Democratic grassroots, 2016: Feel the Bern! Democratic grassroots, 2019: Feeling Berned. As the progressive Left looks increasingly for authenticity on the basis of identity, their former standard-bearer feels left out — and isn’t shy about saying so. Bernie Sanders tells GQ that real progressives should build their movement on ideology and policy, not faux diversity for diversity’s sake.
Pass the popcorn:
In a Democratic Party that is increasingly deriving its energy—not to mention its votes—from minorities and women, Sanders remains a critic of identity politics and a firm believer that issues of race, while important, are not as salient and determinative as those of class. “There are people who are very big into diversity but whose views end up being not particularly sympathetic to working people, whether they’re white or black or Latino,” he said. “My main belief is that we need to bring together a coalition of people—of black and white and Latino and Asian-American and Native-American—around a progressive agenda which is prepared to take on an extraordinarily powerful ruling class in this country. That is my view. Many of my opponents do not hold that view, and they think that all that we need is people who are candidates who are black or white, who are black or Latino or woman or gay, regardless of what they stand for, that the end result is diversity.” He hastened to add that “diversity is enormously important,” but there was a bigger goal: “to change society and create an economy and a government that work for all people.”
Er … who exactly are Sanders’ opponents who want diversity but don’t care about the working class? Do tell. Does one name rhyme with Pamela Karras? At the moment, the senator from California is likely the biggest obstacle to Sanders in getting support from the progressive wing for a presidential election, and she checks off the ethnic and gender boxes that Sanders can’t. From the entrants so far in the 2020 sweepstakes, Kamala Harris best fits Sanders’ criticism.
Progressive commentator Tommy Christopher blasts Sanders for both his argument and his history on diversity:
Fact Check: The only arguable “opponent” of Sanders who has said anything like this is Stormy Daniels attorney Michael Avenatti, who toldTime Magazine that the 2020 Democratic nominee “better be a white male” because “When you have a white male making the arguments, they carry more weight.”
After the 2016 election, Sanders hit a similar theme when he told a crowd of supporters “It’s not good enough for somebody to say ‘hey I’m a Latina vote for me’ that is not good enough,” and went on to add “It is not good enough for somebody to say, ‘I’m a woman, vote for me.’”
And although Sanders frequently derides “identity politics,” he diagnosed the 2016 defeat as a failure of white identity politics, tweeting shortly after the election that “I come from the white working class, and I am deeply humiliated that the Democratic Party cannot talk to the people where I came from.”
“I think you know there are a lot of white folks out there who are not necessarily racist who felt uncomfortable for the first time in their lives about whether or not they wanted to vote for an African-American,” Sanders told The Daily Beast, referencing the close contests involving Andrew Gillum in Florida and Stacey Abrams in Georgia and that ads run against the two. “I think next time around, by the way, it will be a lot easier for them to do that.”…
Worth noting: Barack Obama won Florida. Twice. The issue in 2018 for both states was more likely that the two candidates were too progressive for voter tastes, even in states trending away from Republicans. In the same interview — indeed, seemingly in the next breath — Sanders credited Gillum for sticking with an aggressively progressive agenda despite pushback from moderates. That undoubtedly would have worried voters in the center who ended up feeling more comfortable with Ron DeSantis — and may also have contributed to Rick Scott’s surprise victory over lily-white incumbent Bill Nelson in the Senate race. Sanders’ point seemed like a distraction from the ideological issue by laying it on voter “discomfort” over identity, an excuse that nevertheless is arguably telling.
Either way, though, it appears that the Democratic primary will return to the issue of identity politics over policy and ideology. This time, the former will feature multiple battle lines. Which identity should get the most support? Ethnicity? Gender? Sexual preference? Who knows? The correct answer is … pass the popcorn.