why bernie sanders matters

Wouldn’t it be funny if all I wrote here was, “He doesn’t”?

In all seriousness, I will be writing about Bernie Sanders but before I do I want to qualify some things.

If you want to just read why I think he’s important, I recommend skipping down about halfway.

Why I’m not voting for Sanders

It is very unlikely that I will vote for Bernie Sanders. Or Hillary Clinton. Or anyone in the GOP.

My issues with the GOP are myriad. They actually mostly match my issues with Clinton.

Before I get to Sanders, I think it is worth looking at Clinton with some scrutiny.

I’ve actually been under the impression that she’ll be our next president since about 2013, when I started seeing polls about how much people like her and just random posts around the internet trying to show us how awesome she is. I mean, how often does media focus on former politicians who make millions from speaking fees? Especially media like Buzzfeed.

But I saw these things and thought she would definitely be the next president. Her likeability has always been one of her biggest issues [mostly for gendered reasons], and it seemed like she somehow overcame that, at least with young people.

But I also see her then growing appeal as a sort of historical blindness, or amnesia,maybe. Sure, for the general public, she always seemed unlikeable. And, sure, those are mostly for gendered reasons. But if we set all that aside, there are still so many reasons to be afraid of a Clinton presidency.

Unfortunately, many Sanders supporters are coming out really strong in mostly hysterical ways, and their attacks on Clinton are too often not related to policy. To say that another way, they’re misogynistic attacks.

This is unfortunate for a lot of reasons.

The first, and most obvious, is that Clinton is a human. She doesn’t deserve to be treated like garbage because of her gender or her status as a person with a great deal of fame.

The second is that gendering your attack really says more about you than anyone else. So even if you have an actual and useful critique of Clinton, no one will hear it over the garbage spilling from your mouth.

UPDATE: With regard to this, check out Glenn Greenwald’s recent Intercept article.

The third is that there are serious and worthwhile critiques to throw her way. An easy one is that she considered a brutal dictator a family friend (though at the time, that was a normal thing for politicians to do to Mubarak–Barack Obama also gave a speech a few months before his ousting where he detailed all the many ways Mubarak was a great leader and friend of the US). I mean, you can tell a lot about someone by who they call their friends, yes? For example, she was, until relatively recently, on pretty friendly terms with Donald Trump, who is a longtime supporter of the Clintons. You can take that however you want it, but it is worth noting that Trump has been supporting the Clinton’s organisation for over a decade and Trump funded Clinton’s campaign efforts in the past. And maybe Hillary Clinton and Trump aren’t very close and she’s merely brought along because Bill Clinton and Trump are friends. That’s pretty believable to me too. And really, their connection isn’t important, or at least not as important as her being buddies with a dictator or her more serious crimes against humanity.

Then there are more serious accusations, like her stance against gay marriage, her consistently pro-war record, her support of trade agreements like NAFTA and the TPT, her accusations against Edward Snowden, her belief that the government should be able to spy on its citizens and indefinitely detain them, her continued support of the Patriot Act, and her belief that a single payer health system is bad for america. Another one is her support of Wall St and their more obvious support of her.

And a lot of people will blame her for her husband’s policies and a lot of other people will defend her or absolve her, since she wasn’t the president. But, at the time, she was very much meant to be viewed as a partner in the White House. Which is great! A woman sharing responsibility with her husband at the highest level of government! I mean, that truly is awesome and there’s never been anything like it in america before or since. Unfortunately, much of Bill Clinton’s presidency was pretty repugnant (people have crazy historical amnesia here, especially–if Bill could run for president again, he’d win in a landslide, despite his attack on worker’s rights, welfare, his support of the prison industrial complex, the military industrial complex, and so many other things).

It also should be mentioned more often that she ran an insidiously racist campaign in 2008 against Barack Obama, playing into the Islamophobia of the nation, the Birther arguments, and just general race baiting. These are things that happened, things that Clinton did not even very long ago.

