An array of impressive candidates have announced bids for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Most have adopted the signature measures of Bernie’s campaign: Medicare For All, climate justice, a return to free public college and a living wage. Many seem relieved to have shaken off the strictures of third-way politics that have constrained Democrats for a generation. Candidates offering empty platitudes like “tax-free accounts” and “bringing people to the table to create solutions” have been quickly reminded that no constituency exists for their techno-babble. In so many ways, the 2020 race is a reminder that Bernie’s ideas have already won. And it’s worth remembering how unlikely this all sounded in 2015.

Medicare for All, a $15-an-hour minimum wage, free college—the issues that he championed during the 2016 Democratic primary and that Hillary Clinton dismissed as naive and unrealistic—are now mainstream Democratic Party positions. “We are where we are,” says Shakir, who’s now the ACLU’s national political director, “because Bernie forced the party to rethink everything.” […]

But the change has been uncomfortable for Sanders as well. When he launched his 2016 presidential campaign, he did so with few expectations and no fanfare—making his announcement while standing on a patch of grass outside the Capitol that’s known as the Swamp. Leaning on a wobbly platform, he was in no mood to linger or savor the moment. “We don’t have an endless amount of time,” he brusquely told reporters then. “I’ve gotta get back.” As Connecticut senator Chris Murphy later recalled to The Washington Post: “I remember that day when he left the caucus meeting on a Tuesday and went outside to do his announcement in the Senate ‘swamp,’ with like no prep, and I was like, ‘This is a presidential campaign? This is going to be a disaster.’ ” The New York Times buried its article about Sanders’s entering the race on A21. —…

I wrote this diary partly to clarify my own thinking around why I still see Bernie as the candidate we need in 2020.

In many ways, I believe Bernie has already done what he set out to do. The policies and platform that seemed so quixotic in 2015 are now the mainstream position of the Democratic party. It feels as if the party has been remade and permanently shaken off the post-Reagan fearfulness. But I’m also aware that thus far, we’re talking about words and platforms. The people making promises and platforms do not have much power right now. If we want the platform translated into reality when we have power, we need leaders who won’t backpedal.

This is why I remain convinced that we still need Bernie Sanders to run in 2020.  Jacobin captured this sentiment in a single line: Don’t listen to the media and think tank clowns — it’s still Bernie.

We need Bernie in the race because few others have brought the same authenticity and consistency to these issues over decades. This is clear to voters, who have seen him use his platform to push behemoths like Amazon towards raising the wages they pay workers. No other candidate would serve with as clear a mandate to undo the damage of the “Reagan Revolution”.

Unlike many other Democrats, Bernie has not had to “evolve” on “social issues” and equal rights for all peoples. He’s been part of the movement for equal rights since the 60s and has always known the work is not complete. Better yet, there is a firm grounding for his views, in the left’s universalist ideology. Like many other transformational leaders, Bernie knows that the route to dismantling systematic oppression in the US runs through a coalition of poor, underprivileged people across all races. In response to the BLM movement, he was the first candidate in the 2016 cycle to release a racial justice platform which not only acknowledges systematic racism, but also lays out very specific policy objectives to address it.

All things considered, these actual numbers cut against a lot of online narratives. Sanders is more popular with women than with men, and more popular with people of color than with whites — it’s the normal pattern of support for progressive politics in America and no sign of “Bernie Bros” running amok. —…

You would not know this if you listened to the ‘extremely online’ Twitter personalities whose lives are consumed by an unhealthy and self-destructive resentment of Bernie. Voters shrug at their hate because Bernie’s allegiance to the oppressed, poor and working class has always been crystal clear.

There are many who will ignore all substantive arguments and counter with “Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat”. First, voters don’t really care about that distinction. Second, and finally, neither do his Democratic colleagues in Congress:

Which brings us to another reason to champion Bernie. Allegiance to the powerless comes above party for him, and he believes real change requires grass-roots efforts.

This of course, rubs many party apparatchiks the wrong way. They’ve spent their lives building careers within the party apparatus, knowing full-well that control over one of the parties in a two-party system guarantees periodic political power. To retain this control, they engage in knock-down drag-out internal party fights. Then, along comes a guy who says this isn’t necessary and appeals directly to the people. Of course, the party apparatus views this as threatening. It’s the same dynamic that leads many elected Democrats to express “exasperation” at other democratic socialists. Perhaps they’re exasperated at the policies, which would be strange since they pay nominal lip service to them. Rather, I suspect their discomfort is caused by seeing someone achieve real power without paying fealty to the hierarchy. Like the vast majority of voters, I am uninterested in such intra-party jockeying except insofar as it affects policy and outcomes for ordinary people.

