“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.