But the thing about all of those things is that many Democrats don’t actually see any of those things as being problematic.

Many Democrats are pro-military, pro trade agreements, anti-Snowden, anti-whistleblower. They likely wouldn’t refer to themselves in such blanketed terms, but that’s kind of whatever.

The Democratic Party is not a progressive party. The Democratic Party has been a Wall St Party for about as long as I’ve been alive. The Democratic Party has been for the War on Terror and the War on Drugs. In fact, there are very few politicians in the US who have consistently voted against war or military aggression or intervention. Fewer who have voted against the prison industrial complex. So it shouldn’t be surprising that Democrats like Clinton. They voted for Obama twice (and maybe should only be blamed for the second one, since most thought he was going to be a peaceful president) and they’ll likely vote for Clinton.

She’s kind of banking (no pun intended) on it.

I will never vote for Clinton. There are a lot of reasons for that, and many of them are outlined above. There are many more examples, especially as we get more specific, but I don’t feel like spending the rest of the day grabbing proof.

I’m not a journalist. If I were, I’d be less lazy about something like that.

But I think Clinton supporters should be honest with themselves. They’re not voting for a progressive. She’s shown herself to be pretty conservative over the many years she’s been in the public. So if you think she’s a progressive, you’re either lying to yourself or being naive.

Of course, there are those who are pointing to her work in the Senate, where she proved to be one of the most progressive Senators. Though, as I said above, our progressive party is pretty conservative. Which is to say, being the most progressive person in a Reagonomics thinktank doesn’t make you a liberal. Voting for war, voting against civil liberties–these things should speak for themselves.

Of course, there are people who are voting for her because she’s a woman.

I don’t mean that to be dismissive either. I understand the impulse. It’s not a bad impulse to have, given how shockingly patriarchal heads of state are and have been throughout history, especially in america. It’s really time for us to accept that women have a real and central role in government. We need more women with high levels of power. Not simply to gender balance, but to balance perspectives. We need people from more diverse backgrounds in the government as well. People of various ethnicities, people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, people who are not trained lawyers.

We need scientists, engineers, economists, teachers, union workers, hourly workers, tradespeople, nurses–the list goes on. When we have a government full of one type of person, it means most voices are left out. And our government is primarily made up of straight white male lawyers. And even if we remove sexuality, gender, and race, we’re still left with a government almost completely made up of lawyers.

There are real reasons for that. Wouldn’t you want people who studied law to be in charge of your laws? On the surface that makes perfect sense. In practice it seems to get you the US Congress. A place where a lot of arguments take place and nothing gets done.

Anyrate, back to Clinton: I think her gender is less important than other people (and, yes, this very well could be because of my own gender, my own privilege–I accept that). Not because it wouldn’t be huge for a woman to become president, but because I don’t see her as a women positive candidate, just like I didn’t see Sarah Palin as a women positive candidate.

Many will probably disagree with me on that point as well. Which is, you know, fine. She has done positive things for women. I mean, simply being at the level of government she’s been at is positive for women. Having her in the Oval Office would be positive for women. Just by virtue of her showing up, she’s showing young women that they can be president. And that is important.

That matters a lot.

But she’s not the person I would put in the White House, if I could choose. She’s not who I would want young women to emulate. And this may be my own bias. Because when I look at her, I see violence and murder. I see the miles of dead she’s made through her policies.

So let’s talk about why I’m not voting for Sanders.

The biggest reason I’m not voting for him for president is the same reason I wouldn’t vote for Clinton or the GOP.

I’m a pacifist. I believe this very strongly, and I believe it very deeply.

I do not believe that there is such a thing as a just war.

I do not believe that there is such a thing as a positive outcome to violence.

Being a US citizen and a pacifist basically sets me up for a lifelong nightmare. Because every day, I am complicit in the wars of my country. Every day, money I pay to the government is used to fund weapons and violence and destruction. Or sanctions which cripple economies and starve millions. Millions of children. These are our crimes. These are my crimes. And our government has thrust them upon us all.

