Now that Bernie Sanders is officially in the 2020 Presidential race, all of the old criticisms about him have resurfaced. Here are my responses to 11 of them:
- “He’s not even a Democrat.”
Sanders has raised literally millions of dollars for Democratic candidates for local, state, and federal office. Sanders campaigned for Barack Obama extensively after he clinched the Democratic nomination in 2008. Sanders has had his legislation co-sponsored (and often co-opted) by several major candidates currently running for President. Sanders has voted against the Trump agenda more often than 42 current Democratic senators and 1 independent, meaning only three senators have voted against Trump more often.
Also, is it simply enough to be a Democrat? Are we seriously making the argument that we’d rather have Joe Manchin as our nominee, as opposed to Sanders, simply because Manchin has a D behind his name? Most serious people wouldn’t argue that, because we understand that it’s policy that matters. Sanders has been supporting Democratic causes and candidates even when much of the party establishment has chosen not to support him.
2. “He divided the party in 2016. Hillary lost because of his supporters.”
Somewhere between 6%-12% of Sanders primary voters ended up supporting Donald Trump in the general election. That’s inexcusable given that the differences between Trump and Sanders were much more significant than the differences between Sanders and Clinton. That said, about 25% of Clinton primary voters ended up voting for John McCain over Barack Obama in 2008. Sanders actively campaigned for Clinton after the convention and his supporters almost uniformly got behind her during the general election, albeit begrudgingly. After the election, Sanders went on a literal unity tour across America with DNC Chairman Tom Perez.
Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 because of a mix of outside circumstances including a poorly timed letter from the director of the FBI, but also because her campaign had a fundamental misunderstanding of the electorate.
3. “He took time from Stacey Abrams’ State of the Union response.”
Bernie Sanders didn’t upstage Stacey Abrams. If anybody upstaged Stacey Abrams it was Kamala Harris (who is also running for President), who decided to deliver her remarks before Abrams. Which is especially bad when you consider that Harris actually is a Democrat and therefore didn’t have any real ideological reason to have her own response. Sanders gave his own response to the State of the Union for last year, too, and this year he waited to deliver his remarks until after Abrams concluded hers. He even began his remarks by praising Abrams, saying “let me thank Stacey Abrams for her extremely effective response. Now, we all know why she would have been a wonderful Governor of Georgia.”
4. “He shouldn’t be running when we have so many other qualified candidates who are women and people of color.”
I’m sensitive to this argument because I was especially disappointed that Barack Obama was succeeded and Hillary Clinton was defeated by the human manifestation of racism and misogyny. I want to see a woman elected president, and I recognize what that would mean for the history of our country. It is truly amazing that we have several experienced women seeking the presidency, and two of those women are minorities. But let’s be clear, it would be disrespectful if we elevated a candidate or placed them under special consideration because of the color of their skin or their gender.
Every candidate has a long record we can look at to understand their vision for America, and we should not minimize any candidate’s accomplishments to their cultural identifiers. I believe Sanders is the best candidate because of his policy ideas, and that’s the only responsible way to approach this primary. Anything else will lead to a further debasement of our politics.
5. “He voted against the Brady Bill, and he didn’t have an F rating from the NRA,”
Bernie Sanders did in fact vote against the Brady bill a number of times, and very early in his career he held a fairly moderate stance on gun regulation, a position that is very much out of step with today’s Democratic party. However Sanders has had a much more progressive record on guns over the last decade and the president of the Brady campaign has said that Sanders is not a “gun lobby lapdog” and has shown evolution in his positions.
Over the last few years, Sanders has voted to ban assault weapons, ban high capacity magazines, and to strengthen the national instant background check system. Sanders has maintained an F rating from the NRA for several years. Democrats have been willing to forgive prosecutors with fairly conservative records, like Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren, who was literally a Republican, and ultimately that’s a good thing. We should encourage our politicians to evolve and end up on the right side of the issues.
6. “He voted for the omnibus crime bill in the 90s, while criticizing Hillary for supporting it.”
