Current Affairs

A Convenient Way To Promote Happiness

Why You Should Take A Chance on the Socialist

If we want to build popular power, we need an organizer-in-chief.

The media is trying very hard to send a certain presidential campaign down the memory hole. They omit it from infographics. They decline to report its policy announcements (like the excellent Thurgood Marshall Plan for public education, Workplace Democracy plan, immigration plan, and Green New Deal). They do Cirque du Soleil-esqe contortions around its strong poll results (“Buttigieg in Fourth, but a Strong Fourth”) and its massive and moving rallies of working people. Meanwhile, another candidate has received a relentless drumbeat of positive coverage from the same corporate media giants, who have lifted a campaign from its Indian-heritage-claiming, DNA-testing early death and breathed new life into it. 

Perhaps because we are suffering from electoral fatigue, perhaps because it is so hard to think clearly when we are assaulted from all sides by trivia and misinformation, many still hesitate to engage in the 2020 race. That’s true even among those who would ostensibly not like to see our world burn, or see our brothers and sisters become one vast army of hyper-surveilled Amazon warehouse slaves. For some of the liberal-leaning, there is a sense that Bernie Will Fail, that the powerful and the media will squash him—so why not go with someone safer, maybe Elizabeth Warren, or even the king of illusory safe-bets himself, Joe Biden? For others, leftier or more anarchist-leaning, there is a suspicion that it is folly to back any political candidacy at all. Every left politician will inevitably be co-opted by the rich or be subject to capture by the establishment, so best keep your distance.

But we all need to overcome our anxiety-laden decision paralysis. We need to take the risk of rejection and failure, and actually back the one and only chance at a pro-labor presidency we’re likely to have for a generation. We’ve got an incredible chance and it would be criminally irresponsible not to take it. 


There are five core reasons why a Sanders presidency represents such an unprecedented opportunity:

  1. The power of the “bully pulpit” is immense, shaping the expectations and visions of what is possible for working people and rich alike, and creating the opportunity for social movements to grow.
  2. Bernie 2020 is running a working class left-wing campaign, clearly aimed at governing from the streets, not in the backrooms of Washington or in Martha’s Vineyard.
  3. Sanders speaks like a good organizer and labor leader, and his proposals are universal guarantees that can serve as movement rallying-cries.
  4. The Sanders 2016 campaign has already proven an enormous boon to the left, and changed the country in ways that offer a small preview of the immense changes that could occur if he were elected.  
  5. Radical politics is not a luxury at this point in history. It is an absolute do-or-die necessity, and Bernie’s is the only candidacy that makes effective climate action conceivable. 

Let us begin with why the presidency is such an important prize, or even worth worrying about. Near the end of Obama’s two terms, it had become fashionable to opine on the limited power of the presidency. The theory was useful in explaining away Obama’s failure to enact anything approaching an agenda during his tenure in office. But this apologia mostly served as a mask for a more uncomfortable truth: The Obama administration, funded by Wall Street and run by the likes of infamous corporatists (like chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and top economic advisor Larry Summers) simply never intended to overhaul our society or significantly redistribute economic and political power to the working majority. These days, Obama himself essentially admits this: He spends his time bragging about having expanded fossil fuel production and encouraging the left to dream small and give up

In fact, the U.S. presidency is the most powerful office in the history of the world. Despite its limitations and constraints, it holds vast potential to shape political reality. We have seen a glimpse of this power used clumsily by Donald Trump. Today, Republicans cheer détente with Kim Jong-Un and countenance the flouting of Milton Friedman’s free trade doctrine, once worshiped as sacrosanct throughout the party. More ominously, we have seen this power at work when Trump has summoned forth the always-latent monsters of racism and paranoia, and animated a far-right white supremacist movement beyond its proponents’ wildest dreams.

 Meanwhile, virtually every elected official of his party has dramatically reversed their hostility to the president and his agenda, often comically so. The reason is obvious—even mild opposition from the likes of senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker forced them into retirement. Remember when Mitt Romney chastised the president and vowed to become one of Trump’s chief critics in 2016? A few months later, Romney was getting his words served back to him on a plate as Trump grinned victoriously, as captured in a memorable photograph:

A man who didn’t realize who he was dealing with…

As much as those of us who have committed ourselves to grassroots organizing would like to believe otherwise, the occupant of the White House has made a key difference in the success or failure of working-class organizing. During the height of radical labor action during the late 1930s and early 1940s, even Communist, Socialist, and Anarchist labor organizers would appeal to workers by declaring that “The President wants you to join a Union.” The encouragement of the president was one of the most potent tools to help overcome fear among workers (though FDR never so clearly called on workers to join unions as senator Sanders does now). It was the interplay of FDR’s modestly pro-labor presidency and rigorous deep organizing, plus strident working-class militancy, that produced an explosion of labor power. It was not bottom-up organizing alone, as essential and central an element as that is. 

