders are often compared, for good reason.
While Corbyn, like Sanders is right on most values questions, his ineffectual leadership and unwillingness to consistently act in the public good as an opposition leader is more reminiscent of Mitch McConnell than anyone else. It seems Corbyn could not properly transition from prominent leftist agitator as an MP to leftist leader of a parliamentary party. He never stops playing politics, much to the determent of the U.K. as a nation-state in this critical time of Brexit. Like McConnell, the gridlock created might benefit Corbyn and his party, but that doesn’t mask the fact he has neglected his responsibilities as the opposition leader. My fear is Sanders would be similar and would not practically govern were he elected. Perhaps he would conduct himself differently than Corbyn, be but we need a close inspection as to whether he could actually govern rather than just rallying behind him.
Then we have the more important in my view question of Sexual Harassment and misogyny from Sanders last campaign. Since Sanders ran in 2016, the #MeToo movement has gained steam and the 2020 Presidential campaign must be viewed within these confines. Sure Sanders has apologized and met with those impacted at this point, but lots of questions remain. I was moved by this account by a victim published in December and then the subsequent claims of sexism which honestly seemed to jive with the climate at the time among some on the left. The snowball effect got worse until finally Sanders met with victims and cleared the air.
While Sanders isn’t directly responsible for it, many of his supporters in opposition to Hillary Clinton unconsciously (we assume) pushed narratives that were sexist and based on the paternal order of things as they have long existed in our society. I would recommend any potential supporter, particularly females reading as much as they can on this. It is also worth pondering how Sanders supporters would handle these sorts of revelations if it were connected to a neoliberal Democratic establishment candidate? They’d rightly work hard to bury that candidate or public official that allowed a culture of sexism and misogyny to take hold.
It’s difficult to overstate the anxiety I feel about Sanders in this #MeToo era. Given what took place in 2016 he must be held to account and to a high standard going forward in terms of how those who convey his message and fall into his personality cult behave toward women. Predatory male behavior is nothing new in Democratic politics but what exactly are those who profess to hold progressive values doing to stop it when it is right in front of them? That is a test Sanders must pass for 2020.
We have staked out a position on this site against shallow identity politics at TFS. All-too-often establishment Democrats replace any sort of shared center- left ideology with identity and racial victimization. However, it seems the pendulum has swung the other way dramatically on the hard left with many Sanders supporters failing to incorporate any meaningful historic racial or gender-based analysis into their critiques of the perceived Democratic mainstream or American society. There is a middle ground here but right now the warring factions within the Democratic Party’s electoral coalition aren’t meeting halfway on this.
A cult-of-personality has emerged around Senator Sanders that isn’t that different from Donald Trump. While I myself have been guilty in the past of attributing nefarious motives to the Democratic establishment and advocating progressive candidates and ideologies, personality cults lead to either dictatorship or banana republic style politics. We’ve been falling toward that for sometime in the United States, and while Sanders himself isn’t responsible, many of his supporters seem to want to push that style of electioneering onward. It’s important to acknowledge anyone who opposes Sanders isn’t necessarily corrupt or an establishment figure. Perhaps they have other reasons for opposition as stated above.
Bernie Sanders and his supporters have an important role to play in the future of progressive politics and creating an important shared ideology on the left. But uncritically supporting any candidate or agenda isn’t what open-minded, tolerant liberalism is about. It’s simply a leftist version of the “me too” conservatism, Sanders acolytes love to accuse the Democratic mainstream of.