For my second Bernie-related post, here’s a FAQ. If the tone appears a little stiff or cheery, it’s because I originally wrote this content for canvassing literature.
Shouldn’t I just vote for whoever is most “electable”?
Here are three reasons why the discussion on “electability” in the popular media is misguided and unproductive.
First, we should note that in poll after poll after poll, Bernie Sanders comes out on top as the Democratic primary candidate most likely to defeat Trump. So if the only thing you care about is defeating Trump, Bernie is your candidate.
This is because Bernie energizes two key constituencies—those who have lost faith in the system and therefore stopped voting altogether, and those who were Obama-to-Trump voters who similarly lost faith in what they’ve come to recognize as establishment politicians. (Studies show both of these constituencies consist of white, black, and brown Americans that are less likely to have a college degree.)
The second reason we should dismiss talk about “electability” is that democracy works best when the people stand up to be counted, and when they let their voices be heard. What those voices say matters. Election results speak back to a country and tell it what its priorities are. They’re like the ultimate opinion poll.
So when you decide to vote a certain way because cable news tells you it’s the strategic thing to do, what you’re saying is that your voice doesn’t matter. Democracy has remarkable potential. But it requires us to vote our interests and our consciences, not how we think other people will vote.
And the third reason we should forget about “electability” (at least as the news media frames it) is that we know that defeating Trump isn’t enough. Demagogues like him come to power when there’s real hurt, disillusionment, and hopelessness in American communities. Economic anxiety, atomization, and societal breakdown lead to racial resentment, scapegoating, and a widespread mentality that everyone should and can only look after themselves. To make sure we don’t get another Trump, we need leadership that will give power to the people, end the winner-take-all economy, and allow every single human being the security and community needed to flourish. Otherwise the cycle repeats.
In short, candidates become electable when they speak to the needs and aspirations of the people, and when we, the people, in turn make them electable by supporting and voting for them.
Isn’t “Medicare for All” unpopular?
The majority of Democrats and Republicans favor a Medicare for All alternative to the broken, inefficient, and predatory system that we currently have.
But wait, isn’t Medicare For All bad because it will take away people’s insurance?
This statement that M4A will take away people’s insurance is commonly posed in a way that suggests implementing Medicare for All will disrupt access to healthcare. But the great thing about it is that your insurance will be gone, but you’ll still go to your doctor, dentist, and eyecare specialist just as you did before. It’s the fees, bills, and paperwork that will go away.
No one likes their current insurance, as other candidates disingenuously like to say. They simply like having access to their doctor. In other words, there’s a difference between health care providers and health insurance providers. We like the first, but we don’t need the second.
Funnily, every other candidate’s health care proposals guarantee health insurance. But Bernie’s is the only one that guarantees health care.
Doesn’t Bernie want to pay for rich people to go to college?
Many of Bernie Sanders’s plans are modeled after universal programs, such as libraries, parks, and social security. This is no accident.
Universal programs work because everyone sees benefits from them. So once enacted, it’s less likely that they’ll be taken away. This is why we are seeing food stamps and Medicaid being dismantled, while Social Security and Medicare remain popular across Democrats and Republicans.
Universal public college and health care are also more efficient than the alternative. The alternative to universal programs are means-tested ones. “Means testing” is when you need someone to decide who is “worthy” of a benefit and who isn’t. At best, means testing is needlessly bureaucratic, and at worst, it’s demeaning and frustrating to applicants.
With universal programs it’s simple. Progressive taxation takes the place of means testing. That means that the rich do pay for their children to attend school, just like they pay for libraries. They pay with taxes based on their property and income.
Isn’t Bernie not concerned enough with issues of social justice?
In a society riven with inequalities across lines of race, ethnicity, citizenship status, gender, sexuality, and ability, it’s easy to see why some people might be suspicious of another cis, straight, able, white male being in charge.
But it’s also important to look past surface matters of identity and representation. Politics and ideology matter. (After all there’s a reason why no one celebrates Margaret Thatcher as an icon of feminism, even though she broke the British government’s highest glass ceiling.)
Sanders has consistently shown his commitment to undermining intersectional oppression over his long career. He has marched with the Coalition of Immokalee workers for example. He was opposed to the Hyde Amendment from the start. And he protested with the indigenous water protectors at Standing Rock.
In short, Bernie understands issues of identity to be issues about power. With this understanding, class and race are not priorities that are at odds with each other, but are rather overlapping.
It’s worth noting that most civil rights activists understood this. Ella Baker, Martin Luther King, Jr., Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis, and Harry Hay were all democratic socialists.
Black Panther Fred Hampton put it best in an oft-quoted speech:
“We don’t think you fight fire with fire…we think you fight fire with water….We’re going to fight racism not with racism, but we’re going to fight with solidarity. We say we’re not going to fight capitalism with black capitalism, but we’re going to fight it with socialism. We’ve stood up and said we’re not going to fight reactionary pigs…with any other reactions on our part. We’re going to fight their reactions with all of us people getting together and having an international proletarian revolution.”
And Stokely Carmichael famously framed his commitment to socialism this way:
“If a white man wants to lynch me, that’s his problem. If he’s got the power to lynch me, that’s my problem. Racism is not a question of attitude; it’s a question of power. Racism gets its power from capitalism. Thus, if you’re anti-racist, whether you know it or not, you must be anti-capitalist. The power for racism, the power for sexism, comes from capitalism, not an attitude.”
In his bid for the presidency, Sanders had made social justice central to his platform, criticizing what he calls “disparities within the disparities.” In his campaign, he is following the model of Hampton and Carmichael, Black Power activists that sought out not identity essentialism (the idea that my identity is more important than yours), but rather “rainbow coalitions” of the marginalized, exploited, harassed, oppressed, burned out, left out, and left behind.
And Bernie’s approach is working. At the time of writing, he is the number one candidate of LGBTQ people, Latinx, and black youth. He is the top polling candidate among women too.
Isn’t the Green New Deal too expensive?
Conservatives and libertarians spent a lot of money in the 1990s on a campaign to convince us that governments need to be run like households. That is, you can’t spend more than you have. These campaigns were powerful. Remember the deficit billboard in Times Square?
But the fact is that especially in the case of the United States, which has sovereign currency and a great amount of both physical assets and human resources, the country is able to ask bigger questions than “can we afford it?”.
Money, currency, credit, bonds—these are all ultimately just fictitious tools that societies use to allocate and distribute resources. So we should be asking, “how do we do want to spend our time, our materials, and our labor? Who is in need of the most help? Where do we need to focus our energy and concerns? And how do we use financial instruments to do it?” Those are the questions that Franklin D. Roosevelt asked during the Great Depression and World War II. No one asked how he would pay for defeating fascism. The country marshaled the necessary resources.
Surely there is no greater concern right now than imminent climate catastrophe. The Green New Deal posits that the cost of not doing anything is far greater than any cost we might incur in reshaping our economy.
The real costs, after all, aren’t reflected in digital numbers that represent currency that may or may not exist. They’re costs that are felt in our daily lives, when storms hit, when waters rise, when droughts occur, when growing seasons shorten or become erratic, and when all of these things bring war and mass migrations.
Bernie recognizes that the climate crisis is a global problem, and that means solving it requires buy-in from the masses of people around the world. That’s what the Green New Deal is designed to do. Whereas neoliberal leaders in the U.S. and Europe tax the poor or talk of taking workers’ jobs away in order to confront the crisis, the Green New Deal puts its emphasis on just policies, job creation, and the democratic implementation of green programs.