After taking his most recent drubbing in the Democratic primaries this week, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders announced that he will be “reassessing” his campaign in the days and weeks ahead. I’d like to offer my assistance with that reassessment. The executive summary: Get ready to deliver the performance of your life, Bernie.
A lot rides on the performance, including Sanders’ legacy. It will determine whether history remembers him as a Don Quixote – or as an unforgivable villain.
First of all, full disclosure. I don’t like Senator Sanders. As far as I am concerned, he is and always has been a rather unpleasant, self-centered, and self-righteous jerk. A loner by nature, his status as a registered independent in Congress is the perfect cover for him as he snipes at both Democrats and Republicans. He seldom is at the center of debates over important issues, and even less frequently accomplishes anything worthwhile.
He describes himself as a democratic socialist and has worked tirelessly to build a movement of people at the left end of the political spectrum, including those who occupy the “progressive” wing of the Democratic Party. The problem is that he has used a considerable level of demagoguery, based mainly on class-warfare rhetoric, to appeal to the passions of his supporters.
The result of that demagoguery over the years has been to attract a zealous core of followers, mainly young, white males – the Bernie Bros. It is no surprise that a man who seems perpetually angry and aggrieved, and is always yelling and pointing his finger, cultivated a group of angry, nasty loyalists who see themselves as aggrieved by society – and by anyone who does not agree with them. Many of them are threatening to refuse to vote for the Democratic nominee if it is not Bernie. It is a threat that has to be taken seriously.
Bernie, here is the task ahead of you in a nutshell: To withdraw from the race in a manner that does not end up making you the second most despised man in the United States behind Donald Trump. Because if you screw this up and somehow help get Trump re-elected, that is what you will be.
This is what you must do: Announce that you are ending your campaign because the voters have decided that Joe Biden is the best person to unseat Donald Trump, that you accept their judgment, and that from now on working and voting to unseat Donald Trump is the most important thing that progressives can do not only for themselves, but for their country.
Tell your supporters that electing Joe Biden keeps progressive dreams alive, and that Donald Trump wants to kill those dreams; that Joe Biden will work with progressives to reduce the wealth and income inequality in this country, but that Donald Trump couldn’t care less about wealth and income inequality and will ignore progressives. In fact, point out to them that Trump likes the wealth and income disparity just like as it is.
The primary policy goal of your movement is universal health care. That goal is toast under Trump, as he has made clear by trying to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. But it is a goal shared by Biden and most Democrats. President Clinton tried and failed to implement universal health care, President Obama had to accept an imperfect compromise, but we’ll get there if we can oust Trump from office and gain control of Congress.
As an unrepentant know-it-all, you believe that Medicare for All is the only viable option. Tell your supporters that, while that remains the ultimate goal, compromises will have to be accepted along the way, and that’s fine, because that is how politics work in the real world – i.e., in the world outside your head.
And your delivery is as important as your message. There can be no hint of rancor. No mention of “the Democratic establishment” or other code words to inflame your base. Be gracious to Biden. Try to sound optimistic, and enthusiastic about returning the White House to Democratic control. And then work like hell over the next eight months to deprogram your supporters from the Bernie or bust mentality that you helped instill by your maddening my-way-or-the-highway attitude.
In other words, make clear by both your words and deeds that sitting out the election in November rather than voting for Biden is disloyal and destructive to the progressive movement that you helped to inspire.
Can you do any of the above? I have my doubts. But here are the stakes: If Trump wins in November and his victory can be tied to the failure of your supporters to turn out and vote for Biden, you will be the second most despised man in America, after Donald Trump. You will live the rest of your life as a pariah. Your followers will move on to someone else, remembering you as little more than a false prophet. People will stand in line to piss on your grave.
Your situation reminds of a Western I remember seeing decades ago. It may have been an episode of “The Rifleman” or “Gunsmoke.”
A hardened criminal was about to be hung for his crimes. He lacked remorse, laughed in the face of death, and was prepared to die with the defiance and bravado with which he had lived.
He had a young son who, despite the man’s crimes, idolized him. Lucas or Matt (or whoever it was) told the man that if he died a hero to his son, his son well may follow in his footsteps and live a life of crime. As the condemned man stood on the gallows, he glanced toward Lucas and then began whimpering and begging for his life, dying like a coward for the sake of his son.
Putting aside the schmaltz (and the dubious child psychology), that condemned man did what you must do, Bernie. You need to give the greatest performance of your life for the sake of your supporters, the rest of us, and your own legacy. This is your Last Hurrah, Bernie. You want to be remembered for your nobility at the end, not for the pique and pettiness that you too often exhibit.
I honestly wish you the best of luck, Bernie. Trust me, the internet is waiting to review your performance. It better be damn good.