“Bernie’s Not a Democrat!” Yea? So What?

I’ve stated many times now that as a progressive, Bernie Sanders is not my first choice for 2020. In fact, he’s not even on my shortlist. While I agree with much of Bernie’s agenda policy wise, probably 80–85%, and in most cases wishes he were more left, I think progressives should move on. That’s not to say that we should completely throw him under the bus or kick him to the curb, but rather that I think we need new voices. Bernie himself will say, the movement is bigger than one person. He’s a great voice and has galvanised a large following through the movement, but we need to start finding other people who can take up the mantle. My personal pick for a 2020 ticket is Barbara Lee and Raul Grijalva. But that’s just me. (Actually, I’d love it we could do away with the whole ‘natural born citizen’ clause so Pramila Jayapal could run). But that’s neither here nor there.

Sadly, though I would love to focus on finding new voices and work toward handing the baton off to others, I do find it appropriate to defend Bernie when appropriate, from unfair criticism.

Last week it was announced that Bernie would be debating Ted Cruz on CNN on tax policy. And of course, right on cue, centrists on Twitter lost their shit and went into a rage filled “he’s not even a Democrat” fury. The Hill tweeted the news out and predictably the replies were flooded with “why not get a real Democrat?” and “why Bernie!? he’s not a Democrat” all of which have become standard deflections to avoid talking about policy as centrists continue to deny their rightwing political views.

Yesterday in Current Affairs magazine, Briahna Joy Gray wrote an excellent article, highlighting why it’s actually a good thing that Bernie is not a Democrat.

Strangely, liberals who usually see unflinching commitments to patriotism as cultish and unsophisticated — the same people who were quick to defend Michelle Obama for acknowledging that it is not always easy to be proud of America — are unable bring the same nuance to the issue of party loyalty. For many, until he puts a “D” after his name, Sanders will remain an enemy. (~Briahna Joy Gray)

While technically true, Bernie is not a Demcrat, it’s ultimately irrelevant when it comes to upholding the ideals and historic goals of the Democratic party, both of which Bernie has done time and time again. In fact, on the issues of healthcare, education, and minimum wage, Bernie is more of a Democrat than most current actual Democrats. Of this, Joy Gray writes;

more relevant than whether Sanders has done enough to support the party itself should be whether Sanders has worked hard in service of the party’s ideals. After all, what would it mean to promote a party that stood for nothing?

It was Democratic legend Franklin Roosevelt who first implented a federal minimum wage. FDR also called for a ‘second bill of rights’ which would guarantee among other things; medical care and education basic rights. Bernie Sanders included both tuition free college and medicare for all as key planks in his 2016 campaign, while Hillary Clinton, during the primaries, rejected both.

It’s so fascinating to see centrists on Twitter one minute attack Bernie for not being a Democrat and then the next minute turn around and decry hyper-partisanship in politics.

The idea that being a Democrat is somehow more important than what you actually stand for and believe in is a strange one. After all, Strom Thurmond was a Democrat and he conducted the longest senate filibuster ever, over the 1957 Civil Rights bill. Would you rather have someone who is an independent who supports Civil Rights or a Democrat who is against Civil Rights?

Simply being a Democrat is meaningless unless you are committed to progressive ideals. The idea that being a Democrat somehow equates to being progressive is simply nonsense and cannot be established. Case in point, Democrats were originally for slavery.

As Briahna Joy Gray writes; “progressivism is defined by a commitment to a set of beliefs, while “being a Democrat” is defined by membership in an organization, one that may or may not represent that set of beliefs.”

The reality is, the Democratic party of today is not a progressive party, but a centre-right conservative party.

A key difference between the two parties after each suffered bloodbath election losses is how they responded. After Johnson slaughtered Goldwater in 1964, the Republicans embraced their base. When McGovern got routed by Nixon in 1972, Democrats abandoned theirs. Following McGovern’s loss, the DLC took the Democratic party in a new direction, bringing it way to the right of McGovern. In fact, post-McGovern, the Democrats shifted so far to the right that they ended up being more conservative than Nixon ever was. The results? Three straight losses including two shellackings in 1980 and 1984 to the Republicans. Finally in 1992 Bill Clinton came into office, but then governed essentially like the 1970’s Republicans that McGovern lost to and in many ways was significantly more conservative than that.

It would be generous to say that the Democrats are as progressive as Richard Nixon. It was Bill Clinton who gutted welfare, something Richard Nixon tried to do but never could. It was Bill Clinton who repealed Glass-Steagall which helped significantly in creating the 2008 financial collapse. That’s just scratching the surface, barely. The point is, what good is being a Democrat if they act like Republicans? In a quest to beat the Republicans, the Democrats became more conservative and implemented more conservative policies than 1970’s Republican could ever imagine.

With that, the fact that Bernie Sanders stands ideologically aligned, for the most part, with Democrats like FDR, Henry Wallace, and George McGovern, while Clinton Democrats cheer welfare reform, deregulation, and the crime bill (which to be fair, Bernie voted for) all things Republicans have long sought out to do, would seem to lay waste to any idea that just being a Democrat is worth two shits.

But let’s get into some numbers. The notion that Bernie not being a Democrat is somehow a knock down argument that dismantles his entire policy agenda is about as hollow as the phrase itself. The reality is that while centrists and Hillary loyalists continue to espouse this tired meme, Bernie Sanders still has an 80% approval rating among Democrats and a 52% approval rating among all Americans according to the latest Harvard-Harris poll. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton, the stalwart of centrist neoliberalism, hold just a 39% approval, 4 points lower than even president Trump’s 43% rating from the same poll.

Even on policy, most Democrats agree with Bernie Sanders, despite centrist donut emjois on Twitter claiming that “most Democrats” are not on board with his agenda. According to Q poll from the summer, 80% of Democrats support expanding Medicare to cover all Americans.

On education, 80% of Democrats now support making four-year public colleges and universities tuition free, another staple in the Sanders’ campaign.

Also, consider the fact that congressional Democrats have just a 35% approval rating. As a whole, the Democratic party has net approval rating of –11 according to a CNN poll. With that in mind maybe it’s a good thing that Bernie isn’t a Democrat. In fact, maybe that’s why he’s viewed so favourably by a majority of Americans (52%) and Democrats (80%).

Centrists often ask “Why Bernie? Why not pick a real Democrat for these debates?” Well, considering that Independents represent a plurality of Americans and he is only of the only politicians to register a positive approval rating, perhaps networks like CNN are just trying to reach out to the biggest group of people. Just 30% of Americans identify as Democrats, 29% identify as Republicans, and 40% of Americans identify as independents.

With all the hysteria radiating from centrists on Twitter over Bernie Sanders not being a Democrat, perhaps that’s not just a good thing but also the reason that he’s the highest rated politician by favourability rating since Americans have such negative views of Democrats in congress and the Democratic party as a whole. True, Bernie is not a Democrat. Yet on policy, he’s more instep with Democrats historically than most Democrats in congress today. Most Democratic voters support his agenda and Americans overall view him favourably. In conclusion, the line that “Bernie is not even a democrat!” is not even a good argument.