An open letter, and invitation, to Bernie Sanders supporters. (Don’t make assumptions!)
I don’t want to make assumptions about you and I don’t want you to make assumptions about me, so let’s get a few things clear right at the beginning: I admire Bernie Sanders’ lifetime commitment to progressive causes – which is to say the betterment of human life – and his remarkable record of public service; I like Bernie Sanders more than I like most career politicians (a lot more); I have no problem with the word “socialist” when it comes before, after, or without the word “democrat;” I am glad Senator Sanders entered the 2016 Democratic nominating contest; I believe Sanders has had an impact on other candidates in the race and I think that impact has been positive; I donated a little money to the Sanders campaign early on because I wanted him to continue to influence the race; I believe there is a progressive plurality in America that could, in just a few years, become a progressive majority; I am not 100% behind any other candidate; I understand that Senator Sanders has some electability issues, but I do not believe he is unelectable; I am open to persuasion based on critical dialogue and reality-based claims about the functioning of our democratic Republic.
I mention all of this because I am eager to avoid the good guy vs. bad guy or my guy vs. your guy conversations that I so often see on social media, or in the brief moments when I wander too far down the scroll bar and encounter an internet comment thread. That isn’t the conversation I am looking for here. Some of the smartest, deepest, most sincere people I know are supporting Senator Sanders for President. I bet there are a lot of Berners out there like them – like you – and I am hoping to get emails or comments from you in response to the following questions. And since I am going for a cordial debate, let me just acknowledge that most of these questions come from my own biases and preconceptions. That said, I am willing to shift my viewpoint. Really!
Two paragraphs of disclaimers about not wanting a flame war and not being a concern troll are enough, I think. Let’s get to it.
Each question is in a big heading followed by an explanation. Links are provided to support claims of fact as much as I could manage, and I will be updating this post all week to include more links. I would greatly appreciate thoughtful responses by email, the best of which I will publish (anonymously, unless otherwise requested) on the blog in an effort to create an ongoing dialogue.
Who will be accountable for the “political revolution” required to support a President Sanders?
This is probably my biggest question in the sense that, apart from my personal bias to the issue of gun safety (more on that later), it really strikes me as magical thinking. Senator Sanders has said, many times, that he wants to lead a political revolution, or be lead by one, whatever. My point here is that I don’t understand who is accountable for this fundamental premise – and promise – of Bernie Sanders’ candidacy. Is it his job to get us all making calls and stomping pavement, or is he going to be waiting for us to show up before he moves his agenda? If we have President Sanders, but no revolution to support him, who answers for that?
What is the mechanism, or mechanisms, by which the political revolution will overcome entrenched political power?
Assuming that the political revolution – a mass movement of voters who, whether they even realize it or not, are working to advance a progressive political agenda – emerges after the Senator becomes President, how will we go about overcoming all the corporate, institutional, and even personal forces arrayed against us? Will we organize locally and focus on our cities and states? Will we focus on lobbying the US Congress and making change at the national level? What is the actual plan? Or plans?
Are you at all concerned that Senator Sanders predominately white, educated bloc of supporters foreshadows major obstacles to building up the racially diverse movement required to support his political revolution?
Will this political revolution view compromise as incremental progress or as some kind of defeat?
Obviously a political revolution can’t overtake every entrenched interest immediately, so at least early on some compromises will be required. Will it be “hey we won and here is what is next” or “yeargh they sold us out again, I’m done here” or something else I haven’t thought of? This is basically a question about the sustainability of the political revolution beyond the excitement of a Presidential race, which is one of the rare times in US politics when one side really gets a solid, clean, indisputable victory.
Do you believe that Senator Sanders is “above” or “outside” of the usual mode(s) of political discourse in the United States?
My favorite thing about Bernie Sanders used to be his sincerity, until he took
every multiple opportunities to mention and condemn Bill Clinton’s sex scandals while on his way to saying he didn’t want to talk about them. This is a very deft rhetorical move by the Senator, but can we agree that this is an example of Bernie playing dirty pool? If so, does that hurt his credibility claim to being a different kind of politician? If not, why not?
