Recently, The Times Argus and Rutland Herald ran an editorial imploring Sen. Bernie Sanders not to run again for president in 2020. The arguments against his candidacy amounted to the same “perhaps in another time, another place” laments that were so often deployed against Sanders in 2016.
At first, I was pained to see this overly cautious attitude being presented as wisdom, but then I felt a spark of hope: At least, this time they are getting it out of their system early.
During the 2016 primary season that saw Hillary Clinton triumph over Sanders as the country’s progressive standard-bearer, one editorial after another warned of Sanders’ unviability in the general election: too old, too cantankerous, not risk-averse enough and wielding an agenda out of some hippie’s dream journal. The thinking went that this veritable outlaw of idealism could never conquer the imaginations of hidebound, dry toast America.
Donald Trump, the proof of the failed theory of the “hot potato candidate,” now squats in the Oval Office, firing off incoherent tweets hourly, plotting executive end-runs around the will of Congress … and enjoying a disturbing level of popularity for it. He may soon be selecting his third Supreme Court justice.
So, I am happy that the anti-Sanders sentiment that is brewing among many progressives is arriving sooner rather than later. Hopefully, they will get over their cold feet quickly, because we need Sanders now more than ever.
After Barack Obama’s re-election triumph over Mitt Romney on Election Night 2012, Democrats mocked the “bubble mentality” of conservatives who had deluded themselves about Romney’s strength. Today, it is the Democrats who are in a bubble, certain that Trump fatigue and Robert Mueller will pave the way for a safe, Beltway liberal to return us to normalcy. They have grown so cocky, in fact, that they can barely contain their glee at clipping the wings of upstart Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, herself an early warning sign of a restive progressive base.
But, who today could trust the Democrats to read the tea leaves correctly? Trump has proven himself to be a poll-defying master of electronic media, a creature custom-built for the empty, ratings-driven TV show of presidential politics. In 2020, his eccentricities will be more than offset by the power of his office and his complete control over a neutered Republican Party that he has broken to his will.
Now look at who Nancy Pelosi and the donor class would have us ooze over: Joe Biden, the 76-year-old perennial bridesmaid with a #MeToo target on his chest; Elizabeth Warren, once the Great White Hope of the slightly left-of-center, but now publicly owned by Trump’s schoolyard taunts; and Beto O’Rourke, a typical Third Way Dem who hopes that being a cool, purple-state Fonzie will compensate for his unambitious program. If one of these “safe bets” is standing underneath the balloons when they drop at the DNC convention, God help us.
Which brings us back to Sanders. Few can argue with his charm or his fidelity to the causes that liberals often only pay lip service to. But then comes that fear of the unknown, of Sanders as the divider of the already “well-fractured Democratic Party” (to quote this newspaper).
It’s time liberals ask themselves what they are really afraid of: Sanders as a wedge, or Sanders as the glue?
Take health care. After decades of tinkering at the edges of reform, Democrats finally gave us the Affordable Care Act, a conservative, think-tanked solution that is riddled with all the errors and inefficiencies that naturally flow from placating the health insurance industry. The ACA is now a moving target, always on the brink of being sabotaged. And it would be … except for the fact that the public — left and right — actually wants more of what the ACA has promised.
But, while the half-a-loaf Democrats continue to appease an obsolete health care bureaucracy, it is the Sanders wing that unapologetically states the obvious: that the inevitable endgame must be Medicare for all.
Sanders’ position on that topic is the unity position. His is the clear voice rising above a din of confusing non-solutions. The “division” that concerns liberals is simply the fear of a leader sticking to his guns while his party wrings its hands. But, so what? Our country has already shown that it has patience to spare when it comes to Trump’s tantrums over his concrete border monstrosity; I think we’ll be just fine with a little friction in service of universal health insurance.
Now is the time for liberals to make their peace with the left, not the other way around. The left will not be press-ganged into obedience in 2020 simply because “the stakes are too high.” When aren’t the stakes too high? The Democrats have lived in terror of a leftist candidate since George McGovern lost to Richard Nixon. The specter of that loss even led Rolling Stone magazine to repent of its youthful arrogance and declare for Clinton over Sanders in 2016, because “America chooses its presidents from the middle, not from the ideological wings.”
Rolling Stone spoke on behalf of all of America’s benighted centrists when it chose not to endorse Sanders’ “intoxicating … great hopes and dreams.” Instead, it put its chips on Clinton’s soaring “incremental progress.” Now, thanks to the ideology of almighty caution, Clinton’s loss has become the new standard for political miscalculation. At last, McGovern’s ghost can rest.
You can try to diminish Sanders by calling him a rumpled symbol for hopeless dreamers. You can call him an imprudent spoiler. You can curse his movement’s “purity testing” while trying to torpedo his reputation over some small-bore indiscretions by his campaign staff ... it isn’t going to work. Yes, Sanders is an idealist. And in 2020, the race had better have at least one of them.
Jason Yungbluth is the author of the graphic novel “Weapon Brown,” and an adjunct professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York.