Although The Nation has not—yet—endorsed a candidate in the Democratic presidential primaries, we’ve long made clear our admiration for the two real progressives in the race: Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
But just because we still cling to the view that the longer the two of them remain viable candidates, arguing for bold, radical ideas, the better, doesn’t mean everyone in our orbit shares that inclination.
When Nation editorial board member Zephyr Teachout told me she was endorsing Sanders and asked if the magazine would be interested in publishing her reasons, I said, “Of course.” You can read the result below. However, I also asked her colleagues on the board whether any of them cared to make the case for Warren. Richard Parker accepted the challenge. You can read the result here.
A few weeks ago, I got to watch Bernie Sanders at a health care town hall meeting on a Saturday morning in New Hampshire. He walked into a room of some 100 people, mostly middle- and working-class. After introducing himself and thanking those who were there, he asked people to share how they pay for health care. He listened closely to their stories and made sure he got everybody’s name. One woman, representing a family of four, described her $800-a-month premium and $12,000-a-year deductible. Another woman was worried that a big health disaster would happen early in the year, because she couldn’t pay her $7,000-a-year deductible out of pocket.
Sanders then used those stories to illustrate how we currently pay for health care; why it represents waste, greed, and cruelty; and why we should switch to Medicare for All, which would enable us to cut out the insurance companies’ profits and bureaucracy. The room shifted from angry and skeptical to hopeful.
As I watched him, I realized that what makes Sanders unique isn’t his democratic socialism; it is his preternatural political abilities. People were riveted as he spoke and as he listened. He has extreme focus, compassion, and respect for those he disagrees with and is painstakingly honest and direct. He has been in politics for decades and has heard thousands of stories, but he was able to be totally present in that room, listening to those particular stories. A thin teenager bravely stood up to ask him a question about cancer research and revealed that she has brain cancer. I wept; so did many others in the room. When Sanders bowed his head briefly, then gave her a smile and warm hug, there was no doubt about his sincerity.
This ability of his to connect and to build trust—which he has proved he can do across race, class, and party lines—will translate into the two things I care about the most: beating Donald Trump and overcoming the corruption and dysfunction of our political system so we can have a more equal, fair, thriving democracy.
Forget the 2016 stereotype: Bernie has developed an extraordinary cross-race and cross-class coalition. He is leading in the polls among Latino voters (a recent poll showed him winning 32 percent of Latino support in California); his support among African Americans is second only to Joe Biden’s; and he is leading Biden by 12 percentage points among African Americans under 35. The top Sanders donors are teachers, Walmart workers, and Amazon workers. Among people under 50, he is the clear leader. And his supporters are very enthusiastic. This broad, committed coalition will matter enormously in the fall, when Facebook is infested with lies, Trump’s campaign is pushing misinformation, and foreign and corporate actors are trying to twist people into nihilism and hatred.
Some of the hardest people to convince on Sanders are those who believe in his policies the most—older progressive voters. Because they are so heartbroken and beaten down by decades of fearful politics, they have decided they should settle for something less. Sanders is impossible, they think. Unelectable. They remember the Cold War and fear the word “socialism.” Young people (by the way, under 40 isn’t that young) don’t have the same reaction. The truth is that if we settle for something less, too many people may stay home. Sanders is giving people a vision to fight for, and though they know it won’t be easy, they are ready for the fight.
So if you’re on the fence, I want you to feel confident that if you support Bernie, he will not let you down in a fierce general election. I have watched him over the last 30 years, and his political abilities are among the most underrated in the country. In 2006 he won a Senate seat, held by Republicans for generations, with a whopping 65 percent of the vote, the same year a Republican won the governor’s race with 57 percent. When I ran for Congress, a professional communications adviser made me watch Sanders answer questions on Fox News over and over because of his unique ability to refocus questions on what matters to listeners and not get distracted.
As the mayor of Burlington, Vermont, he won over the business community and created a flourishing city by being direct, by having a vision, and by engaging people in the community who are usually ignored. He was an effective congressman who brought community health centers to underserved communities. I remember talking to an octogenarian Republican in 1994 who supported him because he was independent and talked about stuff that mattered in people’s daily lives.
Sanders is uniquely ready to beat Trump because he embodies the opposite of Trumpism. Whereas Trump lies, Sanders tells the truth. Whereas Trump distracts, Sanders stays focused. Whereas Trump divides, Sanders unites us. When Sanders talks about the greed of big corporations, he is helping people see that the real enemy of working people is big money, not one another. That’s a fighting message but also a message of love—one so many people are ready to hear.