There are thousands, perhaps millions, of voters who are still undecided in this Democratic Primary, voters who support the changes Bernie Sanders proposes to make for our country but have concerns about him as well.
Let’s look at the two biggest concerns that I hear about Bernie’s campaign:
- That he won’t work well with others in government.
- That he’ll hurt down-ballot races in the general election.
Does Bernie Collaborate?
How does Bernie Sanders work with others in government when he’s in power? One of the easiest and most obvious things to examine is the eight years he was Mayor of Burlington, when he was in fact head of a government. It was a while ago, but there are some real parallels with today. He narrowly defeated an entrenched establishment to become Mayor, and there were Republicans (and some Democrats) in the city council determined to stop him at every turn.
What transpired during his administration was in fact quite remarkable. He articulated grand plans for revitalizing areas of the waterfront, increasing participation in government, and improving the city— so that everyone knew what he wanted. The power of a repeatedly-articulated grand vision shouldn’t be underestimated when attempting to make structural change, but what was equally important was that he then compromised and collaborated with Republicans and developers repeatedly to get 75% or 85% or 90% of what he wanted accomplished. Vermont was largely a Republican state at the time, but he won over working class conservatives as well as liberals and progressives, and Sanders is a major reason the state has become reliably Democratic over the past two decades. In some instances, when he couldn’t change a city policy that he believed needed to change, he went directly to the people and through organizing and rallies, convinced lawmakers to do the right thing.
These two strategies — a grand vision with the ability to compromise, and a willingness to rally citizens to pressure hesitant lawmakers — together would likely be effective in Congress as well.
Once Bernie did get to Congress, where he didn’t have executive power but did have the ability to add amendments to legislation before it was passed, he become known as the “Amendment King” for adding progressive clauses to otherwise moderate or even conservative laws. Here’s a short video that highlights some of these accomplishments
Will Bernie Boost Down-Ballot Candidates?
As far as helping or hurting down-ballot races, I think this concern is surprisingly not borne out by deeper examination, and in fact the opposite is likely true. The down-ballot races that we’re concerned about are the close races, since easy races won’t depend on the top of the ballot. In close races, where Democrats and Republicans vote in nearly even numbers, what usually determines the winner is turnout. If there’s more turnout among the left than the right, the Democrat usually wins, and vice versa.
We know that Trump is popular among the Republican base and will have an enthusiastic turnout. In order to match that, we need to run a candidate that generates enthusiasm so that turnout on the left is high. With his huge rallies and historic grassroots fundraising, there is no doubt that Bernie is the candidate that is generating the most enthusiasm this year, and this is what will actually get voters to the polls and inspire volunteers to knock on doors. In addition, Bernie appeals far more than Biden or Bloomberg to independent and progressive voters, and these are the other groups that will determine turnout and victory in close down-ballot races.
Put another way: Bernie and Biden will both get the Democratic base to the polls, but Bernie will also get progressives and independents who don’t always vote enthusiastic enough to actually go to the polls; this will be the difference in many down-ballot races. The enthusiastic movement for Bernie will bring more people to the polls than the more narrow appeal of Warren, Biden, or Bloomberg.
Are We Missing Something?
Let me know in the comments what you think about these issues, or any other concerns you have heard about Bernie Sanders. The mainstream media is primarily opposed to Bernie, and these issues often don’t get discussed with fair balance in newspapers or cable news.
Personally, I believe Sanders not only has the best policy ideas, from healthcare to student debt to racial justice to stopping endless wars, but he has the best record of working hard to make progressive change, and, most importantly, polls and demographic research show he has the best chance to defeat Trump. I’m thrilled to support him.
Last thing, here’s an even-handed video about Bernie which I think is worth watching as it has both pros and cons about his candidacy and includes a focus on his time in Burlington and his compromises and collaboration while mayor: