Littwin: It’s easy to understand why Bernie dropped out of the race — there was no other choice

Sen. Bernie Sanders at a rally in the Colorado Convention Center on Feb. 16, 2020. At the time, he was the Democratic primary frontrunner. He dropped out of the race on April 8, 2020. (Photo by Evan Semón)
Sen. Bernie Sanders at a rally in the Colorado Convention Center on Feb. 16, 2020. At the time, he was the Democratic primary frontrunner. He dropped out of the race on April 8, 2020. (Photo by Evan Semón)

“Bernie Sanders is a fucking hero. Let’s come together and beat this guy.” — Andrew Yang’s tweet upon hearing that Sanders had dropped out of the race

Bernie Sanders did the right thing. He dropped out of the presidential race because he knew he couldn’t win and because he knew that trying to run a futile race in the midst of a pandemic was not only self-defeating but also distracting from the business at hand — battling the coronavirus, eventually restarting a shattered economy while also helping those in need and, of course, ensuring that Donald Trump is gone from the White House.

This is not 2016, when Sanders hung on forever, but 2020. And the difference between then and now was the oft-dismissed threat of a Donald Trump presidency in 2016 and the oh so tragic reality of one in 2020.

But it’s ironic, if there’s a drop of irony left anywhere, that Sanders left the race just as the crisis was shining an all-too-bright light on the centerpieces of his campaign — radical health-care reform and the need for dramatic change in how we deal with economic inequality. Meanwhile, African-Americans are getting hit hard by the virus, which is also starting to spread to rural America. And the young are apparently far more vulnerable than anyone imagined.

There’s nothing to focus the mind, as they say, like the specter of death. And in this pandemic, not only will too many die — many of them due to Trump’s apparent belief  that he could block the path of a killer virus by simply denying its presence — but so many more have seen their jobs lost and, with it, their health insurance. Many of these jobs won’t come back. And while Obamacare remains an option for those who lose their jobs — not that you ever hear that mentioned at any of Trump’s self-congratulatory press briefings — Trump remains determined to upend Obamacare in the courts while refusing to open the market for those otherwise still uninsured. Did I mention just how high the stakes are?

With unemployment skyrocketing — hopefully not a long-term issue — the promise of insuring yourself at the workplace just got a lot more tenuous. And here’s a guess: Much of that insurance doesn’t come back as robustly as the economy eventually should. (Speaking of the economy, is it just me or does anyone else think Jared Polis’s April 26 proposed restart-the-economy date is just a tiny bit too optimistic?)

As for Sanders, radicals don’t win national elections in America. You could look it up. Bernie is an activist. He has been activist from within the halls of Congress for decades. Elizabeth Warren’s late-campaign suggestion that she got more accomplished than Sanders ever did is not wrong. And now, in a New York Times op-ed, Warren lays out a plan for the next stimulus package — with more help for individuals and small businesses, calling for the federal government to ensure necessary medical supplies go to the states and advocating for the desperate need for true election reform. If Biden were smart, he’d co-opt the entire package.

Even when Sanders seemed to have a lock on the nomination while running at 30% in the national polls, I doubted he could win. You can blame his loss on institutional panic. Or on Jim Clyburn’s endorsement of Biden and Sanders’ inability to win over African-American voters. Or a Sanders ceiling. Or the fact that Democrats, in the end, went for the safer choice — not that I’m sure Biden is a particularly safe choice. Or, if you prefer, you can blame Trump, who got himself impeached trying to damage Biden. If Trump is that scared of Biden — which he apparently is — Democrats needed no greater signal.

But that doesn’t mean that Sanders didn’t change the conversation in the Democratic Party. You can see that in how someone as mainstream as Biden has run a more liberal campaign in 2020 than Barack Obama ever did. Don’t say that Sanders’ campaigns didn’t matter. They helped change the course of the party, even if the party didn’t want him leading the change.

What activists can do and have done, over time, is to win the ideological battles. A 40-hour workweek was one such battle. Child labor law was one such battle. Civil rights was one such battle. Medicare was another. There’s a long, long long list. And when Sanders goes out claiming an ideological victory despite a political defeat, it’s a more than reasonable argument.

