Disclaimer: This story refutes personal attacks against Bernie Sanders as a candidate and a person, not his individual policies. I touch on broad ideological concepts, but not the details of each stance. His policies should be debated point by point and combed through as well, but this is not the place.
As a young woman who runs in relatively neoliberal circles, despite it only being early 2019, I have already had to sit through the agony of what I call the “Anyone But Bernie” Bros. These are the hardcore-former-Hillary fans who insist that Bernie Sanders will be the death of the left’s opportunity to defeat our current president when he runs for reelection. It can be frustrating to sit by watching as the same arguments sweep the Twittersphere as “woke” neolibs insist that, for some reason or another, we must choose anyone but Bernie.
The frustration I felt witnessing these hackish points gain prowess among every white woman I know led me to create this: a running list of every argument I have heard so far against Bernie Sanders, paired with refutations. It is an incomplete list, as I am sure other arguments exist, and for that reason I will continue to update this listicle as time goes on and as more nonsense is spewed.
- Bernie is too old.
We vote for ideas, not ages. Frankly, Bernie’s age is not far off from Donald Trump’s: he’s only one year older than Joe Biden and is actually one year younger than Nancy Pelosi. Either way, even if he were to take office and die, two years of a Sanders presidency is superior to four years of a Kamala Harris one (or four more years of Trump which is what will more likely happen if anyone else gets the nomination). I also trust him to choose a Vice President who would continue the legacy of Our Revolution after a hypothetical Sanders death.
- We need a moderate.
No, we don’t. First off, we ran a moderate in 2016 and now we’re here. Second off, since witnessing his campaign, almost every candidate in the 2020 Democratic field has incorporated part of his platform into theirs, so clearly he’s got something going for him on the policy front. Every one of his major positions has the support of more than half of the country. His policies are popular and the idea that independents and non-voters are typically smack-dab in the middle of Republicans and Democrats is a fallacy. When we talk about independents and non-voters, the largest chunk of potential supporters in the 2020 general election, the individuals at stake are those who feel disaffected by the political process. A candidate who challenges the status quo is MORE likely to get those people’s support, as evidenced by the fact that Bernie polls as the most popular politician in America. Third and finally, many of Bernie’s supporters (myself included) would rather abstain from the general than cast a ballot for a faux-progressive. We are swing votes. And I highly doubt Booker fans will abstain from voting rather than voting for Bernie the way that Bernie fans would abstain from voting rather than voting for Booker.
- He’s a Russian agent
This argument comes from the idea that, during the 2016 election, Russia, while trying to push Trump on the right, was also aiming to push for Bernie on the left so that either way an anti-establishment candidate would run in the general. The facts on this are shaky, because there is evidence that Bernie got help from Russian bots but also that the same campaign tried to suppress his voters. But, for the sake of argumentation, let’s assume that Russia did actively want Bernie to win. If so, the reason Russia supported Bernie was because they thought he would promote more conflict between those on the outskirts of American society and the status quo. They wanted an anti-establishment candidate and in response the Democratic Party decided to run an establishment candidate in Hillary Clinton. It didn’t work. I maintain that the way to beat a movement that fills the disaffected with hatred is a movement that inspires the disaffected with positive change. It is also notable here to pay attention to the varied responses candidates have had to Russian intervention in our elections. Hillary kept quiet, and was rebuked by Bernie for doing so. Trump rejoiced. Bernie went on to regularly, to this day, denounce Putin, and to support punitive sanctions against Russia for its interference. Clearly, he is not intentionally supporting Russia and the Kremlin has little reason to continue vying for him if they did in the first place. And the fact that Russians at one point potentially favored him over Hillary Clinton is not reason enough to justify rejecting him as a candidate.
