Why Moderates Should Support Bernie Sanders: A Primer

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Why Moderates Should Support Bernie Sanders: A Primer

Before you approach this article with skepticism, I’m not going to try and convince you to join your local DSA (Democratic Socialists of America) chapter, lecture you about Che Guevara or convert you to militant veganism. I’d love to make the cultural and ideological case for supporting left-wing policies, but that’s a more complicated and lengthy argument to make. For the purposes of this article, I simply want to articulate why people who consider themselves politically moderate (center-left or center-right) and are serious about removing Donald Trump from office should vote for Senator Bernie Sanders for president in 2020.

There are a lot of mischaracterizations of Sanders and his policies. You might have heard them or even echoed these sentiments: “He’s anti-Semitic!” “He just wants free stuff!” “He’ll turn us into Venezuela!” “He wants to ban air travel!” “He’s too old!” None of these have any basis in fact. But I’m not going to waste your time debunking those claims, unpacking the well-documented media bias (and sometimes full-on media blackout) against Sanders and his campaign, or explain why conservative critiques of his platform are at best, flimsy logical arguments, and at worst, bad-faith propaganda.

It’s becoming more and more clear that there are only three people who have a legitimate chance to be inaugurated as president in 2021: Donald Trump, Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders. As for the other two Democrats raising a considerable amount of money and who aren’t technically out of the running, Elizabeth Warren’s poll numbers have been consistently dropping, and Pete Buttigieg doesn’t have enough diverse support to be an actual contender for the Democratic nomination in our current political landscape. So for voters looking to oust President Trump, that leaves you with two choices: Biden or Sanders. Before you commit to voting for Biden, whether you’re looking for a return to institutional normalcy or are nostalgic for the Obama years, I want to make a non-ideological case for why Sanders is the better choice.

Admittedly, trying to convince moderate voters to vote for Sanders as opposed to the other half of the country that didn’t vote in the 2016 presidential election may be a waste of time because it’s a smaller populace. But as someone who is afraid of repeating the results of the 2016 election, I think we need to make the case for Sanders to as many people as possible. Without further ado, here’s why centrists should rally behind Sanders in both the Democratic primary and general election.

Sanders is the most electable candidate.

Back in 2016, Sanders repeatedly beat Trump in head-to-head polls. Hillary Clinton’s head-to-head poll number advantage against Trump, on the other hand, was much slimmer, but that fact was conveniently ignored, as were her poor favorability numbers. Fast forward to 2020 where Sanders is ranked the most popular active politician in the country and, he’s the most-trusted Democrat on issues like healthcare, the environment, immigration, the economy and jobs.

As the presidential victories of Obama and Trump suggest, voters are more interested in supporting a candidate who campaigns on a message of throwing a wrench in the American political system. Americans’ faith in our government’s ability to legislate and improve the lives of its citizens is abysmally low, and has been for years. Presidential hopefuls like John McCain, Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton all campaigned as members of the elite political establishment. They advocated for center-left and center-right policies that spelled business-as-usual for Americans—the exact kind of incremental or even harmful policies that would prolong or worsen our current problems. Even if Biden, another member of the political elite, were to win the Democratic nomination and the presidency, his policies aren’t the least bit transformational. Back in 2019, Biden told wealthy donors in New York that “nothing would fundamentally change” as a result of his presidential policies.

Voters’ frustration with the lack of progress during the Obama era is one reason why Trump was elected, so an incrementalist Biden administration in 2021 could spell victory for Republicans in 2024, which could mean the inauguration of Mike Pence, Donald Trump Jr. or Nikki Haley—who are the current favorites among Republicans and all appear far more competent than Trump (perhaps apart from his son), which is worrisome. Trump and Obama campaigned on a new brand of American politics—the kind of outsider politics that instilled hope in Obama’s case and fear in Trump’s case and drove people to the polls to support them.

