Bernie Sanders ended his 2020 bid for the presidency suddenly last Wednesday. After a hard campaign, he recovered from a heart attack to lead the remaining Democratic candidates in February with a big win in Nevada.
But then, suddenly, he dropped out.
Less than a week later, Sanders has endorsed Joe Biden. After Sanders’ own press secretary said she would not do the same because Biden doesn’t support Medicare For All, Sanders said it would be “irresponsible” to not back him.
In February, there was an outcry over Sanders’ old remarks about Fidel Castro. The outcry was less about that people were worried this guy was an actual Communist than they instinctively guessed that Sanders and his supporters were about different things now than they were in 2016 — less hopeful, more about power. With the trajectory Sanders was on, were he and his supporters really willing to be full-on Socialists without taking into account the context of the world, the real-life needs, of the people he was going to serve?
By dropping out suddenly, Sanders seems to have confirmed those anxieties, hollowing out the foundation of what he has been about and gone underneath. The move positions him and his supporters as the power under Joe Biden.
In this way, the most radical candidate of 2016, and a campaign with a lot of lightness and hopefulness, have become something colder.
At a rally in Portland, Ore., in March 2016, a bird landed on Sanders’ podium. The delightful moment led to a hashtag and a meme, #birdiesanders. Sanders said as the bird flew off, “I think there may be some symbolism here. I know it doesn’t look like it, but that bird is really a dove asking us for world peace. No more wars.”
In hindsight though, that was more of a “Vermont senator” moment for Sanders than it was true to his roots and the foundation of his work.
The roots of Sanders, even with his revolutionary ideas, is much more realistic and scrappy. Sanders is the grandson and son of Jewish immigrants who grew up in a rent-controlled apartment in Midwood/Flatbush in Brooklyn, N.Y., who ran around the neighborhoods freely with his brother after school, getting food at Jewish delis and Chinese restaurants. In high school, he was a track star, captain of the cross country team. He lost his mother when he was just 18 years old.
In this story in The Times of Israel, Sanders’ brother and classmates talk about the events of his early life that they feel informed his policy ideas later on.
After #birdiesanders, Sanders went back to those core ideas at the Portland rally, talking about free tuition for people enrolled in higher education.
“The world has changed. The economy has changed. People today need more education,” he said. “In the year 2016, when we talk about public education, we’ve got to talk about making public colleges and universities tuition-free. … Fifty years ago, you could get a middle class job. Today, in many cases, people need a college degree.”
The problem with what Sanders was saying in that speech was it was thinking from 2011. By 2016, the world had changed, but not in the way Sanders wanted to talk about. What had actually changed in those years was much more flexibility and thinking about workplaces. What about vocational schools? Can employers become more flexible about recognizing different skills?
And at the same time that Sanders has not updated his thinking to the context of these times, he also has not stepped up in addressing problems since 2016 that are relevant to his roots.
The college admissions scandal last year involving Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, which was about the same kind of inequality that used to prevent kids like him from getting a higher education and excelling – nothing from Bernie Sanders. Lori Loughlin allegedly photoshopped her daughter’s faces onto student athletes so they can pretend they row crew. Imagine if someone used Bernie Sanders’ achievements in track and cross country in this way to get into the University of Chicago, where he went to school.
Workers who have been stuck at the same jobs for years with no hope of mobility, promotion or even getting another job at another business in the same industry – nothing from Bernie Sanders.
The problem with the media feeding into the panic from the coronavirus crisis without any kind of balance or perspective – No #OccupyCNN now? #OccupyNewYorkTimes?
Taking this a bit further, how is the medical field being affected right now when doctors and nurses are inundated with a constant stream of coronavirus news? Are they less able to provide good care to people who really need it? – Sanders has nothing to say about Medicare or healthcare now and how that’s supposed to work?
Or take this issue. Business Insider ran this story this week railing against Donald Trump for not including the U.S. Postal Service in the $2 trillion coronavirus bailout package. Democrats had lobbied for USPS to get $13 billion. Headline on that story: “Trump’s war against the Postal Service could have another casualty: tens of thousands of military veterans with disabilities.” The story has been picked up by a Change.org petition that as of Wednesday had 160,000 signatures.
In 2014, Bernie Sanders wrote about the Postal Service in this column in the Wall Street Journal – saying it was actually financially sound, just hamstrung by legislation requiring it to prefund retirement benefits.
“For years, antigovernment forces have been telling us that there is a financial crisis at the Postal Service and that it is going broke. That is not true. The crisis is manufactured,” Sanders wrote, and added. “Without prefunding, the Postal Service would have made a $623 million profit last year.”
No commentary from Sanders or his supporters on that this week?
In the same column, Sanders also proposed some radical changes to the postal service, such as allowing it to cash checks, and deliver wine and beer.
Is that really needed right now when the post office can’t even get honest about its finances?
Is Bernie Sanders a socialist? Fine, use that platform to talk about what the $350 billion Paycheck Protection Program, the $1,200 checks sent to every worker, and the long lines for unemployment insurance actually mean right now. Is this help for downtrodden workers who desperately need help, or is this something else? People of Sanders’ age remember what this really means, but so far, they have not put their decades of experience to use to say something.
In 2016, his campaign slogans were: “A Future to Believe In,” and “Not Me, Us.”
What future is that? Who is “us”?