I used to feel the Bern. I liked that he advocated for universal healthcare, a $15 minimum wage, and a much more progressive tax system. I liked that he took student debt seriously and seemed committed to making sure my generation didn’t have to spend the rest of our lives paying off college loans. I liked his record on civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ issues, and the environment. I liked his positions so much that for a while there, I was totally willing to overlook the fact that, as an Independent, he had no business trying to become the Democratic Party’s nominee for president. Yes, that’s right: Bernie Sanders had no right to seek the Democratic nomination, for the simple reason that he is not a member of the Democratic Party. But putting that aside for a second, he initially ran a very good campaign, and I liked him a lot. But these days, when we truly need all the dedicated progressive champions we can get, I’m finding him an extreme disappointment. And with his latest “unity tour” stunt, it’s official: I’m done with Bernie Sanders.
In case you missed it, Sanders is currently traveling around the country with DNC chair Tom Perez to promote unity within the Democratic Party, a party which Sanders is not a member of. And yes, the left does need to unite, reorganize, and fight like hell in every battle this administration throws at us, but none of that changes the fact that Bernie Sanders is technically not a Democrat. I get why he would feel like he’s not aligned with the Democratic Party; I really do. I often find myself at odds with “establishment” Democrats who are not nearly progressive enough for my liking. But I’m a registered Democrat because currently in this country, the Democrats are as far left as you can go and still win most major elections. Politically and ideologically, Sanders isn’t that different from far-left members of the Democratic Party like Elizabeth Warren, Keith Ellison, and, well, me. But unlike Sanders, Warren and Ellison have prioritized political strategy and attainable results over ideological purity and rejecting “the establishment.” Warren and Ellison are Democrats; Sanders is not. That’s an important distinction. If the Democratic Party wants to promote unity between its centrist and far left factions, Warren and Ellison would be appropriate headliners for the unity tour. Sanders is not.
If headlining this “unity tour” were the only bad thing Sanders had done lately, I’d be pretty pissed off, but I doubt I’d be infuriated enough to swear off Sanders altogether. No, I’m done with Bernie because he’s throwing women under the bus in the name of “party unity” in a party he doesn’t even belong to. While on this mess of a unity tour, Sanders and Perez stopped in Omaha, where Sanders has been campaigning for Heath Mello for Omaha mayor. Mello is a member of the Democratic Party, but has a record of voting for anti-choice legislation. And while he seems to have softened somewhat on his anti-abortion positions, he hasn’t satisfied many prominent advocates of reproductive justice, including NARAL president Ilyse Hogue, who said, “It’s not enough to issue a statement for political expediency when your record is full of anti-choice votes. The Democratic Party’s support of any candidate who does not support the basic rights and freedoms of women is disappointing and politically stupid.” Especially in the age of Trump, the Democratic Party must defend safe, legal, accessible abortion, and we can’t afford to compromise on that. But Bernie Sanders doesn’t seem to see it that way, and he’s been all too eager to support Mello, despite his anti-choice history.
It would be one thing if his support of Mello came as part of some sort of “any Democrat will do” push to get candidates elected, but that’s not what he’s doing. In between campaigning for Mello, he’s slammed Georgia Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff as “not a real progressive.” For the record, Ossoff is a pro-choice, pro-women, pro-LGBT, pro-environment, anti-corruption Democrat who is backed by multiple progressive organizations and counts Civil Rights icon John Lewis as one of his mentors, and he is currently working to flip a solidly red Congressional district in Georgia. But he’s apparently not progressive enough for Sanders, who reluctantly endorsed Ossoff last week, saying that it’s “imperative” for the Democrats to win this seat, but not walking back on his previous statements. So why was Sanders so hesitant to support Ossoff? Well, according to some of his supporters, it’s because Ossoff hasn’t been vocal enough in his support of some of the key economic issues Sanders ran his campaign on. He has not, for example, taken a definitive stance on a single-payer healthcare system or a $15 minimum wage, although he has pledged to defend Medicare and Medicaid, and he does support increasing the minimum wage. Apparently, this is where Bernie Sanders draws the line. What bothers me about this isn’t so much his support of Mello or his criticism of Ossoff, or even the fact that he’s willing to compromise on certain issues in order to get Democrats elected in places where they normally wouldn’t. It’s the fact that by throwing his weight behind one but not the other, he’s sending a pretty clear message about where he thinks women fit in “real” progressive politics. “Oh, sure, sweetheart, we’ll get you your bodily autonomy and your basic rights and freedoms, but you see, first we have to take down these billionaire bastards and get money out of politics.” That’s not a progressive movement I want to be part of.
