In the off chance that you are a normal person with a healthy brain who is not plugged into the extremely online Democratic primary discourse that is already in full swing a full year before any votes are going to be cast, you may have missed that last week, Bernie Sanders finally ended speculation that began the night of Nov. 8, 2016 and announced that he was, in fact, running for president of the United States.
Sanders joins an already crowded, diverse lineup of Democratic presidential hopefuls, many of whom have come to embrace some very progressive positions that just a few years ago were completely out of the mainstream of American politics (except, it seems, for Amy Klobuchar, who apparently is going all in on trying to excite people with something called “tax-advantaged savings accounts”—good luck with that, Amy). Some prominent media liberals have questioned whether Sanders’ presence in the race is even necessary anymore, given all he has done to shift the mainstream of the Democratic Party leftward over the last four years.
It’s natural that when choosing a candidate to support, different people are going to make different political calculations about what is more important to them. But if you are of the belief that the greatest threat facing America (and perhaps the world) is the entrenched power of a small group of powerful billionaire oligarchs, representing various elite factions—the energy & healthcare industries, Wall Street, or the military industrial complex, to name a few—who essentially own the US government and have steered the nation over the last several decades into levels of wealth inequality unseen since the robber baron era and towards the brink of an environmental calamity of biblical proportions, then the central question of 2020 is this: who do you trust to meaningfully confront these people?
Something that should have become abundantly clear to everyone during the Obama era is that the elites who own large financial stakes in both of America’s political parties can’t be compromised with, or reasoned with, or placated—they must be beaten. It’s one thing to indicate support for big ideas like Medicare for All or a Green New Deal, but who is actually going to fight for these issues and who is just saying what they need to say in order to get elected? Actually implementing these policies is going to require directly challenging the entrenched power structures of the political donor class, and there’s only one candidate with no history of close proximity to these very structures, and whose decades-long political life suggests he’ll have what it takes to actually follow through on this: Bernie Sanders.
Just listen to how he talks about them. He hates these people.
Seriously good shit pic.twitter.com/WftsmLd3no— Luke Savage (@LukewSavage) February 20, 2019
And they hate him too! It’s absolutely correct that there’s a reason billionaire Howard Schultz is willing to endure the daily humiliation that has been his fledgling “presidential campaign”—he knows that his candidacy would almost certainly tip the scales towards Donald Trump, who he presumably finds detestable but who has been undeniably fantastic for his bottom line. The same can be said for the Wall Street CEOs that are lining up to oppose him, not to mention the supposedly pragmatic centrist think tanks like Third Way that they fund and control.
Elizabeth Warren is the only candidate who poses a similar threat to America’s ruling class, and all indications are that they are similarly, if not quite equally, opposed to her campaign. But while there might be obvious parallels between their platforms, they’re approaching these issues from two completely different political traditions, and Warren, famously a Reagan Republican who switched parties in the ‘90s, calls herself a “proud capitalist” and is ultimately interested in saving the system from itself through strict reforms. If you’re a person who has come to believe that the system itself is the problem, then ultimately this approach is not going to be forceful enough.
Even setting aside their policy differences, Sanders has already shown to have a massive fundraising advantage over Warren and every other Democratic candidate, to say nothing of his massive grassroots organization of now-veteran organizers who have been patiently waiting for four years to get to work. Not only is Sanders the candidate who is most likely to go on the offensive against the elite interests that have corrupted democracies in America and all over the world; he also happens to have all the intangibles in place that you need to actually win a presidential election.
It’s important to note that a Bernie Sanders presidency will not be a panacea. Passing any progressive legislation will be difficult in light of a Republican political establishment that will oppose it with even more white-knuckled determination than they did Obama’s moderate, centrist approach (to say nothing of a corporate-sponsored, reactionary Supreme Court that Donald Trump has now entrenched for the next generation). But as we careen toward the point-of-no-return climate deadline, if the vast economic machinery that powers modern society shows no sign of adapting or evolving, there will need to be an unprecedented mass mobilization of grassroots activism the likes of which modern human civilization has never seen. When this time comes, the person sitting in the White House will need to make a decision to side with the people in the streets or with the powerful interests with whom they are in direct conflict. Despite what some would tell you, there is no third way here. If you agree with that basic premise, then who do you trust to ultimately make that decision? The answer is clear.
Obviously Bernie has his weak spots. After being criticized for not doing enough to reach out to black voters in 2016, he needs to be able to talk about issues like criminal justice reform with more nuance than he has in the past, and hopefully he will have better surrogates in place this time around. He’s expressed some problematic views on immigration in the past, and though he wants to finally move forward with the DREAM act and return to an Obama-era status quo, for many activists who have been battling America’s cruel deportation force tooth and nail for years now, this is simply not going to be good enough. He’s taken criticism from the left for his lack of emphasis on foreign policy, but he also recently fought to pass an unprecedented Senate resolution to withdraw U.S. military support from the disastrous Saudi war in Yemen, and his recent hiring of progressive foreign policy advisor Matt Duss indicates that this will be an important focus going forward.
Despite coming into the election with the inherent advantage of the incumbent, Donald Trump is actually quite unpopular and eminently beatable in 2020. While some candidates poll better against him than others, there’s a good chance that the winner of the Democratic primary is going to go on to become president of the United States, and there’s no question that virtually any of the current candidates would be an upgrade over the racist buffoonery of Trump and his ghastly crew of neocon vampires who are trying to overthrow governments from Iran to Venezuela while fast-tracking the planet to a climate apocalypse.
But if your goal is to do more than simply beat Trump—if your goal is to go on the offensive against the wealthiest and most powerful people in the country who have spent the last few decades using their vast political influence to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else—there’s really only one option. Suck it up and feel the Bern.