I don’t get a choice in the matter. You, as a US citizen, don’t get a choice in the matter.

Or, we do, but those choices are to stay below the poverty line so we don’t have to pay taxes, or to leave the country and refuse to pay taxes here.

I live in a country that is the biggest terrorist state in the world. The nation that purposefully and with malice of forethought commits crimes against humanity with little to no repercussions, no accountability. I would label every president who has served during the 28 years of my life as war criminals. I would name many more presidents of the past. And even beyond presidents, I would consider Hillary Clinton to be a war criminal along with her husband. She’s not alone in holding that distinction, mind. Henry Kissinger is perhaps the most obvious war criminal in US history who was never president, along with General William Tecumseh Sherman.

Likely I’ve already lost a lot of you reading this, which is fine. I’m what a lot of people would probably describe as a fringe idealist, or something like that. Especially when it comes to my pacifism, which I believe in above all else.

Most will disagree there. They see war as an unfortunate but sometimes necessary tool.

And that’s fine.

I’ve long known my political stances are, to put it one way, idiosyncratic. Or at least unpopular in this home of mine.

And this brings me to Sanders.

Only in america is a man who supports war reluctantly considered a man of peace. No, Sanders is not the anti-war candidate. Weirdly, he’s had to assert openly his willingness to go to war, if it became necessary.

This is a fundamentally strange aspect to US politics. Because Sanders voted against one war, he’s painted as a pacifist, and this is used against him, even as it’s used to praise him. Because he didn’t support the Iraq invasion, he needs to stand up and say loudly that he would support war if it became necessary. He also had to stand up and tick off the wars he voted for!

Sanders, far from being an anti-war candidate, is simply a less aggressive candidate than the rest of the field. Maybe even the least aggressive candidate running for a major US political party in the last thirty years.

This is a deal breaker for me.

If you feel similarly, I recommend you start supporting Jill Stein.

It’s also peculiar that Sanders is considered a radical, because he’s really not the progressive rockstar people are making him out to be.

He intends to fully support Clinton if she beats him in the nomination, which, I think, says something about him. To many, this may just show he’s a good sport or a great loser. To me, and most people who consider themselves socialists, it demonstrates–how to put this?–a lack of commitment to his ideals.

He was also very vocal about his opposition to Ralph Nader back in 2004 (going so far as to vowing to go around the country and campaign against him–not in favor of himself as a candidate, but simply to go around the country and telling people not to vote for Nader), who is maybe the most effective progressive leader to ever run for office. Despite never holding political office, his activism has done more for consumer protection, the environment, and human rights than just about any major US politician of the last 50 years. Maybe ever.

To put it another way, Ralph Nader was the most progressive candidate to run for office in the last century. We may never see a man like him again.

All right, so that was a big preamble.

Why Sanders matters

I am excited. Despite my misgivings about him, he excites me in ways just about no other candidate of my lifetime has excited me.

Even more than Jill Stein, the only presidential candidate who holds my same positions on nearly every topic.

Not so much because of what he says, but because of how he resonates with people.

I’m finding people who have always been apolitical or politically ambivalent really getting excited about Sanders. They’re becoming engaged, getting involved. They’re finding their own political voice, their political consciousness. They’re taking part in demonstrations, in conversations. They’re opening their eyes to progressive causes and opening their ears to progressive voices.

This is a very good thing and a very significant one.

Noam Chomsky is perhaps the most celebrated US thinker living, and I have never seen him get the attention he gets now. He’s been active in politics since the Korean War. Almost seventy years ago. And it’s now, in his late years of life, that he’s getting interviewed by major news outlets. His words and his ideas and his voice are being consumed and taken in by a generation so far removed from the one he was born to that it’s kind of incredible. People who are younger than his grandkids are finding him more relevant than the several generations between him and them.