- He’s a man
We vote for ideas, not genitals. Assuming that he can’t speak for you because he’s a man or that women can automatically speak for you better because they’re women is to falsely correlate ideology with gender identity and to attribute policy positions to physical characteristics. Women succeed most in conditions where economic and racial barriers are dismantled in addition to expressly gender-based barriers. When a white feminist says “I won’t vote for another man” referencing Bernie Sanders, what she’s really doing is writing off the candidate with the most comprehensive plan to help women through meeting the needs of poor women, queer women, and women of color because he doesn’t look enough like her.
- He’s white
We vote for ideas, not race. It’s also probably worth mentioning here that Bernie polls as the most popular 2020 potential candidate among people of color and the Democratic Party has seen the negative effects that come when it ignores voters of color. I can’t speak as well for people of color as I can for women, though, as I am not a person of color, so I’ll direct you now to this interview with civil rights activist Cornel West on the subject of Sanders and this fantastic interview with Ohio State Senator, Nina Turner.
- Bernie is a misogynist
I’ve met this man multiple times and obsessed over his speeches, tweets, and legislation. I can’t seem to find any evidence of misogyny in there. The closest thing to misogyny that I can find is accusations of discrimination and harassment perpetrated by men within his campaign, which occurred without his knowledge. That campaign operation was a national affair and there is no way for Bernie to have known all that was going on. Yet, and most telling in my opinion, when he was made aware of the harassment, he publicly apologized, used the opportunity to take a stand in support of women, and did all he could to rectify the situation retroactively. His response shows a deep respect for women and a commitment to dismantling the systems of misogynist oppression which affect us most directly. Contrast that, for example, with Hillary’s response in a very similar situation and the idea that only women can support the feminist agenda becomes even more ludicrous.
- There are many other progressives running
This isn’t actually an argument against Bernie. Remember, the onus is on the person telling you your candidate is bad to explain why your candidate is bad. Saying “Bernie is not unique anymore” is not a reason Bernie doesn’t deserve my vote. Tell me why the other candidates are better. It’s also important to question why these other progressives are running and why they are all suddenly “progressive.” Why is Medicare for All now a talking point of every major candidate? Why is tuition-free public college a popular position for many of the 2020 hopefuls? The fact that other progressives are running is evidence that Bernie is an agenda-setter in a way other candidates are not. Every other “progressive” in the race is following HIS lead — among leaders, he is the leader.
- He couldn’t win a primary, so he can’t win a general
Setting aside that evidence and testimony are everywhere that the media and the DNC deliberately favored Hillary Clinton throughout the primary last time Bernie ran, there is a difference between a good primary candidate and a good general candidate. Let’s say that the primary was 100% fair for both sides; that still does not necessarily make Bernie Sanders a loser. I think Hillary was a great primary candidate! Among Democratic voters, she had the name-recognition, the mounting respect, and the fact that liberals think the West Wing is how everything should be all supporting her. The people who genuinely believe there is such thing as a “centrist independent” they need to sway to win, the people who will vote for a woman because they think that makes her more qualified, and the people who care about qualifications more than policy are the Democratic primary voters. And Hillary swept them away! But, in the general, she needed the support of the whole country and most of the states that put her over the edge to beat Bernie in the primary were solidly-red states that went to Trump in the general. Put that together with the fact that she could not excite those Democratic voters enough to bring the full Obama coalition out to the polls or excite the working class white voters Trump used to cement his electoral college numbers and it’s clear you need a different kind of candidate to win a primary than a general and vice versa. That’s why it’s so important we encourage those who can vote in the Democratic primary, even if they just love the idea of Kirsten Gillibrand, that the bigger picture necessitates the kind of candidate who would win a general, and the Democratic primary system does not always produce such candidates.
- He’s not far left enough
This is an argument I’m somewhat sympathetic to. After all, his vote on FOSTA wasn’t thought-through, his tweet about Venezuela was naive, and I’m as skeptical of electoral politics as the next leftist. On this note, I would say that, ideally, Bernie would be farther left, but he isn’t. Ideally, we also wouldn’t have to manage electoral politics. I’m lucky in that voting is not a laborious process for me and I see it as something small that probably will not help much, but something I might as well keep doing on the off chance it does. Maybe one day a farther-left candidate or movement will arise, but in the mean time Bernie is the best chance we’ve got and so long as we’re participating, we might as well vote for him.
