Bernie Sanders Takes a Hostage
Barack Obama has finally come off the sidelines and endorsed Joe Biden for president. One day earlier, Bernie Sanders did the same. But there’s a big difference between the two endorsements.
Barack Obama didn’t take Joe Biden hostage. Bernie Sanders did.
In exchange for his endorsement, Bernie wants a few favors. Even if he doesn’t say so in so many words, he wants Biden to abandon his centrist, moderate persona (even more than he already has) and move way over to the progressive left. Bernie wants Joe to channel Bernie.
In announcing his support for Biden, Sanders said, "We need you in the White House. I will do all that I can to see that that happens, Joe."
To which Biden replied, "Your endorsement means a great deal. It means a great deal to me. I think people are going to be surprised that we are apart on some issues but we're awfully close on a whole bunch of others. I'm going to need you -- not just to win the campaign, but to govern."
How nice! But here’s the translation into plain English: Tell me, Bernie, what’s the price I’m going to have to pay for that endorsement you gave me? Tell me what you need to get your holier-than-thou, sanctimonious fans to get off their pious rear ends and vote for me in November.
Let’s remember that Sanders was seen as too radical by Democratic voters to win the party’s nomination. Yet now Biden is going to have to adopt at least some of the very policies that voters already rejected.
What kind of policies? Bernie wants a budget-busting Green New Deal, Medicare for All, free tuition at public colleges, forgiveness of student debt. He conceded that he would have to raise taxes on the middle class to pay for his Medicare plan and said he would impose a wealth tax on the money the super rich accumulated over a lifetime. He thinks felons in prison should have the right to vote.
What Bernie wants, and was honest enough to acknowledge over and over at his rallies, is nothing less than a political revolution. His goal was never to get back to what life was like before Donald Trump. He wants to fundamentally change America!
There’s a general rule in politics that says when a candidate wins his party’s nomination, he moves to the center, to broaden his appeal and better his chances to win a general election.
But if Biden does that, he’ll likely lose Bernie’s passionate base, the Bernie Bros for whom going back to pre-Trump “normal” isn’t their idea of a revolution. But if he lurches too far left, he risks losing crucial independent voters, conservative Democrats, even some Republicans who are exhausted by the Trump presidency.
Biden knows that walking a tightrope isn’t easy. He knows that one false step can be fatal.
And already two of Sanders top backers have made it clear that while Bernie may have endorsed Biden … they haven’t.
Briahna Joy Gray, Sanders national press secretary, tweeted that, "With the utmost respect for Bernie Sanders, who is an incredible human being & a genuine inspiration, I don't endorse Joe Biden. I supported Bernie Sanders because he backed ideas like #MedicareForAll, cancelling ALL student debt, & a wealth tax. Biden supports none of those."
Another progressive Sanders supporter, civil rights activist Shaun King wrote that, "I've now counted at least 50 time that @ JoeBiden blatantly lied about his participation in the Civil Rights Movement from sit-ins he never participated in to marches he was not a part of, to being trained in Black churches as a boy. He must apologize & explain this."
We don’t know precisely what Bernie and his base will settle for, but we do know it’s likely to include more than Joe Biden simply giving in to some of Bernie’s progressive policy demands. It’s also likely to include a voice in who gets picked for a Biden cabinet. And who won’t be allowed to play a role – anyone, for instance, with ties to Wall Street, or any of the other capitalist industries Bernie finds repulsive.
Bernie may be the guy who lost the race, but he’s the one calling the shots. And if Joe Biden wins in November, Bernie’s influence will be alive and well in the Oval Office.
Democrats say their top priority is beating Donald Trump. But revolutionaries aren’t known for their moderation, for their willingness to compromise and be reasonable.
Bernie and his Bros are ideologues, Don Quixote visionaries constantly tilting at establishment windmills. Sure they want to beat Donald Trump in November but they also want to see their progressive vision of America became a reality. At some point they may have to decide which they want more: victory or purity.
And as Joe Biden tiptoes on that tightrope, with every step his perils become more obvious: If he doesn’t give Bernie enough it could cost him the election. And if he gives Bernie too much, that also could cost him the election.