But then there’s the cult of Bernie, which is a different proposition, and, if I were Biden, I wouldn’t waste too much time trying to convert the Bernie Bros. Those who insist on voting for Trump or some third-party presence are a lost cause. But most of those young Democrats — and by young, I mean those under 50 — who embraced Sanders and his policies are, in fact, Democrats. I believe most will certainly vote against Trump, if nothing else. And Biden will likely bring in Warren and Sanders in developing his message for the fall campaign. The unity basically starts now.

I look at the disaster in Wisconsin, in which a politics-over-people Republican legislature and slow-moving Democratic governor meant that people had to literally risk their lives to vote, as message aplenty. This has to be the low point — at least so far — in the long-lived GOP campaign for voter suppression, which translates to a campaign against democracy. Given the pandemic, there’s a strong possibility that blood will be on the hands of those legislators. It’s a clear issue for Biden in running against Trump, who has admitted that universal mail-in ballots would be bad for Republicans. We know in Colorado that mail-in elections are not inherently crooked, as Trump would have Americans think.

If you watched Sanders’ video speech announcing that he was leaving the race, you might have noted that it was less than a full-on embrace of Biden. If I were a Biden supporter, I wouldn’t be discouraged. An educated guess is that Sanders was trying to let his supporters down easy. He told them he is staying on the ballot. He’s encouraging people to help him send more delegates to the convention, if there is a convention. He’s saying that the revolution is not over, even if much of it will no longer be televised.

At some point when social distancing is finally put to rest, Bernie and Biden will embrace. That was the subtext of Sanders’ message. He was getting out of the race because the stakes are just too high and because it was clear from the math that, whatever Sanders did, Biden would be the last Democrat standing.

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  1. “He’s saying that the revolution is not over, even if much of it will no longer be televised.”

    Amen! And agreed! As Gil Scott-Heron said:

    The revolution will not be televised
    WILL not be televised, WILL NOT BE TELEVISED!
    The revolution will be no re-run brothers
    The revolution will be live!

  2. Good column, as usual :-)
    Don’t agree on young dems, though: Biden has a VERY tough one to hoe here. He’s old, he’s not dynamic, and his ideas are not exciting — whatever they are — does ANYONE really know what Biden is for, other than, against Trump?
    Can’t imagine anyone under 40 coming out to vote for Biden because they are “excited” to do so, and that’s a big issue in a world in which barely over 50% of people vote, and no, younger folks aren’t nearly as motivated to vote against Trump as over-the-hill Boomers and Gen Xers, like me. .

  3. Don’t forget that Biden’s name is associated with Obama’s, and Obama is still very popular with young people in the United States. He is the white man, who was the second of a black man, and he remained faithfully by his side.

  4. “(Speaking of the economy, is it just me or does anyone else think Jared Polis’s April 26 proposed restart-the-economy date is just a tiny bit too optimistic?)”

    The currently announced date buys Polis 2 more weeks to analyze data and decide what to do. The first announcement was “Statewide order takes effect Thursday morning and expires April 11.”

    I don’t remember all of the standard advice on “crisis communication” — but wouldn’t be a bit surprised to know that people are willing to put up with something that is going to be over in 2 weeks a whole lot more than something announced to be 2 months.

  5. We don’t need to lose hope yet. Biden may drop out for age or health related reasons, clearing the way for liberal democracy to fight back against fascism and the failed Federal one-party pro-military-industrial pro-ecological-collapse pro-income-inequity pro-class-immobility pro-oligarchy pro-electoral-corruption system.

  6. Makes me wonder what in the world Obama said to Bernie during the “several calls” to discuss this issue. There’s being principled, and there’s being a stubborn prick.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like Bernie, voted for him this year. With that said, he left a bad taste in a lot of folks’ mouths when he didn’t get out this early in 2016, fragmenting the base enough for Bubbles The Clown to play president.

    Also, I’m not trying to arm chair quarterback, but why could his campaign never appeal to black voters?

    I think Polis is just letting us down easy. It’s the moving goal posts approach. He can’t responsibly open the amusement park for another month at a minimum, but doesn’t want the drama of telling everyone that right now.

    I miss golf. And happy hour. And dollar tacos at the Vine. And brunch at Max.