- He shouldn’t have given another response to the State of the Union after Stacy Abrams
While some see this as an act of disrespect towards Abrams, their responses to the State of the Union are not competing with one another. Not only has Sanders been providing his own response to the State of the Union after the Democratic response for the past three years, but it’s worth repeating that Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat. He gave an additional State of the Union because Stacy Abrams is speaking for a political party he does not belong to. As the de facto leader of the Democratic Socialists of America, it only made sense for him to give our response and this situation is not in any way unique to the Abrams response. In fact, though CNN cut it out, he even commended Abrams on her speech and a number of folks on pro-Bernie forums/twitter communities are advocating for her as a potential VP choice for him.
- He’s wealthy
First of all, who wouldn’t be wealthy after serving in Congress as long as Bernie Sanders has? Second of all, we vote for ideas, not bank accounts. Bernie isn’t a billionaire like Howard Shultz who earned his money exploiting workers. The money Bernie has, he has because he worked at a set wage for Congress and wrote a New York Times best seller, something he was able to do because so many people want to know and read what he has to say. The wealth he has is new and it’s just another testament to his popularity.
- He’s under FBI investigation
This is false. His wife was at one point. She has since been cleared of all charges, proving true her claim that she did nothing wrong. The investigation could have been anything from an honest mistake to a deliberate attempt to discredit Bernie Sanders, but it doesn’t matter. He was never even under investigation, people are innocent until proven guilty, and the charges have all been dropped.
- Bernie can’t unite the Democratic Party
I would be lying if I said the divide in the Democratic Party doesn’t exist. It’s there, it’s real, and, from the looks of it, it isn’t going away. But if anyone can unite the Party, it’s Bernie. Think about it: the factions that are increasingly being alienated, the leftist faction, the working class, and people of color are BERNIE’S MAIN BASE! He’s this Party’s last hope to bring in folks like me; we’ll just stay home or vote Green if we don’t like the Democrat. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again. Unlike leftists, moderates will vote for the Democrat no matter what and the fact that Bernie is willing to run as a Democrat despite being an Independent shows he’s willing to reach out to them. He’s doing more for moderates by running as a Democrat than Amy Klobuchar has done for leftists in her life. Don’t let the overwhelmingly-moderate, establishment pundits fool you into thinking they make up the majority or need to be swayed. They’ll fall in line regardless; uniting the party is about bringing people out and exciting those the establishment has isolated. Bernie does that better than anyone.
- Bernie isn’t a Democrat
This is very true but it’s also very unimportant. In the US, we have a two-party system, meaning folks like Bernie have to run as one of the two major political parties if they want to succeed. The specific label of “Democrat,” frankly, is semantic at most. The Democratic Party, at a national level, is the catchall party for anyone left of Republicans because our system doesn’t allow for anything more than that. If it upsets you that Bernie chooses the label that most accurately fits him whenever possible and uses the catchall “Democrat” label when it’s not, your problem is with the two-party system that makes it impossible for him to run as anything besides a Democrat. And, honestly, Democrats should be glad he’s running this way. The other outcome is one where he runs as a Democratic Socialist in a multiparty system, either helping to replace the Democratic Party or splitting the vote and giving Trump four more years in office. Bernie running as a Democrat allows us to debate what the Party should look like, who it should be for, and what it should advocate, potentially making it better. He’s participating in your precious marketplace of ideas within the Democratic Party instead of destroying it from the outside. If you don’t like his policies, you now have a say in whether he gets nominated for President, a say you would not have if he decided to run as a Democratic Socialist. But, if you’re making this argument, you probably don’t care much about his policies because you’ve reduced yourself to debating party label semantics and you’ve shown your hand that you care more about his perceived loyalty to an arbitrary political grouping than you do about his opinions or his advocacy.
