Bernie Sanders: Time to leave him alone
Sen. Bernie Sanders Bernie Sanders: ‘There are a lot of White folks … not necessarily racist who felt uncomfortable … [voting] for an African American’ Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was recently quoted by The Daily Beast on
Sen. Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders: ‘There are a lot of White folks … not necessarily racist who felt uncomfortable … [voting] for an African American’
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was recently quoted by The Daily Beast on the role of racism in the race for Florida governor where Andrew Gillum, an African American, was the Democratic nominee.
“I think you know there are a lot of White folks out there who are not necessarily racist who felt uncomfortable for the first time in their lives about whether or not they wanted to vote for an African American,” Sanders said of the race between Gillum and Republican nominee Ron DeSantis. It resulted (rightfully) in an outcry, as he ignored the reality that discomfort with Black leadership just because it is Black would be racist.
Bernie Sanders is a man who, despite being a relatively under-accomplished as a senator from a very small Northeastern state, found a way to be relevant in the 2016 presidential race. Many people were “Feeling the Bern.” Ultimately, while he lost to Hillary Clinton, he inspired a movement of “progressive” candidates nationwide and is considered in play as a 2020 presidential candidate.
Here is the problem. A big part of the word “Progressive” is the word “progress.” And, while focusing exhaustively on inequities related to class, Sanders has always been weak on issues of race. If I am driving my wife’s Lexus and I get pulled over when I shouldn’t, that’s not a class issue, that’s a race issue.
President Trump is using dog whistles that relate primarily to race, not class. Bernie does not understand race. Meanwhile, African Americans, and African American women particularly are the most loyal component of the Democratic Party. How can any candidate seeking to represent Democrats do so without even attempting to understand issues of race?
On race, there is no question that Sanders “screws the pooch.” Despite claiming connections to the civil rights movement, it affected him so much that he moved to the state of Vermont — not diverse and not his native state, where, frankly, he couldn’t learn much on race. He lost to Hillary Clinton by 50 points among Black voters during the primary. His support among the Congressional Black Caucus, the legislators that would know him best and worked with him every day for over two decades, was virtually non-existent. How can you possibly have a “movement” if you can’t “move” the most loyal component of the party?
And, speaking of the party — the Democratic party — this is still the party that Sanders has not been loyal enough to join. Meanwhile, he wants to open primaries to non-Democrats, which would serve to dilute the influence of real Democrats, who are committed enough to dedicate themselves to the party. Chief among them, again, are African Americans.
Sen. Sanders talks about the system being “rigged.” However, the notion that it is rigged against him has always been a stretch. For the last two years, without being a Democrat, he has weighed in on Democratic races. Notably, he went out of his way to inform us he did not know whether Georgia Democratic Congressional candidate Jon Ossoff was a progressive, when the demographics of those districts dictated that Ossoff’s politics were consistent with the politics of that area.That confusion and half-hearted support may have contributed to Ossoff’s narrow defeat in a race that was a golden opportunity for Democrats to get on the long road to taking back the U.S. House.
Further, political blood is on Sanders’ hands for his anemic endorsement of Hillary Clinton (her imperfections notwithstanding) which contributed to her defeat and the addition of two conservative Supreme Court justices (thus far) that will seek to take the country in another direction for the next 30 years.
The comment Bernie made about Gillum underscores an even larger problem. Certainly, there are many people still uncomfortable with electing someone that does not look like them. That is correct. However, while making that point, Sanders should have also said such a perspective is the essence of racism, and that it must be changed. Yes, you can call out the effects of institutional racism without calling its agents (i.e. all of us) racist. Many people are well intentioned but need to be educated.
What Dems must understand is that Bernie Sanders is not “prime time.” He never was. It may be that the Democratic presidential primary system is imperfectly weighted toward the “Big Boys,” i.e. those already in power, as Bernie claims. But, remember 2008? Can anyone claim that the system was rigged in favor of Barack Obama? If anyone had a system against him it was Obama. He ran against Hillary closer to her prime and defeated her and Bill Clinton, a popular ex-president who fared well with Black people. Nobody gave Obama anything — he took it through his direct and effective appeal to the people.
Mistakenly, because Sanders generated real energy, we understate his inadequacies as a candidate and the weaknesses of his campaign, which included a woeful lack of details. All the systems Bernie complains about existed in 2008. Yet, Obama still won. Bernie’s campaign was not as effective as Obama’s. I submit to you that if Sanders can fly around the country, weigh in on races where progressives like him couldn’t win, and continue to dictate things inside a party he has yet to join, despite his legislative shortcomings, the system is working just fine for him. His relevance despite that system is the proof. Frankly, he has nothing to complain about.
I appreciated the energy Bernie Sanders brought to the 2016 race, and even the ideas to some extent. And people in communities all over the country, particularly young people, are doing valuable things in politics that have been helped by Bernie’s inspiration, which I respect and applaud. But he needs to be put in a proper light once and for all. This last dust up shows us all that Bernie is incapable or unwilling to navigate the issues of race that many, including African Americans, living, schooling, and working in majority situations must navigate every day just to survive.
While we all must “pick our spots,” Bernie should have his to call out a problem that needs to be called out, without demonizing citizens. He failed to do it. And, even if it isn’t a deal breaker for progressives or for liberals, it’s a deal breaker for me.
Joe Richardson is an attorney and free-lance writer living and working in Southern California.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this commentary are not necessarily those of the publisher.