By the by, I don’t use the term “allegiance to the powerless” lightly. There’s a handy little shorthand if you ever want to figure out how an American politician manages the competing demands of political expediency against fundamental justice towards those without power. Ask them about Palestine-Israel.

Every American politician knows that kow-towing to the standard pro-Israeli line greases their career. Single-issue bundlers will help make their fundraisers’ jobs easy. They will be invited to several junkets to burnish their foreign policy credentials among an establishment deeply committed to the status-quo in I-P. When a politician bucks this trend, we have to sit up and take notice. And Bernie certainly has. From refusing to speak at AIPAC, to insisting on equal rights for Palestinians and demanding attention to Palestinian issues in the official Democratic platform, he has demonstrated a commitment to equal rights, fully aware that this carries with it a political cost.

I cannot say that about any of the other candidates. Look around and you will find that other high profile candidates have failed this test in spectacular fashion. They have been intentionally blind to the parallels between militarized policing of black communities and the militarized occupation and oppression of Palestinians. Too many have chosen political expediency over the demands of fundamental justice. I want a candidate I can trust on fundamental justice.

There’s also this factor which is personal to me. We live in a political culture that rewards showy expressions of religiosity. Sen. Sanders has always walked a respectful line, explaining his Jewish roots and his own universalist spirituality without dismissing those who practice traditional religions. I am in his camp on this. I cringe at the thought of the endless speeches we can expect from Democratic candidates about the depth of their “faith” and am glad that Sanders won’t be among them.

Through a long career in politics, Bernie has managed to avoid even the whiff of corruption. He has managed this because he’s avoided relying on funding from wealthy interests and championed the fight against the influence of money in politics. Donors recognize where Bernie stands, which is why the prospect of a Bernie (or Warren) nomination has billionaires like Howard Schultz and Michael Bloomberg squirming. Voters recognize all this too.

There’s little to no evidence that railing against “the billionaire class” hurts Democrats electorally by making them sound too “far left” (in fact, Piston’s book shows that progressive fiscal policies become more popular — which is to say “mainstream” — when pollsters emphasize that said policies would hurt the rich). Meanwhile, there is significant evidence that the deployment of populist, “us versus them” rhetoric increases the salience of class resentments in U.S. elections — and thus, increases the Democratic Party’s share of the vote.


Yet too many Democrats are still queasy about addressing class and turning off wealthy donors. Not Bernie, and this is largely why he is still my number one choice, and Warren my second.

Bankers’ biggest fear: The nomination goes to an anti-Wall Street crusader like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) or Sanders. “It can’t be Warren and it can’t be Sanders,” said the CEO of another giant bank. “It has to be someone centrist and someone who can win.” —…

Every Democratic candidate is going to say the right words about reining in the oligarchic power of industries like finance (my own industry) and fossil fuels. The way to know who’s actually got credibility is to figure out who these oligarchs fear.

It’s worth noting at his point that Bernie is a leader.

This word gets thrown around a lot, and is often applied to any elected official. Let’s stop for a moment to discuss what leadership means in the political context. I say Bernie is a leader because he has helped initiate a political revolution in this country by championing a living wage, Medicare for All, a return to free public college and a more just interaction with the rest of the world.

The re-emergence of this democratic critique of inequality through the political success of figures like Warren, Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez seems to point to the beginning of a course correction, or at least the beginning of dialogue about a course correction. The extent to which our economic elites are rattled by the mere fact that this discussion is happening is a clear sign that it needs to happen.

As Americans across the political spectrum gear up to try to deny President Trump a second term in office, all of this may seem divisive — a distraction from the emergency at hand. Just the opposite is true. Trump’s presidency is a symptom of profound democratic weakness. Should he lose in 2020, that will be the beginning of a recovery. We’ll still need to rethink and rebuild our democracy and that has to include a reimagining of the economy on which it rests. —…

Thanks to Bernie, Democratic candidates are scrambling over each other to assail entrenched wealth in no uncertain terms, seemingly ready to build the barricades themselves. We should ask where these people have been for the intervening decades. For the most part, they have been waiting for polls and support to build before they offered support for transformational initiatives. This is not leadership, it’s following. And as with many followers, when challenged, they might waver, or be tempted to declare watered-down compromises as victories, or even just give up the fight because the polls move.

Let’s be clear.

In times like these, when we confront grave challenges like a resurgent fascist right, pervasive income inequality, climate catastrophe and economic insecurity, we need leaders.

If we stand any chance of achieving the ambitious agenda adopted by most Democratic candidates, we need leaders who can bring the country along with them. Leaders who can make a persuasive moral argument for these ambitious policies and make it in language that draws in voters.

With that in mind, I do not see a lot of leaders in the race. That’s why we need Bernie to run in 2020.

— @subirgrewal

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