America’s Dad Bernard Sanders has ‘suspended his campaign’, which is politician speak for dropping out. The result is that former Vice President Joe Biden is the Democratic Presidential candidate for 2020. I wish you luck, Mr Vice President, for you shall need it. But I digress. This piece is about the Sanders campaign, the lessons to take from it and its legacy. I am going to lay some blame at the foot of the media; I do not think we can legitimately deny that the media’s bias against Sanders played some role in his lack of success.
That said, any suggestion that I writing an apologia for Senator Sanders and his campaign will hopefully be mollified by the criticism I will level at both him and his campaign. They, and indeed Senator Sanders himself, were far from flawless in their campaign strategy. Both proved inflexible and to some extent politically tone-deaf in their reactions to circumstances on the campaign. I am sad that his run is over, but there are lessons to learn. Some of what follows may not be pleasant for Sanders’ supporters.
Dad Drops Out: What Happened
Folks are well aware that, following the simultaneous withdrawals of Mayor Pete and Amy Klobuchar, Biden did extremely well on Super Tuesday. Following his predictable win in South Carolina, the former Vice President had the momentum. The withdrawals of Mayor Pete and Amy Klobuchar and the establishment coalescing around Biden is what Secular Talk’s Kyle Kulinski called Bloody Monday. Sanders stayed on, however, despite petulant screeching from the establishment that he drop out. Well, you got your wish, you bastards. To paraphrase Sir Robert Walpole, you have your candidate, I wish you well.
Dad announced his withdrawal, citing the painful truth that no viable path to the nomination exists. He is behind by 300 delegates and the numbers simply do not work. These are the facts of the situation, facts that he expressed very eloquently and I encourage you to read his statement.
Dad Drops Out: Why, Part One: The Media
We need to consider many factors to explain why a candidate who is in line with mainstream American voters’ opinion faced such a struggle. Note that I said voters’ opinion. Mr Sanders’ policies are popular among the people (even a Fox News audience cheered for M4A). The corporate sycophants in the media, who are as corrupt as the politicians, could never support a populist. So the media consistently portrayed Bernie in the most negative light possible. As critical as many people are of the media (guilty), we must accept that they do have a wide range of influence.
Despite terrible levels of trust in the media, they still have massive amounts of influence. Like it or not, the way the media portrays a candidate shapes their image. The flagrant dishonesty in the media’s coverage of Sanders is well known, but this example I think illustrates it well. Sanders praised former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro for his literacy programme. Naturally, this drew outrage from the professional pearl-clutching brigade and suddenly it was ‘Sanders loves Dictators’. What he actually said, if you intentionally dishonest actors could remove your heads from your rectums for a moment, was that Castro’s literacy programme was a good thing. That is all. Sanders still condemned the regime, he still said authoritarianism was evil, still said political prisoners in gaols was inappropriate. But the media did not care.
The N-word and the F-word are no longer what you think they are. Instead, they are Nuance and Facts. Both are every bit as taboo as ngger and fck and neither has a place in ‘polite’ and ‘civil’ corporate media conversation. The narrative is what matters, in this case, Sanders Bad. The media has much to answer for in the fall of the most popular candidate in recent memory.
Dad Drops Out: Why, Part Two: Strategic Flaws and Weaknesses
For all the flaws of the media, and they are legion, the Sanders campaign, and indeed the Senator himself must bear ultimate responsibility. In the early states, meaning those before Bloody Monday, Sanders’ strategy had been to secure a solid 30% of the vote. This is because, simply put, that was all he needed in such a crowded field.
But once it was a 2 man race, the strategy needed to evolve; and it did not. Sanders’ stump speech did not change, not did his labelling or marketing. He continued to appeal mostly to younger voters, openly calling himself a Democratic socialist. In addition, he started the #nomiddleground campaign. This portrayed him as uncompromising and, yes, somewhat of an extremist. Right or wrong, this would not play well with older voters, who are the more likely voters. These were major strategic blunders on the part of the campaign.
Dad Drops Out: Why, Part Three: Tactical Problems
There were tactical blunders, too. When Sanders was asked if he thought Joe Biden could beat Trump, he responded ‘I do’. Wrong answer, Dad. You were in a primary, Sir. When the media asks you if your opponent can fulfil the role the two of you are competing for, you say No. You say that you are the better candidate. What kind of alternative says that the other guy can do the job? The primary is a job interview for the role of Nominee. If you were at a job interview and they asked you ‘Do you think the other guy can do the job?’ you answer ‘I am the best candidate’. You make your case, which you did not do. Your inability or unwillingness to make your own case cost you dearly.
Finally, Sanders displayed considerable personal weakness on the campaign. He frequently referred to Joe Biden as ‘my friend’, called him ‘a decent guy’ and so on. This lack of a ‘killer instinct’ crystalised in his utter refusal to call out Biden’s corruption. Biden openly said that he had ‘prostituted myself’ to moneyed interests. Bernie allowed his personal friendship with Biden to get in the way of doing his political duty, which was to expose Biden for the corrupt corporate insider that he is. Sanders had no such problem exposing Mrs Clinton’s corruption. No friendship there, I guess.
Bernie Sanders as Prophet: The Way Forward
As critical as the previous paragraphs were of America’s Dad, his campaign is still a watershed moment in American History. As Chomsky said, Sanders has fundamentally changed the conversation. Ideas that were unthinkable even two years ago are now part of the conversation. The media largely dismisses them, but the very fact that they have to respond at all speaks volumes. Politicians, too, are forced to respond to the ideas of M4A, tuition-free public college and eliminating student-loan debt. The conversation is changing. Sanders’ focus on the issues, sometimes unfortunately to the exclusion of smart politics, has brought that style of campaign back to the forefront of politics. Long may this continue.
The Sanders campaign also received donations not from Wall St or other corporate interests, but from regular Joe and Jane citizens, averaging, per his suspension statement, $18.50. Thus a populist campaign funded by small-dollar donations is possible. With a few minor tweaks and adjustments, great success may be had using this model.
Bernie Sanders is the canary in the coalmine, setting many a useful precedent for his successors to follow. Who those successors are remains to be seen, and we must acknowledge that a void in left leadership does exist since Sanders will not run again. The Presidential campaigns of America’s Dad Bernard Sanders represent major milestones in American history. His legacy is considerable and must not be forgotten. Forward, Progressives. Dad showed the way, and it now falls to you to pick up the baton.
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