Bernie Sanders while useful cannot be the only option for progressives in 2020

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.

By Marc Nozell from Merrimack, New Hampshire, USA – bernie-sanders-franklin-nh-20150802-DSC02607, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42223170

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.

2 comments

  1. Concerned Democrat · · Reply

    Thanks for having the guts to clearly state what many of us Democrats feel on multiple fronts concerning Bernie Sanders…who i consistently have to remind my fellow Democrats is not technically a registered Democrat…but he’s using the Democratic Party and his blinded Liberal Progressive supporters who want to dismiss the obvious things you wrote about that will be brought up to destroy him on the campaign trail by Trump (see Andrew Gillum FBI) and ensure 4 more years of MAGA Trump!!!

    Don’t think it won’t happen you Andrew Gillum
    Progressives cause it will!

    The Progressive will drive us off a cliff like they did with Gillum because as an admitted “Democrat Socialist” I can clearly see Donald destroy the old man by calling him a “Communist” and it will be all over for us again…we will loose every Hispanic vote that was availiable because of the WALL because every Hispanic group here in the US has left that form of government south of our border…not to mention EVERY white and middle of the road voter in the USA!

    It will be a McGovern like disaster the likes that the Democrats havn’t seen in many, many years…and we will have the “Progressive-Socialist-Communist” block that has taken over our party to thank!

    Like

  2. A. Dent, Orlando · · Reply

    Disappointed in this take from the Squeeze. “Cult of Personality” is a substance-free insult drawn from the grab-bag of hazy centrist Democrat complaints. It’s easy to say, but as critique has all the intellectual heft of “Hillary wears pantsuits.” Likewise the claims of misogyny rest on less evidence than similar problems (i.e., a bad campaign employee) in the 2016 Clinton campaign, but somehow become a personal failing of the candidate only when it’s Sanders.

    It was never Sanders’ personality that captured the imagination of the electorate. It was the substance of his positions, notably that the U.S. is long overdue in adopting normal social democratic policies like universal healthcare enjoyed in the rest of the developed world.

    The 2020 campaign is already defined by which candidates support Medicare For All, a concept the centrist Dems told us was a delusional dream of ponies and rainbows. And we’re seeing that the tired playbook of regime change for countries not sufficiently helpful to American business interests doesn’t carry the magical power it once seemed to do.

    It’s true enough though, that Sanders doesn’t have to be the candidate. More in his mold are coming up. Tulsi Gabbard, also shunned by the DNC for speaking truth to power, has been effectively blackballed in the press, but likewise will not be able to be ignored. Her anti-interventionist stance will be the next “impossible dream” mainstream Dems will have to adopt to remain viable and relevant going forward.

    We don’t need Sanders himself to be President. But it’s Florida Democrats who are dreaming up donor-bespangled ponies and rainbows if they think they’re going to shove some Kamala-esque donor darling down our throats in 2020.

    Like

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