In fairness to Senator Sanders, I do believe that he is genuinely trying to help. I think he recognizes that Trump’s administration is a threat to the country and the whole world, and he understands the need for a strong, organized, anti-Trump resistance from the left. And it’s great that he wants to play a role in leading that resistance, but he’s going about it all wrong, and he’s been doing it completely wrong for about a year now. Even before Trump got elected, he was doing it wrong. When it became clear that Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee and she would be facing Trump in the general election, Sanders could have conceded and thrown his full support behind Clinton, but he didn’t. Instead, he took his primary campaign all the way to the convention, and doubled down on his argument that the primaries were rigged (they weren’t) and that if non-Democrats had been able to vote in Democratic primaries, he would have won (maybe, but that is so not the point of primary elections). Once he finally did concede, he did the right thing by endorsing Hillary Clinton, attending her campaign events, and encouraging his supporters not to cast “protest votes,” but he could have and should have done more. He was willing to appear in a pro-Clinton video, but refused to say “I’m with her” because he found the campaign slogan “phony.” Okay, Holden Caulfield, putting aside the fact that men have spent centuries dismissing things women say and do as shallow and insincere, and the fact that “fake” was right up there with “shrill” on the list of coded misogynist critiques of Clinton, is your iconoclastic pride really that important that you can’t bring yourself to say three simple words?
And since November, he hasn’t gotten much better. He’s stuck to his guns on the misguided notion that Clinton lost because Democrats are “out of touch” with the “economic anxiety” of white working class voters. Never mind the fact that working class voters of color who are also experiencing economic marginalization voted overwhelmingly for Clinton, or the fact that several of the states she lost had recently enacted racist voter suppression laws, or the fact that it took interference from both Russia and the FBI to defeat her, or the fact that in spite of all that, she still won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes. No, none of that matters to Bernie Sanders. It’s true that white working class voters overwhelmingly voted for Trump. It’s also true that among politicians on the left, Sanders polls remarkably well with that demographic, and because of that, he has a very unique platform that he could use to help the Democrats resist Trump’s agenda and win important elections. But by urging Democrats to ease up on “identity politics” and pandering to working class Trump voters, he’s doing more harm than good. Economic inequality and marginalization of the working class are real, pressing issues in this country, but so are sexism, racism, and homophobia, and you can’t break that down into “identity politics” and “actual politics.” Economics alone won’t fix everything. I don’t know how many more times and how many more different ways women, people of color, and LGBTQ people can try to explain that to Bernie Sanders.
This isn’t the Bernie Sanders I wanted. This isn’t the revolution I was promised. I’ve spent months mentally separating Bernie Sanders the actual United States senator from the Sanders that sexist “Bernie Bros” thought would save us from four years of listening to Hillary Clinton’s shrill voice, but recently that’s been getting harder to do. It’s a shame, because I think that at his core, Bernie Sanders is a great guy with a good heart and some wonderful ideas that could really help move this country in the right direction. But it’s becoming quite clear that he is not the progressive champion we thought he was. And as long as his revolution is willing to further endanger marginalized groups in the name of helping the working class, I want no part of it. It’s not “elitist” to reject bigotry. It’s not “out of touch” to prioritize the rights and safety of women and minorities. What’s “out of touch” is thinking you can put women, people of color, Muslims, Jews, immigrants, and LGBTQ folks on the back burner and still depend on our support and our votes. That’s what Bernie Sanders is currently doing, and that’s why I’m done with him.