- He shouldn’t have run against Hillary
This point implies that Hillary deserved the nomination and basically says “how dare he challenge this coronation!” Primaries are campaigns and campaigns involve opposition; don’t be mad at Bernie now because he ran against a candidate you liked four years ago, something he was totally within his rights to do. It’s also worth pointing out that Bernie refused to run negative ads against Hillary nor did his campaign do any oppo research. He ran against her but he did it in a kinder way than Obama did. Afterward, he endorsed her, too. Opposing Hillary is not a crime and he ran against her in the kindest way an opponent could. He even criticized the media for continuing to talk about “her damn emails” on national television while debating her. Campaigns are a part of politics. Civil campaigning is above and beyond the call of duty.
- Bernie Bros are the worst!
First of all, the term Bernie Bro is a misnomer used to paint Bernie supporters as (white) males and imply he isn’t electable because of that. In reality, “Bros” like myself come in all shapes, sizes, and genders. Because of that, it’s hard to broad brush us all as being so terrible you can’t support our candidate. Bernie has nothing to do with what his supporters say and he has shown historically that he is willing to disavow and chastise supporters who actually do terrible or harmful things. He even spoke out out within a week of starting his campaign to tell us to play nice. In the age of the internet, it’s ridiculous to try and hold every candidate responsible for every individual act by every individual supporter. If it were logical to do that, I would have cause to never vote for any other candidate on account of all the random white women I know making fake accounts as people of color to say Black folks don’t like Bernie or misgendering my transfem friends by calling them Bernie Bros or coming at me constantly trying to guilt me into supporting their candidate. So, for all our sakes, let’s keep this discourse about the candidates and about the things they can control.
- He hasn’t released his tax returns
Yes, he has. Here you go!
- Bernie used campaign funds to buy a house
For more details on the procurement of this vacation home, I’ll link you to this comment that another reader has made below.
- In 1985, Bernie attended a rally in Managua and one of the phrases that other people there chanted was anti-American.
Sanders went to Nicaragua during the time that the Reagan Administration was illegally funneling money to the far-right terrorist group known as the Contras. Their actions included assassinating public officials with the help of the CIA, bombing campaigns of civilian infrastructure, and a number of human rights violations including massacres, torture, razing civilian villages, mass rape, and the execution of children. By 1985, the Nicaraguan people were aware of the connection between the atrocities and the American government. If I were in that position, I certainly would have some rage for the US. Sanders was at the rally trying to understand the plight of the people opposing the US and to show that there were Americans who stood in solidarity with them. His presence at the rally served as proof to every person there who thought all Americans were bad that this was not the case, that even American politicians could understand the evil the Contras perpetuated against innocent civilians. If he were to tone-police people while they mourned their dead, their lost homes, or their own assaults, he would have proved to them that Americans cared more about their rhetoric than their wellbeing, the exact kind of sentiment Nicaraguans at the rally were protesting. You can read a full interview Sanders did with the New York Times about the subject here if you still think he should have told these rightfully-angered mourners that their chants weren’t nice enough to the people who funded the atrocities they were protesting.
- He hasn’t gotten anything done
In addition to spearheading the only successful invocation of the War Powers Act regarding the war in Yemen, he has sponsored and signed onto over 7,000 pieces of legislation. During the years of 1994–2006, he passed more roll call amendments than anyone else in Congress (which makes sense, because his strategy for legislative change has always been to add amendments to existing projects rather than to introduce brand new legislation). His impressive legislative impact includes ensuring that the ACA included sufficient funding for public clinics, bipartisan antiwar and pro-veteran legislation, on-the-ground efforts to ensure that workers for Walmart and Amazon earn living wages, and more. Just because his strategy has largely focused on adding amendments (to the extent that he was dubbed the “amendment king” and is the first result that comes up when you Google the phrase), doesn’t mean he hasn’t gotten a lot done. In fact, his strategy expands past mere legislative victories and is rounded out by on-the-ground activism for workers and advocacy work.