Joe Biden, much like Hillary Clinton, McCain and Romney, has been in politics for decades—long enough for him to be on both sides of several issues, which he has been. In the current presidential election cycle, Biden has the most billionaire supporters out of all the Democratic candidates—a whopping group of 44 billionaires. If Biden really is the working class champion or average Joe that he purports to be and not a member of the political elite, it’s unclear how this statistic fits into that narrative or the additional fact that his son, Hunter, was a board member of a Ukrainian natural gas company, while his father was served as vice president of the United States.

Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, presents an inspiring, unwavering message to voters from an outsider’s perspective. That’s a large part of why his campaign took in a record-high five million contributions for his 2020 campaign and raised $34.5 million during the last three months of 2019 (compared to Biden’s $22.7 million during the same period). Sanders has consistently drawn large crowds to his rallies—and not just in New York, California and Colorado. Thousands of his supporters came out for rallies in important states like Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan. Trump, Sanders and then-candidate Obama have held rallies with tens of thousands of people, and there hasn’t been a single reported Biden event with anywhere near that amount. This suggests an “enthusiasm gap” between supporters of Sanders and Biden. For example, according to a CBS News poll, among New Hampshire voters, 47 percent of Sanders supporters said they’ve made up their minds while only 15 percent of Biden supporters said the same of their candidate.

Perhaps Sanders’ strongest polling argument is a statistic cited by The Daily Beast and Jacobin, which states that in all 206 counties that flipped from Obama (in 2008 and 2012) to Trump in 2016, Sanders received far more donations than any other Democratic candidate. As of September 2019, he had over 80,000 donations from more than 33,000 donors. For context, Biden raked in 19,885 donations, Warren received 26,298 and Buttigieg had 23,320. So, Sanders had more than three times the amount of donations from those crucial Trump-Obama counties.

And just as one last important tidbit: Biden has actually never won a presidential primary before, despite running for president twice in the ‘80s, while Sanders’ run in 2016 resulted in 22 primary victories.

Sanders is the only candidate who won’t start a reckless war.

Last month, the Washington Post published a bombshell report about our government’s purposeful lies to the American public about the 18-year war in Afghanistan. Federal officials hid evidence that they knew the war was a lost cause, which is particularly egregious given that an estimated 2,300 American troops lost their lives, over 20,000 were wounded and around $1 trillion was spent (not including money spent by other agencies such as the CIA and the Department of Veterans Affairs).

A 2019 Pew Research poll found that more than half of veterans and more than half of adults thought the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were not worth fighting. With regards to the Iraq war, we know that the Bush administration lied about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, in order to justify that similarly costly and ineffective war.

Today, we see the escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran, and there’s a legitimate fear that Trump could start another several-year catastrophe in the Middle East. Couple the fact that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has been a failure for decades with the reality that the American federal minimum wage has not gone up in 10 years, our infrastructure is crumbling, healthcare and housing are unaffordable for many and student debt is preventing the financial stability of millions, and it’s not hard to conclude what’s wrong with that picture.

Biden and Sanders’ view of American foreign policy couldn’t be more different. Despite Biden’s attempts to lie about his support for the Iraq war, The Intercept reported that he actually supported regime change in Iraq five years before the invasion, and he also supported the Iraq war after it started. But instead, Biden suggested this year that he opposed the Iraq war “from the very beginning.”

In sharp contrast, Sanders voted against the Iraq war and concluded that there was no evidence of “weapons of mass destruction.” Sanders also opposed and warned of war with Iran in 2017, and was the only member of the Senate Democratic Caucus to vote against Iran sanctions. Sanders, alongside Rep. Ro Khanna, tried to pass a law that would require congressional authorization to wage war against Iran, which would’ve required approval from Congress to assassinate the Iranian military general, Qasem Soleimani, recently killed by the U.S. The law passed in the House of Representatives but was cut from the final National Defense Authorization Act approved by Congress in December.

After Solemiani’s death and further escalation between Iran and the U.S., progressives like Sanders, Khanna, Rep. Barbara Lee and others are now attempting to block funding for U.S. military action in Iran and repeal the 2002 authorization of military force, which was based on the false premise of weapons of mass destruction and was passed after 9/11 to pursue military action against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. Despite the fact that Sanders is running a vigorous campaign for president, he’s doing everything he can to prevent Trump from engaging in additional military action in Iran, which he warned could result in a bigger disaster than Iraq.

