Bernie Sanders 2020: The Right Message, the Wrong Messenger, at the Worst Time
It pains me to write this article and say this: I wish Bernie Sanders would not run for president in 2020.
As a fellow democratic socialist, I admire Sanders and agree with what he stands for. He champions virtually everything I believe in. But he’s also the wrong messenger at the worst possible time. Sanders is making a mistake by joining a crowded Democratic field and running for president.
To his credit, Sanders and his 2016 campaign altered the course of contemporary American politics. Should anyone doubt his impact, just look at what’s happened since the defeat. It’s virtually unheard of for the losing nominee to shift the direction of a major party, reboot its national priorities, and continue wielding influence upon a significant percentage of devoted followers who liked what Sanders had to say and looked up at a then-74-year-old career political activist somehow as a fresh face on the national stage. Even nemesis Donald Trump, in a bold rebuke during last month’s State of the Union address, felt the need to blast the growing tide of socialism in America. That’s largely Bernie’s doing. Socialism simple isn’t a bad word anymore to most Americans. Such a thing would have been unthinkable ten years ago.
For the first time in a half century, certainly not since the ill-fated presidential campaign of the late Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, Sen. Sanders made unapologetic in-your-face liberalism cool again. After decades of running away from the Leftist moniker, and in the process abandoning the working class while losing its collective soul, Sanders didn’t shy away from our core conviction that big government can (and must) be a force for good in society. While mainstream Democrats scurried from one fundraiser to the next trying to out-elbow Republicans for corporate affections, Sanders the maverick candidate with nothing to lose openly spoke his mind and preached peaceful revolution. All we were saying, was give Bernie a chance. He embraced all the seemingly forgotten tenets of social and political idealism.
A new term within the political lexicon, “Berniecrats,” now refers to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, along with Left-leaning Independents. Sanders’ grandfatherly delivery and astute frankness attracted millions of supporters, including a disproportionate number of young people who become politically active for the first time. These are Bernie’s disciples, and will ultimately become his most deeply lasting legacy. He alone ignited the seeds of a much broader movement that’s likely bear fruit when the next’s generation’s time comes to make the laws. Sanders was, and very much remains, a viable political force to be reckoned with.
So, given Sanders’ impressive track record in exceeding everyone’s expectations and even changing the political game, why am I so convinced he’s making the wrong decision to run again in 2020? Why have I come to bury Sanders rather than praise him?
Well first, there are lingering questions about Sanders’ party allegiance. After all, he isn’t a Democrat and therefore shouldn’t be running under the party’s official party banner. Most Democratic voters pretty much ignored this minor issue the last time around, since it was believed the “crazy socialist” posed no serious threat to the continuation of the Clinton dynasty. He won’t be cut as much slack this time, since the Vermont senator remains a self-described Independent — with a Capital “I” next to his name.
Sanders’ wide periphery of political influence in other states makes him essential to Democrats, and they know it. The party should be made aware they’ll need what remains of Berniecrats to show up at the polls and vote, come 2020, because so many didn’t in the last election and that’s one reason we ended up with the chaos of Trump. Indeed, let’s remember that more Americans call themselves Independents now — than either Democrats or Republicans. Yet, an astounding political reality still remains: Winning elections in America requires candidates to align themselves with one of the two major parties. Democrats can’t afford to lose independents. If they do, that spells a possible Trump 2o2o victory (assuming the criminal isn’t removed from office first). So, dealing with Sanders and his base is very tricky for the party that can’t afford any mistakes.
Sanders would be age 79 if he somehow wins the 2020 nomination. Yes, ageism is terribly unfair, but it remains a significant political factor. Ask around. Some people insist they won’t vote for a candidate who would be the oldest man ever elected to the presidency. And while former Vice President Joe Biden also carries much the same burden (he’s the same age), and President Trump in his 70s clearly demonstrates alarming cognitive decline, Sanders enters the presidential race with serious baggage as to whether someone in his 80’s would be fully capable of the day-to-day pressures of the job.
Moreover, there’s no compelling reason for Sanders to join the 2020 race, other than for personal vanity. In 2016, Sanders was a compelling force and an attractive alternative to Hillary Clinton, the embodiment of the old Democrat establishment. Progressives desperately needed a horse in the race, and the long shot damn near won the whole derby. Yet, this isn’t the case four years later. The landscape and the field have changed completely. Out of the dozen or so major candidates on the Democratic side, perhaps a third of the current potential nominees can rightfully be tagged a liberals in the Sanders mold. All the known candidates have embraced some of his views. It seems redundant to add yet another candidate to the stage and keep slicing the progressive pie into smaller pieces.
Then, there’s political practicality. The 2020 race will require a completely different approach, both in tact and substance, than we’re used to seeing. Democrats need to pull out the switchblades and quit treating this like a chess game. 2020 will be a knife fight in a dark alley at 3 in the morning. When one side plays dirty, it’s suicidal to play nice. So, this time, let’s play to win. Sanders, while passionate as an advocate and fiery as a speaker, remains profoundly intellectual in his disposition. Accordingly, I’m not convinced he’s the best counter-puncher to an unhinged bully. When Trump throws right hooks, we’re going to require a left uppercut with the weight of a sledgehammer, and a knockout. Sanders simply isn’t the right street fighter for what will be necessary.
Finally, there are growing concerns, even among some supporters, that Sanders and his repetitive messaging has become stale. He’s “so 2016.” Sanders was correct to make income inequality and class division the cornerstone of his previous campaign. To a large extent, he’s already won the ideological war for the heart and soul of the party since virtually all Democrats now favor raising the minimum wage, adopting some form of universal health care, and making the tax system more fair for the working class. But Sanders’ ceaseless attacks on billionaires, while certainly warranted, won’t be greeted with nearly as much enthusiasm when its clear the real boogeyman to America isn’t named Warren Buffet or Elon Musk, but Donald J. Trump.
Petty party suspicions will hurt Sanders. Ageism will hurt Sanders. Tougher competition will hurt Sanders. Legitimate questions about whether he’s the ideal candidate to face Trump will hurt Sanders. An outdated message will hurt Sanders.
Instead of running again, which is likely to be an wasteful exercise in futility, a regurgitation of familiar themes we saw in 2016, and ultimately another defeat, Sen. Sanders should take a well-deserved bow for being electric shock therapy to a dysfunctional and thoroughly corrupt political and economic system. He can still be a game changer, perhaps the Left’s elder-statesman. Bernie: The New Lion of the Senate — ala Ted Kennedy. As the largest newspaper in his home state pined only a few weeks ago, he was elected to do a job for the citizens of Vermont. His interests, Vermont’s interests, and the interests of the American progressive movement would best be served by passing the torch to a new generation of visionaries.
Thank you, Bernie Sanders for all you have done and for what you will continue to do as a legislator. You have changed the political landscape for the better. Now please, step aside, and let your followers take the lead from here.