Part of this is, I think, because people like Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have made people excited about the possibility of a government that works for them. Occupy Wall St and the Arab Spring are probably more significant reasons, but they’re all related, I think. And the swell of support for Sanders is certainly a carryover from the Occupy Movement.

You can see it on facebook and twitter. It’s all over the place!

Last week, 16,000 people went to see him speak in St Paul. Another 6,000 went to see him speak in Duluth.

A huge and diverse crowd is what I saw, despite how often his supporters are characterised as straight white bros, “Bernie Bros.” I saw more people of color there than I have at any other event I’ve been to in Minnesota. Many of them women. Granted, we’re not a very diverse state. I think we’re like 85% white. But that’s not the crowd I saw that night.

I went because my wife is a huge Sanders fan. She’s actually one of the people I’m talking about. Someone who has always felt so pushed away by the game of politics who is finding her political voice because of Sanders and people like him. Basically for the first time.

This is exciting!

She keeps me up to date on what he’s doing, how his campaign’s doing. She even gave money to support his campaign, which is something I know she’s never done before with any other candidate.

And, if nothing else, I think that’s worth harnessing.

Which brings me to something that really bums me out.

And that is the willingness for people who have been politically aware and active for years to just dump all over this. They tell people who are excited about a candidate, about politics–maybe for the first time in their life!–that they’re wrong and that voting for him and even supporting him will actually ruin the progressive cause.

And, sure, most people aren’t saying it so forcefully, but they’re being just as dickish about it. They’re acting like teenage hipsters who make fun of you for not loving TV on the Radio for the last decade.

But, seriously, it’s okay to show up late to a cause. Just because it seems late to you doesn’t mean it’s late to them. You, as an individual, don’t get to set the political timeframe. If you’re so jaded by politics, then just shutup and step back. Let people who still care be excited and try to do what you so clearly failed to do.

Sure, they might fail. Maybe this current bunch of young voters are just as naive as you were when you were their age. Maybe they’ll fail like your generation did.

They’re allowed to fail. Let them fail, if that’s what you really want. But don’t rain on their parade just because you’ve been burned in the past.

If anything, you should quietly support their burgeoning political awareness. You don’t have to agree with them or support their causes, of course, but it matters that people are paying attention, especially given how much those who are politically aware tend to complain about the political illiteracy of the US public.

Because right now, you’re part of the reason people stay away from politics. You’re part of the problem.

It’s not a badge of honor to be politically jaded. It’s something you should hide in your closet, along with your U2 albums and posters.

And, yes, there’s a real possibility that this new group of people will fail.

But maybe they won’t. And their success doesn’t negate your efforts. Their success is your success. It’s built out of the work you did, out of the awareness you spread.

So let them have this.

But more than just a beacon of hope in a dismal landscape, Sanders is actually turning out big numbers.

Hopefully his huge numbers in Iowa will put to rest the argument that he can’t win so there’s no reason to vote for him. This is clearly not true. In fact, this is a huge success for him. At the beginning of the year, he was 40 points back. He lost the state by six coin tosses. Which, I mean, that’s insane.

And the real story of Iowa should be that Clinton is a coin toss wizard, because that’s bonkers to win six in a row. If I were her, I’d start gambling till my luck ran out.

The reason Sanders is getting so much support is that he’s actually engaging people across age groups. He’s engaging and attracting more young voters than anyone else, but he’s also attracting and engaging voters who are 25-65+. it’s actually an almost even spread of support.

But Sanders is important for more reasons than that. He’s important because he’s changed the conversation. He’s pulled the entire campaign into the realm of actual policy and ideas. This is something that I’ve never witnessed in my lifetime. Candidates talking openly about ideas and how they hope to achieve them.

Of course there’s still all the bluster and handwaving, but there are also real ideas being discussed and real plans being set into motion.