Biden’s record on Iraq is a strong sign that he favors the establishment’s view on the Middle East. Plus, while he served as vice president, Biden stood by as the Obama administration ordered more drone strikes in his first year as president than Bush used during his entire tenure. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that Obama sent 563 airstrikes, which targeted Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen and resulted in the deaths of between 384 and 807 civilians. In 2019, Robert Gates, former Defense secretary under George W. Bush and Obama, doubled down on his statement that Biden was “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” If Biden actually wants to de-escalate the situation in Iran, like he wrote in a statement, he would have to make some pretty dramatic U-turns on his own previous record.

Sanders is the only candidate whose environmental plan is bold enough to combat climate change.

As fires rage in Australia and the Amazon rainforest and as glaciers melt, sea levels rise, natural disasters occur more frequently and animal habitats become ravaged, it’s blatantly clear that we’re running out of time to save the planet. According to National Geographic, if temperatures continue to rise, diseases will spread faster and sea levels will rise between 10 and 32 inches or higher by the end of the century. According to the >National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration almost 40 percent of the U.S. population could be vulnerable to sea level rise and eight of the world’s 10 largest cities are near a coast. A 2018 U.N. report even warned of food shortages and deadly heat waves by 2040.

The recently founded and already influential youth-led Sunrise Movement, which advocates for strong U.S. policies to combat climate change, recently endorsed Bernie Sanders for president—and it’s no surprise why. Sanders is advocating for a Green New Deal, which seeks to make the country 100 percent energy renewable by 2030, de-carbonize the economy by 2050, invest in public transportation, infrastructure and conservation, hold fossil fuel companies accountable and end unemployment by offering well-paying, union jobs to anyone who wants to help enact the Green New Deal’s policies.

Contrast these robust policy proposals with the proposals of Joe Biden. Biden does not support the Green New Deal, though his climate plan vowed an investment of more than one trillion over a decade. However, Biden has refused to end his support for fracking, which may or may not be related to the fact its industry employs people in crucial election states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. Biden also has ties with the fossil fuel industry. According to the New York Times, Heather Zichal, Biden’s informal campaign adviser who helped write climate policy for the Obama administration, recently served on the board of a natural gas company. The publication also pointed out that Biden attended a 2019 fundraiser which was hosted by the co-founder of another natural gas company.

At a recent climate change town hall attended by the 2020 Democratic candidates, Biden stated, “Everything is incremental,” and he repeated the popular conservative talking point that the U.S. is only responsible for 15 percent of global climate change, which conveniently ignores the U.S.’s status as the world’s biggest carbon polluter historically. On the issues, Biden continues to embrace incrementalist policies, while Sanders is proposing radical change, which on issues like the environment and others would actually save our country money.

Sanders is the strongest candidate to debate Trump.

Presidential debates may be a circus, but they are an opportunity for candidates to make their case to voters on a big stage and to counter an opponent’s policies directly to their face. Journalists and political scientists have argued for years about whether debates have an impact on election results, and if so, by how much. What we do know is that debates are an opportunity to fundraise, energize supporters and to inform voters who weren’t paying attention to the race before.

Back in 2016, Trump actually said that he liked Sanders, and that the 2016 Democratic primary was “rigged” in favor of Clinton. As recent as 2019, Trump repeated that narrative again via Twitter. Centrist political strategists and members of the Demoratic establishment have repeatedly and publicly tried to argue that perceived connections between Sanders and Trump are evidence that Sanders is bad, but we need to clear up that myth. The policies that Trump embraced at his 2016 rallies were ones that he thought were the most popular—not ones that were based on any long-held ideology. Before he ran for office, Trump donated to Democrats and Republicans—anyone he thought he could sway with his wallet.

