The Enduring Influence Of Bernie Sanders
Despite the best efforts of some mainstream Democrats to sideline Sen. Bernie Sanders, he continues to make his mark on the Democratic Party and the 2020 presidential election. Since he left the race, Bernie has kept his promise to campaign continually for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris while encouraging young people to vote. He understands clearly what’s at stake. On Sept. 24, Bernie told Rachel Maddow on MSNBC that he was seriously concerned that President Trump might claim a false victory and seize office.
“This is an election between Donald Trump and democracy,” Bernie said, “and democracy must win!”
On Oct. 29, Bernie appeared on a live Facebook event with Sen. Kamala Harris to promote the Biden/Harris ticket. Those who worked so hard to undermine his standing may be surprised to see how many loyal supporters he still has and how his influence on party politics continues to grow.
Efforts to Defeat Bernie
Starting in 2019, some members of the Democratic establishment and their supporters in the media unleashed a barrage of anti-socialist propaganda against Bernie in a year-long campaign to stop him from winning the nomination. Older white voters in particular bought into the “relentless media messaging” of CNN, MSNBC, and others that Bernie could not beat Donald Trump, Branco Marcetic wrote.
One of the worst offenders was Democratic strategist James Carville, who led an unfortunate chorus of voices on CNN arguing that Bernie was too far left, too out of the mainstream, to be electable. When Bernie defended himself by calling Carville a “political hack,” Carville retorted in typical red-baiting style: “At least I’m not a communist.” Other factors came into play, and unfortunately, the campaign to derail Bernie’s second try for the presidency succeeded.
Bernie’s Policies Shape Campaign
Nevertheless, Bernie’s consistent progressive policies helped shape the contest for the Democratic nomination and beyond. As Matt Stevens of the New York Times noted, “…many of Mr. Sanders’s progressive ideas have increasingly become part of the Democratic mainstream, with other candidates echoing them during the race for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination.” Most of the candidates embraced paid family leave, various forms of tuition free college, and a higher minimum wage. Bernie’s Medicare For All universal health care plan became the standard against which other health care plans were measured. All of these issues — championed by Bernie and perceived by some as out of the norm in 2016 — had become part of the dominant Democratic trend by 2019.
Bernie Urges Youth to Vote
Bernie has brought his campaign for Biden to his many young supporters who may still be disappointed that he did not win the nomination. At a Teen Vogue Digital Town Hall Oct. 8, Bernie urged them to vote in this election. Lucy Diavolo, Teen Vogue’s News + Politics News Editor, served as the panel moderator.
Bernie told the virtual audience that they had “a lot to be proud of” for taking action on racism, homophobia, xenophobia and climate change. At the same time, Bernie warned them that young people vote “in much lower numbers” than others. “If the younger generation voted in the same percentage rates as older people do, we would be in a position of transforming this country,” he said.
Bernie Campaigns with Kamala Harris
On Oct. 29, perhaps for the first time, Bernie shared a virtual platform with Democratic Vice Presidential Nominee Kamala Harris. The two appeared on a live Facebook event to promote the Biden/Harris ticket. The event started out with mutual exchanges of goodwill. “Bernie is an extraordinary leader, Harris said. He continually “challenges everyone from inside the system.”
Thank you for what you have done,” Harris told Bernie, “and what you continue to do. You are a treasure.”
Bernie said that he has personally observed the “passion and decency” Harris embodies, and her “willingness to fight for people that do not have a voice.” Then Bernie acted as the moderator, asking Harris about the program she and Joe Biden envision for the country. Both had clearly decided to focus on the future, and they avoided any mention of Trump.
Speaking about the pandemic, Harris said the Coronavirus has magnified the lack of paid sick leave that affects working people, especially minorities who often serve as essential workers. “The injustice of that is now apparent,” she said. The pandemic has brought about “a moment of reckoning” that this problem has to be fixed. She and Bernie agreed that the United States stands alone among developed nations as a country that does not provide essential paid sick leave for all workers. “It’s morally wrong,” Harris said, adding that working people should be afforded the “dignity” to be able to stay home when they or their family members are ill.
Harris also advocated for an increase in the minimum wage and pay equity for women. She said the Biden/Harris administration is determined to combat the “ugly premise that people who are low income or are poor choose to be that way.” This perception “is what is wrong with the way we have crafted economic policy.”
Affordable Child Care
Harris noted that the “cost of living has gone up and wages have remained stagnant.” She argued that affordable child care is essential for any working family with children.
“No family should pay more than 7 percent of their income for child care, period,” Harris said. “Everyone benefits when families can provide for the essential needs of children in their home.”
Harris also said that she and Biden will promote universal pre-k for three and four-year-olds. Such educational resources should not be available only to the affluent, she said.
In the area of higher education and student debt, the plans Harris described sounded strikingly similar to the proposals first put forward by Bernie. Any student in a family that earns less than $125,000 will be able to attend a public four-year college for free, she said, and the student debt of anyone earning less than $125,000 per year will be erased. She said the program will serve as an “economic stimulus” for young people whose spending is currently restricted because of student debt.
SEIU Supports Biden/Harris Ticket
Mary Kay Henry, President of the two million member Service Employees International Union (SEIU), followed Harris as a guest at Bernie’s campaign event.
Henry said SEIU is “pulling out all the stops to elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.”
Henry noted that “essential workers have been putting their lives on the line to protect” the rest of us but are “completely fed up” with the pandemic and police brutality against the Black community. “It’s no accident that people of color have been on the front lines of these struggles,” she said. “We refuse to return to normal. Normal has never worked for us.”
Under the Biden/Harris administration, Henry said three million caregivers who work in child care or elder care will be allowed to join a union and for the first time earn “living wages and benefits.” According to the Biden/Harris campaign website, their administration “will reinstate the Obama-Biden rule, which the Trump Administration has since reversed, making it easier for independent-provider home care workers to join a union.”
Bernie as Secretary of Labor?
Recent news reports have reported that Bernie aspires to be part of the Biden/Harris administration, perhaps as Secretary of Labor. “‘I can confirm he’s trying to figure out how to land that role or something like it,’ said one person close to the Vermont senator,” according to Politico. Through his collaboration with Biden and Harris, “Sanders has been able to influence both policy and personnel discussions underway among Biden transition’s staff,” former Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir told Politico.
Can you imagine a Secretary of Labor who has spent decades of his political career supporting increased wages and benefits for working people and the right to unionize? What a dramatic and welcome change that would be.