He’s pulled the Democratic Party–a party that has leaned into conservative values consistently over my lifetime–towards progressive ideas and values. We’re talking about expanding healthcare, increasing taxes on the wealthy (not even increasing them very much, [interestingly, the Democratic Party has officially balked at this, which tells you all you need to know about their progressive values, I think] I might add), the criminal activity of Wall St, the insanity of our criminal justice system, the failed war on drugs, and we’re getting someone who’s willing to say Black Lives Matter.

For the first time in my life, I heard a politician engage with the Somali-American population of Minnesota. This is something I care deeply about and something I’ve never even heard a Minnesota politician talk about, despite this being a sizeable population for the last twenty years. That’s not to say no Minnesota politician has engaged with that community. It just means, if they have, I’m unaware of it.

We have a politician who at least seems to care about race.

I think he doesn’t go far enough, but he’s the only one who seems willing to even have that conversation.

We have a candidate who seems to profoundly care and who has shown himself to care for decades.

That resonates with people, obviously.

And maybe he can’t win the nomination–is that reason enough to not vote for him?

Isn’t that the point of the primaries? To try to get the person with the most support up there to represent the party?

With his showing in Iowa, he’s about to gain a bunch of attention and new donors and return donors. He’s starting to get major news coverage for the first time during this campaign. So let’s say he beats Clinton. Are we expecting the broader Democratic base to just go away because Clinton lost? Imagine the kind of money and support he’ll gain as the nominee.

It seems silly to think he can’t stand up against the GOP’s field. The frontrunning candidates, it’s worth noting, are not at all who the GOP want as their nominee.

We have such a defeatist mindset in america when it comes to politics. This is by design, caused by decades of propaganda, but it doesn’t mean we can’t try to vote by our ideals.

Voting for the lesser of two evils is what turned america into the terrorist fascist state it is today, so don’t believe people who tell you they’re being pragmatic–they’re not. They’re either lying to themselves or being naive. If you only give yourself poisons to choose from, you’re going to get sick. Probably die.

I see a lot of people who consider themselves progressives. People who gladly define themselves as Democrats. They seem to believe they’re playing some kind of long con. That by voting for Clinton–who they generally don’t like–they’ll be putting up the most electable candidate.

But how electable is she if she’s struggling to beat the crazy grandpa from Vermont?

Iowa was basically her worst nightmare. She came in with big money, huge name recognition, all the attention of the media, and was so far ahead a month ago that it seemed silly for Sanders to even bother campaigning. And she won by six coin tosses. She had to rely on astronomical chance.

And, sure, I said a lot of things about Clinton above, but you have to feel for her here. This campaign was meant to be mostly a victory lap before she sauntered into the White House. Instead she’s barely scraping by.

I may not like her, but I actually don’t take pleasure in her seeming failure in Iowa.

But it does excite me at the same time. To see how much a big grass roots movement has been able to do in such a short amount of time, with negligible media coverage and millions of small donations.

And electability? Clinton?

It’s really ignoring how generally hated Clinton is. She may have a lot of support from Democrats, but she has no support across the aisle.

If you think the language surrounding her has been misogynistic so far, wait till she’s running against Cruz or Trump or Rubio.

Which isn’t a reason not to vote for her, mind, but just be aware that this supposedly electable candidate is one of the most hated people in the country for most conservatives. They might even hate her more than they hate Obama. And yes, most of the attacks on Obama were racial and most of the attacks on Clinton are gendered, but it really is worth understanding that the GOP wants absolutely nothing to do with Clinton.

If she wins, the obstructions will be everywhere. Just as they will be with a Democrat as president and a conservative congress.

This is another argument I see for why you shouldn’t vote for Sanders–he won’t be able to get anything done in a conservative congress.

A few things here.

Congress doesn’t have to stay conservative. It’s not a fixed situation. It’s unlikely that it’ll become progressive, mostly because it never has been, but that doesn’t mean that we just give up on voting for senators and house representatives because of how the last election turned out and the gradual way america’s plunged into conservativism.

And let’s say congress remains exactly the same as it is right now.

