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If Bernie Sanders had simply demonstrated that it is possible to wage a competitive campaign for the presidency without relying on wealthy donors, corporate funders, or secretive PAC money, he would have earned his place in history.
If all Sanders had to show for his two campaigns for the presidency was the greatest leftward shift in the political discourse since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s second term—putting not just Medicare for All but also the Green New Deal, free public higher education, fair taxation, cancellation of student debt, housing as a human right, universal free child care, and an unwavering critique of the billionaire class firmly onto the political agenda—we would owe him our gratitude.
If his contribution to the debate on foreign policy never went beyond refusing to endorse trade deals that harm workers, denouncing America’s endless wars, and reasserting Congress’s control over presidential adventurism—and had not also included defying AIPAC and the Israel lobby, reminding Americans that many of those crossing our borders are fleeing dictators sustained by Washington, and maintaining his long-standing rejection of authoritarianism at home or abroad—we would still recognize Sanders as a prophetic figure.
But he has accomplished much, much more. As of this morning, Bernie Sanders—a Jewish grandfather with an indelible Brooklyn accent—is the leading contender for the Democratic nomination. He got there by forging a movement campaign that expands our understanding of what can be achieved in the electoral arena and that invites us to imagine that government of, by, and for the people might actually be possible.
The movement Sanders has helped to build—a multiracial, multiethnic movement of working-class women and men, people of all ages, all faiths, gay, straight, and trans, veterans and pacifists, teachers, farmers, bus drivers, nurses, and postal workers coming together to demand justice and redeem the endlessly deferred promise of America—deserves our enthusiastic support. Most crucially at this point in the 2020 campaign, this movement and this candidate deserve our votes.
Bernie Sanders and the movements he supports (and that support him) have created a populist moment, a vibrant and growing alternative to the tired shibboleths of austerity and market fundamentalism. They are exposing and upending the white nationalist con that promises a blue-collar boom while cutting taxes for the rich and gutting health care, environmental protection and education for the rest of us.
Four years ago, when Sanders began his battle, we supported him, arguing that in his candidacy
movements for greater equality and justice have found an ally and a champion. In contrast to the right-wing demagogues who exploit [our national crisis] to foment division, the Vermont senator has reached into a proud democratic-socialist tradition to revive the simple but potent notion of solidarity. We must turn to each other, not on each other, Sanders says, and unite to change the corrupted politics that robs us all.
A great deal has changed since then. We now have a right-wing demagogue in the Oval Office, a man credibly accused of sexual assault on the Supreme Court, an administration staffed with sycophants and corporate lackeys. Meanwhile, we’ve watched with mounting dismay as congressional Democratic leaders have pursued a narrow—and futile—quest for impeachment while failing to prevent immigrant children from being torn from the arms of their parents and put in cages. We have witnessed the daily spectacle of an administration that fudges the facts and scorns science while the planet burns.
Yet when we look beyond the corridors of power, we cannot despair. Not while we’re also in the middle of a long season of revolt, from the millions of women (and allies) in their pink pussy hats protesting Donald Trump’s inauguration to successful teachers’ strikes in West Virginia, Los Angeles, and Chicago, to demonstrations culminating in the removal of Puerto Rico’s corrupt, sexist governor—and that’s just in the United States. From Beirut to Baghdad and from Haiti to Hong Kong, people are rising up together to demand an end to corruption and the politics of divide and rule.
Sanders has made this global outcry a part of his 2020 campaign. He has gathered his forces and moved against America’s oligarchy, and this time he’s had company—and competition. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy appealed to progressives who, though they shared many of the Sanders campaign’s goals, worried that his age, his fiery manner, or his avowal of democratic socialism would be handicaps in the battle to defeat Trump. She appealed, as well, to the millions of Americans who believe that it is long past the time when this country should elect a progressive woman as its president. Along with Sanders, Warren has widened the left lane of American politics. While Sanders has popularized the idea of a political revolution, Warren’s detailed plans have given depth and meaning to proposals for Medicare for All and a wealth tax. The pair have differed on details, but Warren and Sanders have been such a potent team—especially in last summer’s debates—that some here argued they ought to form a ticket.