Consider the previous eras of labor history. Worker uprisings in the 1870s and 1880s were put down with violent bloodbaths by police, Pinkertons, national guard troops (ordered in by presidents). They were vilified and slandered in the press. These uprisings were crushed, only to be followed by a period of hyper-exploitation and consolidated elite power, one that brought the Jim Crow era with its formalized segregation and widespread lynching of African Americans (along with Latinos in the West). A generation later, as the IWW and the Socialist Party of America began to win real victories, another president, Woodrow Wilson, had thousands of radicals and labor organizers arrested in a matter of weeks. Several thousand radicals were deported, decimating the IWW nearly overnight, and gutting opposition to elite rule for more than a decade. At its peak, the Socialist Party had 1,000 elected officials around the country. After World War I, only a small handful remained. 

Without social movements, worker organizing, and an explicit and political left, there is no hope of saving ourselves from the dystopian future right-wingers seem to relish so much. But we must make hard-nosed assessments. The reality is that a movement-friendly and pro-labor chief executive in the White House is an enormous aid to both the proliferation and success of mass-based organizing. And not having such a chief executive makes it that much harder for activists to succeed. 

That does not mean that electoral politics should be the main focus of organizing efforts. The history of candidate-focused progressivism has been a disaster, from the Populist movement backing William Jennings Bryan in 1896, to the later candidacies of John F. Kennedy, Eugene McCarthy, Jesse Jackson, and Barack Obama. Even when they have gotten elected, these leaders have failed to deliver, because a president without a movement is indeed hamstrung. A president who actively encourages non-electoral movement organizing, on the other hand, might be a different story, and casting a vote for the first viable self-described Socialist and genuine pro-labor presidential candidate in history is a small investment for the potential upside.  

The primary task—so rarely undertaken and so desperately needed—is still deep organizing in our workplaces, schools, churches, and neighborhoods. But as long as we don’t start to believe that progressive candidates can relieve us of the responsibility for doing the hard and thankless work of organizing, we can afford to back them. And, just as importantly, if we maintain a clear understanding of the difference between our values and the politics of the candidates we support—a thing rarely done, but not actually hard—we’re free to back progressive candidates with limited agendas even as we fight for a much more radical world. It’s possible to be pragmatic, and to put energy into electing less-radical-than-desired politicians, without “selling out,” if we understand what the ultimate goal is and see these candidates only as a means toward a set of social ends.

* * * *

So why should we believe that Bernie Sanders, an old Jewish man hailing from pastoral Vermont, would use the bully pulpit of the presidency to incubate social movements and re-write political expectations? Past Democratic presidents have done the opposite; they have demobilized the left and bargained down movement demands. President Obama actually built up a substantial organizing apparatus only to disband it upon taking office. (Thanks, I’ve got this, he told us. He hadn’t got it.) 

But the signs we have seen from Bernie 2020 are quite hopeful. Sanders has signaled his plans for an oppositional presidency, openly jeering at billionaires and media elites. His campaign has achieved what everyone thought was impossible: funding a viable presidential campaign almost entirely from the working class. This is an incredible achievement in a post-Citizens United world (Warren, doubting that it was possible, said that “unilateral disarmament” from corporate contributions was suicidal, though eventually reversed course and agreed to do it.) Sanders has received more donations from forklift drivers, fast food workers, bartenders, and waitstaff than all 20+ other candidates combined, and is the only one of the top candidates not to receive donations from billionaires. He has surpassed the corporate candidates in total fundraising, genuinely freeing himself from dependence on the rich. He has shown that even in a world where a billionaire can drop the largest political ad buy in history without it touching his net worth, you can still be competitive if you actually build a movement. 

The Sanders campaign moved left on a spate of issues since 2016, as the political space to do so has opened up (thanks in part to his own prior campaign). He has broken with party consensus by strongly challenging Israel’s occupation of Palestine, and taken principled radical stances on everything from guaranteed employment to vast military spending reductions to student and medical debt abolition. These are all positions guaranteed to enrage rather than placate the entire political and media establishment. On the ground, the Sanders campaign has used its extensive contact lists to mobilize supporters to join striking worker picket lines, and warn immigrants of impending ICE raids. (When I was working with University of California workers to organize an historic statewide strike earlier this year, we made a long-shot effort to see if Bernie would come and support us. He not only came, but called out the powerful UC in no uncertain terms.) Bernie’s campaign itself is mostly composed of listening-session type town halls, which invite immigrants, workers, and people without healthcare coverage to share their personal stories. Sanders ties these stories together to explain the need for a political revolution. I have seen many political speeches, and never have I seen a candidate consistently say anything like: I cannot achieve our demands, even if you elect me President. It will take a movement of millions of regular citizens, getting actively involved, to make that happen. Bernie’s “not me, us” framing is crucial and unique. 

