The field of Democratic candidates for the 2020 election have embraced many of the ideas that Bernie Sanders ran on back in 2016, even though back then those same plans were denounced by the party establishment as too radical and unrealistic for voters, as part of their strategy to have neoliberal Hillary Clinton be the nominee. We know the result. Clinton lost to possibly the worst presidential candidate in the last century. And now we are being told that Joe Biden, who is pretty much Clinton 2.0 (or Clinton 3.0 if you consider Bill Clinton to be version 1.0) as the ‘moderate centrist’ who can win over Trump voters. Yes, they are running the same old losing playbook that they ran last time.
Matt Taibbi has been on the campaign trail with Sanders and points out that it is not just other Democrats who are adopting parts of Sanders’ platform. In the 2016 election, Donald Trump did so as well.
His speech is designed to remind everyone, Democrats as much as ostensible Trump voters, how explicit Trump’s promises on the “economic insecurity” front were and how miserably he’s failed at keeping them. Bernie has never said this out loud, but some of his frustration may come from the fact that candidate Trump in 2015-16 often borrowed from Sanders-esque critiques about corporate power; he even regularly made it a point to praise Sanders in speeches.
“Trump told the American people that he would provide health care to everybody, remember that?” Sanders says.
The crowd cheers a little. Perhaps not everyone remembers, but Trump did once promise “insurance for everybody,” adding a classic strongman’s pledge that “everybody is going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.”
Sanders lists other Trump pledges seemingly stolen directly from his own campaign. “I remember the ad that he ran, it was really a very good ad,” Sanders quips. “He said, ‘I, Donald Trump, [am] going to stand up to Wall Street.’ Remember that? Oh, yeah, and we’re going to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act.”
It all makes sense. The disconnect is the crowd isn’t exactly full of duped Trump supporters. Most of the assembled are young, progressive-leaning students whom Sanders had already won over in the last election cycle.
“I loved his 2016 campaign,” says Zach Farmer, a University of Wisconsin student, who adds he liked that Sanders “introduced things like Medicare for All, free college tuition, things like that.” Farmer was merely a fan in 2016 but plans to volunteer this time around, a typical representation of how the Sanders phenomenon has grown since the last election.
Taibbi writes how since Sanders’ platform is now mainstream, his critics have gone even more extreme and resurrected good old-fashioned red-baiting.
What was merely a lack of institutional support in 2016 has transformed into active institutional opposition. Among the donor class, his own party’s leadership and in most of the commercial media, he is roundly despised. He is blamed often for Clinton’s 2016 loss, and denounced as a dangerous socialist, a narcissist obstructionist, even the Kremlin’s candidate. (Multiple Washington Post columns have claimed Vladimir Putin is pushing the Sanders campaign in order to help “elect Trump.”)
For Sanders to win, all his voters have to do is overthrow basically the entire political system, which would be ridiculous except that all the other options may be worse: Trump is no solution, and a seemingly mighty traditional Democrat fell short last time.
Moreover, if 2016 taught us anything, it’s that press pronouncements are often an anti-indicator on electability questions.
In a separate article Taibbi says that the red-baiting of Sanders by the mainstream media and the two party establishments has been taken to ridiculous lengths, portraying him as the second coming of Joseph Stalin and relentless pushing the Democrats to nominate a ‘moderate, centrist’ which is code for a business-friendly, warmongering, neoliberal.
Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Colorado-governor-turned-presidential-candidate John Hickenlooper — who sells himself as a “pragmatic progressive” — went after Sanders in New Hampshire, though not by name.
“You have to hand it to the GOP for achieving the near-impossible,” Hickenlooper said in early May. “Just years after the collapse of the Soviet Union…who would have imagined the Koch brothers and Donald Trump could help resuscitate the discredited ideas of Karl Marx and Joseph Stalin?”
Sanders does pitch himself as a revolutionary (see On the Campaign Trail With Bernie Sanders 2.0). His use of the term, however, is less reality than a dark satirical commentary, speaking to how insanely far modern America has drifted in the direction of a laissez-faire free-for-all. There has not been a true labor candidate as a viable presence in a presidential race in modern American history: They’ve all been backed by big money.
What politicians like Sanders and Warren represent isn’t Marxism, but an introduction to what politics might look like if you removed money from the policymaking equation.
Most people would rather have affordable health and day care than battleships, they want to be able to go to college without being in debt until death, and they want better schools and more job security.
If policies like these were decided by up-and-down plebiscite, without the advocacy of corporate-sponsored politicians and media outlets that would lose fortunes in ad dollars if elections were publicly-funded, there’s little question that people would ask for more than they’re getting now.
The current panic in the press is designed to make people think that if they demand more politically, it’s going to end in purges and Gulags. It’s a trick, and a big part of the reason there’s going to be a massive effort at creating an “ick” factor around politicians like Sanders, and to a lesser extent, Warren.
They want people to think it’s socially unacceptable to ask for job security or subsidized education or other protections. More to the point, they want to go back to the good old days, when the presidential election season was a glorious ritual in which voters took two years to decide if they would vote for the politicians who’d completely sold them out, or only just mostly.
Bernie Sanders may not be the answer, but he isn’t Stalin, and voter attitudes aren’t changing because people are romanticizing the Great Terror. We’ve just had awful leadership for so long that demanding fairness and competence from politicians has started to seem like a radical idea. It isn’t, but get used to being told it is, until the next election at least.
Nina Turner says it best about Sanders, “He won’t sell you out, and you can take it to the bank,” Turner says. “He can’t be bought off.”
What Turner says about Sanders never being bought off is true, if only because if the senator tried to sell out, he wouldn’t know where to start and would suck at it. He’s also never tried shutting up, and probably couldn’t do that, either.
The political-media establishment will wrap their desire for yet another neoliberal Democrat like Biden by claiming that he is more ‘electable’, despite the fact that pundit estimates of electability have been laughably, actually woefully, wrong in the past. Hillary Clinton was not only considered highly electable, she was considered a shoo-in to win against the utterly unelectable Trump. And yet, we are supposed to listen to those pundits again.