Feeling Berned Out: How I Went From Loving Bernie Sanders To A Lukewarm Indifference
In mid-2015 I used the iSideWith political candidate quiz to get an early sense of the political candidates for this year’s elections. My results led me to take an in-depth look at Senator Bernie Sanders, whose politics aligned with mine most closely of them all, at 96%. Hillary Clinton, the candidate I was very much familiar with, was minimally different at 94%.
For many months following, Bernie Sanders became my favored candidate. He was principled, had been at least decently aware of certain major social issues for a long time, and he was fiercely critical of how big banks and corporations were pumping money into politics without (much) oversight. All issues I care deeply about.
Until as recently as late February, I found myself primarily sharing articles and perspectives that supported Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination. He was the underdog, the principled man, the one who wouldn’t engage in mudslinging.
But then I stopped.
Two things happened that led to this. First, I started examining the holes in Sanders’ rhetoric and platform, yet bringing up any criticism of him was increasingly met with needlessly hostile attacks from other supporters. Worst were the Sanders supporters who’d rally their followers to join them in ganging up together to put you down with sheer volume; those experiences increasingly left me with a sour taste for my support of Sanders.
The second thing was that Bernie Sanders changed his tone and narrative about his Democratic primary opponent, Hillary Clinton, and suddenly the primaries had become quite polarizing and divisive.
When Sanders started to get enough traction with voters that the nomination became a real possibility, he changed his approach. He started positioning Clinton not as the ally with subtle but important differences to his policies that she is, but as an enemy to be beaten. He started positioning her as the Establishment to fight against, even though she is almost identical in politics to Barack Obama, and Obama is the least “Establishment” President in decades.
I liked Bernie Sanders when he was pulling Hillary Clinton further to the left. I stopped liking Bernie Sanders when he started pushing her to the right.
Sanders started to vilify Clinton in order to set him apart with his political revolution, his “movement of the people”, as if both Clinton and Obama haven’t already been leading that revolution against the establishment for the past many years. As if Obama’s policies going into office were not almost the exact same as the ones Sanders is proposing now. As if the reason for Obama’s limited successes was that he “didn’t involve the voters enough” even though Obama engaged voters in unprecedented levels with his weekly YouTube updates, his deep involvement of voters through hundreds of email campaigns, and so forth.
It was the moment Sanders prioritized winning by himself over building up a stronger American public for whoever the nominee would end up being. Many of his supporters subsequently followed suit, divisiveness and all.
I liked Bernie Sanders when he was pulling Hillary Clinton further to the left. I stopped liking Bernie Sanders when he started pushing her to the right. When his narrative shifted from “Hillary Clinton is not aiming high enough with her policy plans” to “Hillary Clinton is part of the establishment we must rally against.”
Again: Hillary Clinton is closer to Barack Obama in politics and financial actions than anyone, and Obama is anything but “the establishment.” If Barack Obama had actually been part of the establishment at all, he’d have gotten so much more done. If Obama had been part of the establishment, why would the actual establishment vow to block him on everything that he proposed?
Now, there are many things to criticize Clinton over — and I plan to write about all of them in dedicated pieces — but positioning her as “the enemy” or “the establishment” is not in line with reality. It’s not conducive to building up a strong Democratic party, which, flawed as it may be, is the last line of defense for many marginalized people whose rights are under attack by the GOP.
If you vilify your opponent in a primary, you make it that much harder for you and your base to vote for them in the general election. And to his supporters: if you vilify someone whose politics you agree with over 90% of the time, whose politics and track record align ~93% with your preferred candidate, you set yourself up for political disillusionment.
You may very well find yourself having to vote for the candidate you spent so much time vilifying, and in the case of the Democrats you better damn well still vote for her, if there is any honesty at all to your support of Sanders.
Vilifying your close allies is no way to make a people whole, to make them come together to solve the problems in their everyday lives. The people who are suffering most under the current Republican Congress and their endless obstructionism need a change in that balance of power. Independents and a segment of Democrats are not enough to stop this current Congress. We need to be able to work together despite our disagreements over who the best candidate is, because it’s the only way to effectively fight for the rights of all people.