Trump spewed his fair share of nonsense at his 2016 rallies, but he also stumbled into shreds of truth. He said the Iraq war was a disaster, Americans are getting screwed on trade deals, healthcare is too expensive and Social Security should be protected. As Trump’s administration has demonstrated, he actually advocated for the exact opposite interests, but Trump supporters had already drank the Kool-Aid, and they accept all his words and actions as gospel. Bernie Sanders not only correctly identified some of the same problems as Trump, he actually knows how to correctly fix them.

So while Trump could easily attack Joe Biden’s vote in support of the Iraq war, his horrific 1994 crime bill, his weird interactions with women, his trade policy, his corruption (especially with his son, Hunter) or his bumbling gaffes on the campaign trail, there are far fewer weak spots to attack Sanders. Sanders can actually call out Trump’s racism, sexism and xenophobia because he has the voting record and policies to back it up. As we saw with Kamala Harris on the issue of integrated busing, Biden can’t go after Trump for those things, because he has his own skeletons in the closet. The closest thing Trump has to a criticism of Sanders is dubbing him “crazy” or spewing some nonsense about how socialism is going to turn the U.S. into Venezuela. Because Sanders’ brand of Democratic socialism bears no resemblance to the authoritarian regimes in South America (which were the result of American intervention), and because he’s actually a social democrat (and not a socialist) by international standards, Trump has no ground to stand on. And let’s not forget, Trump actually backed out of a debate with Bernie in 2016. He initially agreed, but then retreated, saying it would be presumptuous to debate Sanders before the Democratic nominee was chosen.

According to recent reports and Trump campaign emails, Trump is now focusing his attacks on Sanders, which indicates that he views him as the frontrunner, or at the very least, a serious threat. Trump tweeted “Crazy Bernie Sanders is surging in the polls…So what does this all mean?,” and though Sanders isn’t normally one to quote tweet Trump like other cringeworthy liberal politicians, Sanders wrote back, “It means you’re going to lose.”

Sanders isn’t corrupted by interest groups, so he’s much more likely to fight for his policies.

When Bernie ran for president in 2016, he did the unthinkable. He ran a large-scale presidential campaign that gave the Clinton political machine a run for its money, all while receiving no corporate PAC money and holding zero swanky fundraisers trying to extract money from the rich and powerful. Both Sanders’ and Trump’s army of supporters are fed up with the corruption that has rotted the core of American democracy over the past several decades (though Trump supporters are willing to ignore Trump’s contribution to that rot).

Sanders’ commitment to grassroots organizing and fundraising has continued in his 2020 campaign, and his donors are proof of his advocacy for the working class. During the last fundraising quarter of 2019, “teacher” was named the most common occupation of Sanders’ donors while Amazon, Starbucks, Walmart, the U.S. Postal Service and Target were his donors’ most common employers.

Biden, on the other hand, began his 2020 campaign vowing to reject super PAC money, only to reverse that decision last October when his fundraising numbers were lower than expected. Super PACs allow wealthy donors to dump unlimited amounts of money into elections, and in October, The Intercept reported that among Biden’s super PAC donors were corporate lobbyists working for the healthcare, weapons manufacturing and finance industries.

It’s not just that Sanders has the moral high ground on the issue of campaign finance. Sanders’ refusal to take money from corporate interests means that he’s actually much more likely to fight for his policy proposals. Rather than owing favors to corporate donors, Sanders would only have to answer to the American public and his voters. For example, with climate policy, the public just has to take historic flip-flopper Joe Biden at his word when he says he’s serious about fighting climate change, despite his connections with the fossil fuel industry. Sanders, though, has been famously firm on his political stances for decades, and has never courted the financial support or casual closeness of reckless industries (or their executives) that he wants to regulate for the betterment of the American people.

This election is about so much more than just removing Trump. If we’re not willing to be bold and to choose people over profits, not only will the quality of life (for Americans and foreigners) continue to decrease, but we literally won’t have a livable planet. You might not consider yourself a Democrat Socialist, a progressive or even a Democrat. You may even like Joe Biden as a person. But for the sake of this country, the well-being of our democracy, the stability of foreign nations and the protection of this planet, we need to elect Senator Bernie Sanders as the Democratic nominee for president in 2020.