Leave Bernie Sanders Alone

Bernie Sanders 2016

Democrats need to calm the fuck down about Bernie Sanders.

I voted for Sanders in the Maryland primary in 2016. I guess that makes me a “Bernie bro.” It’s a term I find deeply offensive. I also volunteered for the Hillary Clinton campaign. So I guess that make me what? It makes me a Democrat.

I’m a Democrat, but I’m a liberal first.

Here’s why I voted for Sanders. First of all, there was no chance Clinton wasn’t going to win Maryland. Secondly, I’m a lifelong, frustrated Democrat. The Democratic Party has been pretty shitty for a long, long time.

People now gush over the Bill Clinton years, but the Democrats of that era were endlessly annoying to liberals like myself. The crime bill was awful. They stuck by the war on drugs with vigor. They happily pranced down the road to deregulate banking and other industries. Yes, Bill Clinton Democrats did some good stuff, but it was painful incrementalism.

Democrats like Bill Clinton, and to lesser degree, Hillary Clinton, are conservative Democrats. They firmly believe that the best course of action is to play along with Republicans while slowly making progress on issues of social justice, equality and peace.

This is pragmatism and I hate that shit. That’s why I voted for Bernie Sanders. I wanted to show the Democratic Party that there are millions of us who want to see a Democratic Party that is far more liberal and one that embraces collective action with gusto and is clearly not conservative.

I certainly can understand the view of my more pragmatic Democrats who disagree with me. Their belief that incrementalism is the best path forward is not inherently wrong. I just don’t agree with it and that’s OK. At least, it should be OK.

For many Democrats though is that the belief Sanders and I share that the Democratic Party should be more progressive is not only wrong in their minds, but Sanders and I are scum of the earth. We shouldn’t even be allowed to be Democrats. Our support of aggressive progressivism is not welcome in the Democratic Party.

If you ask Tom Perez, if Sanders and I are welcome in the Democratic Party, he will undoubtedly say yes. If you ask Hillary Clinton if Sanders and I are welcome in the Democratic Party, she will say yes. But online, particularly on Twitter, the vitriol directed at leftwing elements of the Democratic Party can be vicious.

But I’m not worried about my feelings or Sanders’ feelings, we can handle it. What concerns me is that millions of young voters out there who want to see the Democratic Party move to the left will get turned off. We could lose these voters permanently. Undoubtedly, many have already been lost. They’ll spend their lives pointlessly voting for third party candidates rather than support the Democrat running.

It’s what happened to millions in my generation – Generation X. Hell, my first election ever was 1992. I didn’t vote for Clinton. I voted for Ross Perot. Again, at the time, I made the calculation that Clinton was going to win, but I wanted to send a message to the Democratic Party, that I want to see something different.

We called Democratic politicians at the time – Republican Lite. They were so desperate to look and act like Ronald Reagan. It was a nightmare for liberals like myself who despised Reagan.

Sadly, many of the people alienated by the 1990s Democratic Party were easy prey for the Republican Party. As often happens, as people get older they get more conservative. I feel like I’m getting more liberal as I get older, but for many it goes the other way.

After awhile these disenchanted liberals stopped voting for losing candidates like Ralph Nader and they started voted Republican. They probably wanted to be part of a winning election while still opposing the Democratic Party. In the 1990s and early 2000s, it was easy to rationalize, “There’s little difference between the Democratic Party and Republican Party, so who cares?”

My counter argument to that would be, if you really are a liberal, the best course of action is to engage with the Democratic Party. I support pushing the Democratic Party to the left, rather than destroying it. There were times in my life when I wanted to destroy the Democratic Party. In 2000, the Al Gore campaign was awful. He should have never lost to George W. Bush.

I got over that and supported John Kerry in 2004. I was horribly depressed when he also lost to Bush. That was a low point in my political life. But I became reinvigorated when Obama ran and won in 2008. That win was the high point of my political life.

Then 2016 happened.

The Democratic Party wanted to coronate Hillary Clinton the nominee and when that didn’t happen, people freaked out. Sanders’ people attacked Clinton’s people. Clinton’s people attacked Sanders’ people. It went back and forth with people getting blocked and banned on Twitter.

Sanders did way better than anyone expected. I think he did better than Sanders expected. He tapped into that anger people like myself carry with us about the Democratic Party. I wanted to express that anger with my primary vote and I did. I also believe Sanders’ progressive agenda is the best way forward for the party and the country.

Do I agree with everything Sanders has ever done in his political career? No, but I understand why he did some of them. Take the gun issue for instance. It seems crazy that a progressive would vote against gun legislation. But that’s because you’ve never lived in Vermont. I lived in Vermont and worked there as a reporter. I even met Sanders several times while covering stories. Vermonters, as a whole, do not support gun regulations. When I lived there, there was literally no state gun laws. You could carry a concealed pistol. You can drive around with a gun in your car. As long as you weren’t violating federal law, there was nothing you couldn’t do with a gun in Vermont and vermonters like it that way.

Since I moved from Vermont in 2014, they have passed some gun regulation laws.

So for Sanders to not support gun regulations at the federal level, that’s Sanders representing his constituency. That’s what politicians are supposed to do. He wasn’t wrong to do it, even if I disagreed with him doing it.

My point of this rambling screed is that Democrats need to calm the fuck down. We need to treat each other with a modicum of respect. It’s OK if you think Sanders sucks. It’s OK to explain why you think Sanders sucks. But it’s not OK to try to invalidate another person because they don’t agree with you. People who voted for Sanders aren’t Russian bots. We’re not “Bernie bros.” We’re Democrats. We’re Democrats who want to see the party embrace aggressive progressivism.

In 2018, we saw that work too.

Many newly elected Democrats support real and immediate progressive policies and reject incrementalism masquerading as pragmatism.

But when it comes time to vote, we’re all Democrats and we should all vote accordingly.

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