  7. There are so many truths buried in this article, that Make wrote, but he does not recognize them. Activists, Demonstrators. Occupiers do not get elected in USA . They do in local areas, but not when considered by entire nation. (2nd) Folks have learned to listen to President Donald Trump, and the Professionals in his Crisis Panel. They do not listen to the television talking heads, who know how to ask gotcha questions, but have no real knowledge or experience, with what they talk about. Just glib, fast, prompter readers, whether using a teleprompter, or their e-phone guide from their editor, or engineer, or ?.
    ——–3rd point: . Donald Trump knows what he is talking about, and like all business people, throw out subjects, and learns from the discussion, all the angles, pro or con to that item. Leftists, progressives, immediately label that as “lies”, not realizing or wanting to think about it. Donald is talking directly to the 63 million who elected him, and he is guiding (leading) the discussion, media, and thinking of others
    ——-4th and last point for me today: Donald Trump will deal with who ever the Democrats want to put on stage with him, just as he did in 2016, and ever since. Donald has done the same, over entire life, in business. Deals were made face to face, and he always produced quality building or facility, ahead of schedule, and under budget. And always within and under the pressure of zoning, taxing, and other opposition. He is a winner, and Democrats keep putting forth candidates, who believe in “Status Quo”. (To me, that means they want TAX and SPEND power, that enriches their own |Bank Account). . Have a good day, and pray that 1 May will bee end of “Stat at home” for most of the states, with low Virus cases.

  8. First Line had Error. MAKE should have been MIKE. I have software on computer, that some Lt. Fuzz, designed. Changes the word I type, to what they think I was going to type. See that in lot of other postings. too.

  9. Why was I for Bernie? I’m an educated 65 year old woman working in the health care industry since 1993 as a speech and language therapist (masters degree is the entry level degree)t. It has become uglier and uglier and harder and harder to remain ethical in practice and make a living. I actually make less money/hour now than I did 20 years ago because of consolidation in the health care industry and because health care dollars go to CEOs and shareholders, not to actual healthcare. I wanted someone who truly “gets it” and that just getting “education” as was the Obama line, would not solve the problem at all. I wanted someone with longstanding commitment who won’t turn on a dime like Obama did with the public option. Biden is no Obama. That’s only the start of why I supported Bernie.

  10. One thing is true. Politics is the art of the possible. No matter how good an idea is, if it does not have broad support it is likely to fail. The Affordable Care Act barely passed and has been under attack ever since. In the ten years since the ACA more people have come to like it and would support expanding it. I agree that some version of “Medicare for All” is the most sensible, fair and cost effective way to run a health care system. Unfortunately at least half the country still doesn’t see that way. Bernie never offered a path to get there. I believe Medicare for All who want it offers a path.

  11. John. Check out Canada and England. They have their own version of healthcare for all (but that care is rationed). As one of our Journalist visited a friend in Canada, and has a continuing problem, that bothers him at time. Canada has some care for tourists, but this fellow signed in, sat for a time, and asked at desk how much longer it would be. Was told about 9 hours to see initial doctor, to determine if he needed t see a specialist. I visited Vancouver Island, years ago, and when family toured White’s Castle, I chose to stay with motor home. Across the street, was a very fancy looking Mansion Type Facility, but noticing several senior aged folks waiting at bus sign, I walked over and engaged in conversation. They told me they did receive care, but had long waits between appointments, and time was not always sufficient, to get good answers to their needs. Reason many of them, would make a drive on Ferry to Seattle, and go to U.S. doctor, and pay whatever charge was, rather than wait. Ferry trip is 4 hours each way, so that would take full day. ——–Side Note: if ever near Seattle, the Ferry trip and few days is worthwhile on Vancouver Island. We visited for a week, and only saw about 5 % of Island. Lot of different terrains, forests, small towns, and other views, including Pacific ocean with beach front. Not crowded either.

  12. MONDAY 2:14 pm. quick REQUEST FOR ALL READERS. Did Hell freeze over, and I did not notice?
    Friday, Governor Newsom in California gave credit to President Donald Trump for helping and supplying California with help, everything they asked for, and needed. And Commended President for taking command of this Issue. —–
    ——–Today on Howard Stern’s show, Governor Andrew Cuomo gave same full credit, and commended President Donald Trump for supply of needed equipment and material needed in New York. Also when he calls President, he reaches him, or the President calls him within 10 minutes.
    ——–Watch all the heads blow up today, and what will the talking heads on television talk about now???? What will the summer be like, until November? And what and who, will the Democrat candidate be, if Biden folds up now.

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