Importantly, Sanders has also signaled that he will pressure Democrats to get into line if they refuse to act. A president unwilling to take on the elites in their own party would get steamrolled by them. When asked if conservative Democrats will support his agenda, Sanders responded: “damn right they will,” and “if I don’t support an agenda that works for working people, I’m going to have President Sanders coming to my state and rallying working-class people.” This is a campaign and a candidate with a clear strategy to govern through popular mobilization and continuous organizing, not by begging the favor of the ruling class. 

We should be excited by the idea of a genuine outsider president, working hard to govern from the streets and dependent on working class mobilization. For all the anti-Washington rhetoric in Washington, nothing like this has ever happened before. Could we have a president who doesn’t want to spend all their time in the White House, who doesn’t have fantasies about role-playing The West Wing, but who wants to be out among the people? We might finally achieve the seemingly impossible: an executive in the nation’s capital who wields power in favor of the poor, of immigrants and the marginalized, who defends social movements instead of corporations.

At the moment, a suicidal consensus dominates our institutions, from the media to congress, the courts, big business to academia. It is no exaggeration to say that they are all content to watch our environment poisoned, our planet burn, our people deported, shot by police, or slowly worked to death. At last, we have an opening to enlist a powerful ally to fight back. 

* * * *

Even if we trust that Bernie’s strategy is to mobilize working-class Americans, why should we believe that a President Sanders would be able to do it? Are the unprecedented upsurge of support for his 2016 campaign, and the record-breaking donations to his current campaign, just a fluke, a flash in the pan? Is this all just wishful thinking? 

There is reason to believe he can do it. One of the vastly underappreciated aspects of Bernie Sanders is the incredible skill that he brings in engaging working people, especially the rural poor, with ideas often considered fringe or verboten. Just watch the town halls Bernie held in Wisconsin and West Virginia to appreciate what a skilled organizer Senator Sanders actually is. I have been a union organizer for over a decade, working on strike campaigns, intense non-union organizing, community organizing, etc. I cannot count the number of times I have seen experienced organizers fail to listen, agitate, and respectfully challenge workers as effectively as Bernie does in these town halls. He is good at this. Rarely have I seen anyone with his discipline in focusing on the issues that matter most to those people. And sadly, I can count on one hand the number of national labor leaders who articulate such a bold, inclusive, and radical vision as Bernie. It’s actually embarrassing to see a politician serve as a better advocate for the working-class than many of our own union leaders, or for a senator to be a better organizer.  

Sanders has promised to not just be Commander-in-Chief, but to be Organizer-in-Chief, and unlike nearly any other elected official we’ve ever seen, he has the skills and ability to follow through on that pledge. He now has decades of experience at this, having honed a model of using working-class support to run successful long-shot campaigns. He used that model to become mayor of Burlington and a United States senator (and to mount a formidable challenge to the Democratic party’s hand-picked nominee in 2016). But he has also used it to achieve political gains, from establishing one of the nation’s most important Community Land Trusts in Burlington to passing a historic War Powers Resolution against an ongoing U.S. war (in Yemen). For a socialist operating from the margins, Sanders has been a phenomenally effective legislator, having passed more roll call amendments than any other member of the House even under Republican leadership. 

Let us imagine how having a president who has come to power by organizing working people—openly campaigning not only against the entire corporate class but also the “military-industrial complex”—will shift the center of gravity in our politics. How will it shape a generation of young people? They will grow up with raised expectations, hearing ideas and terms and a vision that would never otherwise have been presented to them, and they will be directly encouraged by the president to participate in their political system. How will it raise the bar for community and labor organizers, both in terms of effectiveness and even more so in terms of ambition? Having seen egotists, liars, racists and petty tyrants (e.g., supervisors and managers) of many stripes emulating Donald Trump, I dearly wish to see a movement in the opposite direction. Put a racist in the White House and racists are emboldened and come out of the woodwork. Put a socialist organizer in the White House and the same thing happens for organizing and socialism. 

The better known element of Bernie’s appeal lies in the powerful universal framing of his politics and proposals. “No one who works 40 hours in the United States of America should live in poverty.” “In the richest nation in the world, I believe healthcare should be a right, not a privilege.” These are powerful formulations, even for many rank-and-file Fox News viewers. Clear-cut articulations of universal rights and social guarantees have always been politically powerful. That’s why such programs as Social Security, Medicare, and public schools have withstood decades-long onslaught from the right-wing, while more technocratic policies such as Glass Steagall, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (welfare), and public housing subsidy schemes have all been essentially wiped away. 