Would Clinton–a person so reviled by conservatives that they will defame her in just about any way imaginable–be able to pass progressive legislation, even if she wanted to?

What makes people so sure she would get done what Sanders can’t?

People are kind of acting like Sanders popped out of the woodwork last week. And, for many of us, he may as well have. I mean, I didn’t really know who he was till he started running for president! But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had a relatively successful career as a politician.

If anything, I think Clinton is actually more divisive than Sanders.

And, sure, a big part is her gender, but I think the biggest part has to do with her name and with her history in government.

And, okay, Sanders won’t be able to get universal healthcare, free tuition, break up the banks, create new jobs, and overturn Citizens United. Probably that’s true.

But, if you’re a progressive, wouldn’t you want someone as president who’s at least going to try?

If you don’t try, those things absolutely won’t happen in the next four years.

If you do try, some of them might just actually happen sooner.

But I guess I detoured into why Sanders is a better candidate than Clinton, and that’s not really what this is about.

Sanders makes people excited and he’s getting people involved. He’s getting more donations to his campaign than any other US politician in history, which is not insignificant.

If you think people are more willing to write a cheque than wait in line, then you’ve never been to a free concert.

The idea that all these people donating money are just going to disappear come time to vote is so absurd I can barely waste time thinking about it.

In Conclusion

I firmly believe that you should vote for whoever you want.

If you want to vote for Clinton, go for it!

If you want to vote for Trump, go for it!

If you want to vote for Sanders, go for it!

But be aware of who and what you’re voting for. Let’s even just take these three and use the nomenclature of US politics. Which means I’m going to put them on a very useless spectrum, from right to left.

Trump and the GOP are on the far right.

Sanders is about middle of the road left of center, which is actually maybe too generously to the left, but whatever.

Clinton is between these two, but closer to Sanders than she is to Trump. Which is to say, she’s right of center by a significant margin, but not far enough to be considered a real GOP candidate.

To put it another way, if she were in the GOP and her name wasn’t Clinton, she’d be doing about as well as Jeb Bush, who she’s not super dissimilar from, ideologically.



And all of that is fine.

But while you vote for who you believe in, allow people to disagree. Allow people who find hope in Sanders to just have that hope. Even if it will eventually shipwreck. Even if we’ll have some notion of the heartache the Greek have had over the last couple years.

And Sanders supporters, be okay with people voting for Clinton. Quit gendering your attacks. Quit attacking at all.

That’s not what this is meant to be about.

Just because you all consider yourselves Democrats or leftists or progressives doesn’t mean you’re even close to each other on the spectrum of american ideology. Someone who supports Clinton just doesn’t agree with you. They may simply believe that you’re too far to the left. They may be a great deal more comfortable with her affiliation to Wall St and the military industrial complex.

But people, regardless of where you are, don’t lie to yourself and say that this is all about pragmatism. Because–and here’s the rub–the president doesn’t matter.


Your senators and representatives–local and federal–are the ones who matter. They make the small incremental changes that influence the country from the bottom up.

But you know where all that really starts–and this is where Sanders is really reaching people–it starts with you. With you pushing your politicians to serve you and your desires.

They’re public servants.

They’re not meant to be the aristocracy–though that’s what they’ve become, much to our national shame.

So make them serve you.

You do that by getting out there and fighting. Call their office. Picket for and against. Write letters. Canvas the neighborhood.

Civil Rights didn’t happen because a president signed a law. The Vietnam War didn’t end because Nixon decided we’d gone too far. Women didn’t get the right to vote because a president said, Let’s let the ladies have their day.

Decades of activism made these things happen.

And that, unfortunately, is the only way to make change happen in america. Or anywhere.

And that’s what Sanders is making people believe in. Right now, he’s the figurehead of a huge grass roots national movement. He’s mobilised millions. If he can keep this momentum going, keep making these people believe, then he may be able to get them to push their senators and representatives to work for them.

I think that matters.

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