That still seems like an idea worth considering. For the time being, the view that Warren needs to remain in the race for as long as possible has adherents even among some Sanders backers, who recognize her ability to attract support among constituencies Sanders can’t easily reach by himself, and rack up delegates committed to a progressive candidate. But that is true only as long as her role remains constructive. If Sanders should do more to discourage his supporters from engaging in personal attacks—and we believe that he should—Warren must recognize that at this point in the race, any criticism by her of Sanders or his record only benefits their common enemies. Solidarity is a virtue that must be practiced as well as preached.
Because, while there might have once been grounds for argument about which of the two progressives would make a better president, there are now only three candidates with a realistic path to the Democratic nomination: Sanders and the two so-called moderates, Joe Biden and Mike Bloomberg. We still believe that Biden would be a uniquely weak challenger to Trump, forfeiting the high ground on corruption, the Iraq War, and even #MeToo issues while being forced to defend his record on mass incarceration, bankruptcy revision, and his coziness with credit card companies and the banks. Still, the worst that can be said against Biden is that he’d probably lose the election. A Bloomberg nomination would offer Americans desperate for relief from decades of stagnant income, industrial decline, and grotesque inequality their choice of plutocrats. Even if Bloomberg were to win, the Democratic Party would be damaged beyond repair.
Fortunately, thanks to the movement that has lifted him up, Sanders offers an alternative that is more than merely credible. Sanders 2020 is possible—and with it the promise of a different future. He is running and winning as a candidate who has repeatedly shown genuine moral courage—exemplified by his steadfast support for Palestinian rights and immediate denunciation of the rush to war with Iran. This makes him the living antithesis to Trump and the president’s most formidable challenger. Sanders has already raised $167 million ($46 million from more than 2 million donors in February alone) from millions of small donors who will continue to support his campaign in the fall.
Sanders won the most votes in Iowa, the most votes and delegates in New Hampshire, and a commanding victory in Nevada—the most representative, diverse electorate of the early states—across divisions of race, class, and language. Though his second-place finish in South Carolina indicates Sanders still has work to do with African American voters, national polls show him currently leading in every demographic except voters over 55 and beating Trump convincingly in every head-to-head matchup. What is perhaps most exciting about the Sanders campaign is his commitment to expanding the electorate, which could produce a sweeping victory for his presidential campaign and congressional Democrats this fall.
That is the promise and possibility of the Sanders campaign—whether you call him a democratic socialist or a New Deal Democrat. Even as the corporate media ignores his achievements, denigrates his chances, and magnifies his every misstep, Sanders has two weapons none of his competitors can match or deflect. The first is his consistency. One reason Sanders won 67 percent of the vote in his last Senate campaign in Vermont, easily outpolling the Republican governor who was elected at the same time, is that even voters who disagree with him know he means what he says. Biden has to lie about getting arrested in support of South Africa’s black freedom struggle. Sanders was actually getting arrested in America’s black freedom struggle before Biden was old enough to vote. As we find ourselves on a hinge of history—a generation summoned to the task of redeeming our democracy and restoring our republic—no one ever has to wonder what Bernie Sanders stands for.
The other weapon is the movement, with its overwhelming appeal to young voters and its determination to mobilize the disenfranchised and the disenchanted. Movements are more important than candidates and are a greater source of power for change than election results. We live in an age of state repression and voter suppression, when a rigged system, complicit politicians and a depleted and chronically distracted press have allowed the greatest concentration of economic and political power in American history. Yet resistance is always an option. And an imperative. So long as we are many and they are few, hope remains both rational and realistic.
In this election the fundamental question is also the oldest one: Which side are you on? The Nation is on the side of hope, not fear. We’re on the side of radical change, not retrenchment and retreat. We are proud and excited to stand with the movements that have brought us to this moment and made this amazing, terrifying, exhilarating, and empowering campaign possible. And we are proud to endorse Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist with a program realistic and radical enough to meet the test of our time, for president of the United States.