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Bernie 2020: Let’s go

| Tuesday, February 26, 2019

There’s a reason Bernie Sanders scares the bejesus out of the establishment. The Independent senator from Vermont tells it like it is billionaires control society, working families are suffering in the rat race of low-wage jobs and an ever-thinning social safety net and slowly but surely we are polluting the planet to death.  

Bernie’s message will once again be front and center after his 2020 campaign kicked off last Tuesday. Four years ago, the septuagenarian inspired tens of thousands of people to volunteer for his grassroots campaign and even run for office themselves, including conservative bete noire and social media star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  Despite the pronouncements of a myriad of pundits who couldn’t imagine a professed Democratic Socialist resonating with voters, Sanders came away from the 2016 primary campaign with 23 states and 19 million votes to nearly dethrone DNC-anointed Hillary Clinton.

Now Bernie’s back. Unlike many Democratic candidates proclaiming to be bold progressives, the Independent senator from Vermont has a long record to match his stated convictions. During nearly thirty years in Congress, Bernie has helped passed progressive legislation that funded community health services, subsidized small farmers, prohibited banks from hiring foreign workers and checked the power of the Federal Reserve. He voted against the war in Iraq and against the surveillance laws known as the Patriot Act.

Since losing the 2016 Democratic primary (if “losing” is the right word given what we know about the Democratic National Committee’s shenanigans), Bernie has kept fighting against billionaires and corporations, defending the Affordable Care Act from Republican claws, voting to stop U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen and pushing for a Green New Deal to seriously tackle catastrophic climate change.

It’s thanks to Bernie’s influence that centrist democrats like Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand today incorporate issues like Medicare For All and a $15 minimum wage into their own presidential campaigns. Beyond electoral politics, there’s been a deeper embrace of many of these policies at the state and local levels since 2016.

Now, that’s not to downplay the accusations of sexism against Bernie’s 2016 campaign that surfaced earlier this year. Female staffers complained of pay imbalances, being treated with less respect than male peers and sexual harassment. But as former staffer Giulianna Di Lauro Velez argued in a January op-ed in The Intercept, sexist and misogynistic behavior is a problem in many workspaces, and Sanders is not “uniquely culpable.” Another area for improvement is increasing the campaign’s focus on racial justice issues. Bernie and his team must work to rectify these shortcomings this time around.

Expect the return of the mythical “Bernie Bro,” the Bernie “fan” and the torrent of skeptical and outwardly dismissive coverage from the corporate media (Fox, The New York Times, CNN, etc.) to continue. Though many of his policies are now being championed by his primary opponents, a great part of his appeal, as journalist Kate Aronoff recently pointed out in The Guardian, lies in his authenticity and consistency in messaging, a “stark contrast from polished party functionaries willing to change their tune to suit a new poll or donor.”

The fact is that Bernie isn’t actually that radical. Many of his favored social welfare policies and programs were implemented long ago in Canada, Britain, Germany and Scandinavia. But the media and others in power will have you believe his ideas are merely the delusions of a grumpy, 77-year-old Democratic Socialist.

Win or lose, Bernie 2020 promises to be an education in politics, just as Bernie 2016 was. An opportunity to expand the public imagination at a critical time in human history. To read carefully and think critically will become even more important. The senator from Vermont kicked off his campaign asking for 1 million volunteers. You in?

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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