- Bernie has just said the same thing for thirty years
He’s consistently supported initiatives to improve the lives of Americans and, as someone who is clearly versed in leftist theory, definitely seems to view politics through the lens of the class struggle. That doesn’t mean he’s only said the same thing, however. What Sanders has done is maintain the same principles: he has still worked on different legislative pieces throughout his career. For example, during the 2016 election, Sanders was criticized by Clinton and members of the establishment for not having enough foreign policy prowess. Since then, he has added foreign policy concerns to his main platform, authoring the bill that invoked the War Powers Act for the first time ever in an attempt to end the unauthorized war in Yemen. Sanders is clearly receptive to criticism when it’s valid and has been willing to add to his resume when need be. Just because he has maintained the same principles throughout his career doesn’t mean he’s saying the exact same thing. I’d also challenge you to consider why it’s a negative to consistently point out a problem (income inequality) for years if that problem hasn’t been fixed. Personally, I would prefer someone who’s dedicated to a worthy cause and has the attention span to maintain his advocacy, rather than someone who switches back and forth as the wind blows. But, if you’re not of the same mind that I am about this, fear not. Sanders himself addressed this criticism.
- Socialist is a scary word
As an out-and-out leftist, let me just say first of all that Bernie Sanders isn’t a socialist. Sanders is a social democrat, which is a type of capitalist. He favors attempts to replicate Nordic countries’ social democracy and to reform capitalism to make it more inclusive. Socialism would involve a full-on attempt to get rid of capitalism by transferring ownership of the means of production (the materials it takes to create products, like land and factories) to the state. The eventual goal of this is to abolish the state altogether and establish communism, where those means of production are communal (owned by everyone) rather than run by the state. Sanders goal is something closer to making sure everyone starts out on a more level playing field within capitalism and to try and reduce some of the deadliest elements of the system (inability to access food, healthcare, and housing if one is poor, for example). So, if the concept of a socialist in power scares you, fear not, because Sanders has branded himself as one but isn’t looking to create any kind of USSA today.
Now, say your concern is more that you think people won’t vote for someone who calls themselves a socialist. Polling increasingly shows that young folks support the idea of socialism more than the idea of capitalism, so that’s one demographic the word “socialist” won’t scare away. But what about the rest? Well, in general it doesn’t seem to bother people that much. Sanders is and has been the United States’ most popular senator and his most “socialist” proposals are popular across demographics. 70% of Americans support Medicare for All, the majority of Americans support raising the minimum wage and free public college, and most people in both the Democratic and Republican parties support the Green New Deal. He’s also beating Trump by wide margins in every one-to-one poll but Rasmussen (which has Trump beating everyone by a wide margin all the time, so I wouldn’t worry about it). So, in summary, if the concept of a socialist in power scares you, Sanders definitely isn’t one, so you needn’t worry, and if your concern is that people won’t vote for him because he calls himself a socialist, the numbers say otherwise.
- He doesn’t pay his staffers the $15 minimum wage he champions. While this was at one point the case, his campaign staff was the first to unionize and the story about him not paying them $15 per hour came out while the union leaders were in talks with the campaign to raise that wage. Basically, the workers told the Sanders Campaign that it was hypocritical and the campaign agreed and has now raised that wage. Only during and after these negotiations, once the problem had been solved, did it become popular for the media to say that he didn’t pay his staffers $15 an hour. Both I and Sanders himself agree that it’s hypocritical not to pay workers the wage you campaign for, which is why he remedied the issue. It was a problem, and I agree that it was, but once it was brought to his attention it was resolved.
Updates will be made as the election continues and new ill-conceived arguments against Bernie Sanders arise in my Twitter feed (and potentially the comments section of this listicle).