For examples of what I am referring to, see here and here. For an example of how Senator Sanders is able to change the topic when he doesn’t like the question, see many examples during the November 14th, 2015 #DemDebate here. (Update: The links have been provided, and the question edited, based on reader feedback.)
Are you aware of how wrong Senator Sanders is about gun safety, even in his home state of Vermont?
(See: Does Vermont have a gun problem?) We don’t talk about it much, but suicides account for 2/3rds of gun deaths in America. Senator Sanders has said that Vermont does not have a gun problem, presumably because Vermont does not itself have a high rate of mass shootings or gun homicides. Vermont does, however, have the highest rate of gun deaths in New England and is in the top half (16th in the nation) of gun trafficking states due to its lax gun laws. So Vermont does, contrary to the Senator’s claims, have its own gun violence problem and it is also a major contributor to the gun violence problems in other states. These are facts and they are all contrary to repeated, recent statements the Senator has made in interviews and debates (and I haven’t even gotten to his congressional record yet). So I ask again: Are you aware of how wrong Senator Sanders is about gun safety, even in his home state of Vermont? If so, how do you square that with your support for Senator Sanders?
Senator Sanders’ campaign and rhetoric have focused on the idea that he has been on the right side of every issue his entire life (civil rights, Iraq War, etc). How is someone who believes he has always been right going to convince millions of Americans to change their minds about progressive policies?
To wit: Hillary Clinton has said she was wrong to vote for the Iraq War in 2003; she learned from her mistake. Senator Sanders has not yet disavowed his vote for the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) in 2005; he has not learned from that mistake. (And it was a big, big mistake.) Since so many Americans will need to be persuaded to change their preconceptions in order to support progressive policies, do you believe the candidate who believes he has been on the right side of every issue his whole life is really best suited to that task? If so, why? If not, how do you believe President Sanders and/or the political revolution supporting him will compensate for this weakness?
(conditional question) If you are a feminist: Take a moment and forget that hating Hillary Clinton is a national past time, and remember that misogyny is still misogyny even when it is aimed at a woman that many people dislike. With that in mind, I ask you: How can you get excited about a man who is constantly raising his voice, mainsplaining everything back to his preferred economic talking points, and even throwing epic side-eye, on national television, to a woman just because she dared to criticize him in the exact same manner in which he has criticized her?
I don’t think this question needs any further explanation, but I will go ahead and acknowledge that this is second only to gun safety among my personally held biases against Senator Sanders’ candidacy for President of the United States.
Last but not least…
…am I the only one who thinks that the best outcome of Sanders’ candidacy isn’t President Sanders, but Vice-President (and later President) Warren?
Let’s be strategic here, is all I’m saying.
This isn’t just clickbait. I really want a dialogue.
Obviously I would love for you to like and/or share this post and get it around to other Berners. I am human, I want attention, and I would like some of that attention in the form of page views for my blog. No denying that.
I genuinely want to hear from Berners on these rather practical matters. Respond to the whole thing, or just the questions you like – anything is helpful. Think of it this way: your candidate and our movement are not getting any stronger by debating career Clinton loyalists or the right-wing reactionaries who go apoplectic over the word “socialism.” If Senator Sanders wins Iowa and/or New Hampshire, these are the questions he and his supporters will need to be able to deal with as the Democratic nominating competition drags on, to say nothing of the scrutiny that will come if Sanders ends up in the general election. Maybe you can convince me – hey your guy doesn’t have a murky email scandal always lurking around the corner, ya know? – and maybe not. But for sure a rigorous debate with a sincere Bernie-skeptic will make you sharper as you prepare for the revolution. Reminder: I want the same revolution you do, I am in the movement with you, we just disagree about who is best able to carry our banner.
Thank you for reading. And did I mention I would really like to receive your answers to these questions? 💩 I promise Berners equal “air time” on my blog. (Click here for the TLP about page, which explains how emails are quoted on the blog. All original emails and personal information will be deleted. The site is ad-free and I do no marketing or promotion of any kind based on email submissions. (I do sometimes boost a post on Facebook, but that’s it.))