An important provision of the crime bill that is often missed is its inclusion of the Violence Against Women Act. When Sanders was explaining his vote for the bill at the time, he specifically referenced his opposition to mass incarceration but his support specifically for the VAWA. Sanders said, “I have a number of serious problems with the crime bill, but one part of it that I vigorously support is the Violence Against Women Act. We urgently need the $1.8 billion in this bill to combat the epidemic of violence against women on the streets and in the homes of America.”
Throughout his tenure in the house and senate, Sanders has opposed bills that were presented as “tough on crime.” Of course, Hillary Clinton’s support of the crime bill was specifically because of its “tough on crime” approach, as was true for Joe Biden and many other Democrats at the time.
7. “He has no accomplishments.”
Here is an entire article about Sanders’ long list of accomplishments. This is from 2016 by the way, since then we can add “introduced Medicare-for-All into mainstream political thought,” among other things.
8. “He’s just too old to be President.”
If Bernie Sanders were to be elected President of the United States, he’d be 79 on inauguration day. Admittedly, that’s not especially young, in fact it’s historically old. But are we arguing that people should stop contributing to society once they reach a certain age? When do people lose their value and ability to participate? Is it at 80? Is it at 75? Is it at 70? That’s a hard question to answer (although for some people I’m sure the answer is “however old Bernie is at any given moment”).
The fact is that Sanders is a unique candidate, and his credibility on many issues is unique to him. So while it might make us more comfortable to have a younger candidate, there is nobody in political life today who has the record of Bernie Sanders.
9. “He’s not electable.”
We don’t know who is and who isn’t “electable.” For example, Donald Trump didn’t poll within 3 points of Hillary Clinton until September 2015. We think we know a few things about Presidential elections. The first is that incumbent Presidents typically have the edge when it comes to re-election. The second is that the public perception of the economy matters less than the actual state of the economy. The final thing is that Presidents who get re-elected typically pivot to the center to broaden their base as Reagan, Clinton, and Obama did after suffering midterm defeats.
Trump being an incumbent works in his favor, however he seems to be a fairly weak incumbent. While it’s true that a few Presidents have suffered worse approval ratings by this point in their term, no President in the history of polling has failed to even once achieve majority support from the voters as Trump has. The economy should in theory work in Trump’s favor, consumer confidence is as high as it’s been since the Clinton boom years. However again Trump isn’t a normal President, with several objectively good economic indicators Trump’s handling of the economy is only approved of by 49% of voters. As for pivoting to the center to broaden his support, declaring a national state of emergency over the southern border suggests that Trump will continue to play to his shrinking base. All of this is to say, it’s still very early but it’s easy to imagine a scenario where most Democrats would be able to defeat Donald Trump.
10. “His campaign was connected to Russia, just like Trump’s.”
Vladimir Putin hated Hillary Clinton. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that he used his cyber-power to weaken Clinton wherever he could, first during the primaries and then during the general election. The difference between Sanders and Trump however is that it seems that members of the Trump campaign (and perhaps Trump himself) were aware of these efforts and actively sought the support of Russia to defeat Clinton. The Mueller team has been diligently investigating Russian collusion during the 2016 election, and up to this point, no members of the Sanders team have been indicted.
Sanders, unlike Trump, has been willing to criticize Putin and his actions in Syria, Ukraine, and his human rights record in Russia. The US Intelligence agencies said it best: “We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”
11. “ I just don’t like him.”
This is fair. Maybe you’re not supportive of lefty policy ideas like Medicare-for-All, or free 4-year public college, or the Green New Deal. Maybe you don’t like the style of Sanders or some of his more toxic supporters. Maybe you’re still hurting over 2016, and despite knowing what you know, can’t forget what happened during the primaries. All of that is fair. However, if Bernie Sanders is our nominee for President, then in order to defeat Donald Trump it’s gonna be necessary to come together and support him. A similar message has been preached to the left since before Nader ran against Gore in 2000, and now it’s your time to accept that for the greater good you might have to support what you consider to be “the lesser of two evils.”
Our most important goal must be defeating Donald Trump and down ballot republicans in 2020.