Within a few short years, clearly understood and concretely-felt rights develop their own cultural justifications and folklore. This is part of why the elite hate Bernie so much. They know that once everyone expects their nieces and nephews to go to a free public college, once everyone expects their deadbeat brother-in-law to be offered a living wage job by the Universal Job Guarantee, once you get free or cheap solar panels installed on your house and take the new public rail system to work, even your conservative relatives will start sounding a bit more socialist. We see this in action in Britain, where the Conservative Party is constantly on the defensive, having to convince the public it won’t dismantle the socialized National Health Service. Nationalized hospitals plainly conflict with the Conservative agenda, but if they said that openly they’d be wiped out electorally. The NHS is so beloved and invulnerable, such a point of national pride, that a tribute to it (featuring dancing nurses!) was part of London’s Olympics opening ceremony. Likewise, today if you talked about getting rid of all public elementary schools, you’d be considered radically right-wing. But free college now is no more radical a proposal than public schools were yesterday.   

Bernie’s approach contrasts starkly with the rest of the 2020 field—in fact, with that of any American political leader in modern history. Elizabeth Warren has adopted many of Bernie’s positions, but her surrogates brag that her policies are more “detailed”—read more complex and difficult to explain. (Compare: “eliminate student debt” to “the $50,000 cancellation amount phases out by $1 for every $3 in income above $100,000, so, for example, a person with household income of $130,000 gets $40,000 in cancellation.”) When other candidates talk about free college (Bernie’s incredibly-modest-by-international-standards proposal, which caught fire in 2016), they add bureaucratic hurdles and means-testing for family income. This gambit saves little on cost, but sends a clear message: Free state college is a charity program for the poor, and not to be a “subsidy” for the “children of the rich.” If you’re not poor, you get nothing out of it. (Worse, by this logic, free public high school is itself a “giveaway” to the rich and should be replaced with income-tested high school tuition vouchers.) Universal programs are simple to explain, they make life easier for everyone, they create universal buy-in, and they eliminate the humiliating scourge of means testing

The likes of Atlantic writers would have us believe that it would be better to have a skilled insider making backroom deals than a president who would use their public profile to communicate with and mobilize the public. But it’s laughable to think that buttering up Joe Manchin behind closed doors is going to convince him to support Medicare for All, significant cuts to military spending, or hundreds of billions of tax increases on the wealthy. Just take a look at eight years under Obama: What did a near religious commitment to bipartisanship and respectable insider politics accomplish? Drone strikes, mass deportations, the loss of half of black family wealth, and the ascendance of Trump. The only hope to move an ambitious agenda is to mobilize unmistakable public pressure. This is the lesson of the labor movement, of the New Deal, of the Civil Rights Movement, and of every other major progressive gain. Behind-the-scenes politics come a distant second to popular mobilization.

If anyone doubts the potential for a Sanders nomination and presidency to strengthen social movements, help develop new progressive leaders, and shift the political landscape, we need look no further than the example of his 2016 campaign. It’s worth recapping the numerous achievements of even that failed candidacy. The explosive growth of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)—to the horror of right and center and in the face of the scorn of the ultra-Left—is inconceivable without the Bernie campaign. The number of Americans, especially young people, who consider themselves socialist or who are interested in radical politics has exploded. A large and diverse number of socialist-leaning elected officials has been elected, many of whom credit Bernie’s campaign as their inspiration, or who even worked on it. These include Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, socialist state legislators Lee Carter in Virginia and Vaughn Stewart in Maryland, and dozens more at the state and local level.

Some of the most populous states have now passed $15 an hour minimum wage laws, once considered a pipe dream, including New York, New Jersey, California, and Illinois, covering over 30 percent of the nation’s population. The senator’s campaigning helped workers over the top in forcing Amazon, Disney, and other large corporations to adopt labor’s $15 an hour demand, and the campaign has helped union workers win contracts at Verizon, Disney and elsewhere. States and cities around the country have already implemented parts of Sanders’ agenda: free college in San Francisco (and to a lesser extent New York), expunging criminal records of drug offenders in Philadelphia and elsewhere, among a wide variety of other ripple effects. And while it would be over-the-top to attribute the self-organized teacher strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona to Bernie’s campaign (the credit for that inspiration goes much more directly to the Chicago teachers and other left-leaning teachers’ locals), it’s hard to dispute that Bernie’s campaign has helped energize nearly every type of organizing in this country. 

Perhaps the most compelling arguments for why we need to disregard the admonitions of the pundit class and back #Bernie2020 are the existential threats facing humanity. We are currently inhabiting the literal last political moment with even a small chance of saving vast swaths of the earth from being rendered uninhabitable by climate change. You’ve heard the predictions, and they just keep getting worse: By “2050, land that is currently home to about 300 million people” will face regular flooding. And the entire elite political world’s solemn proclamations on the issue are nothing more than familiar hollow rhetoric. The New York Times went so far as to publish a piece quoting political consultant “experts” disparaging Bernie’s Green New Deal as unwinnable and openly mocking the youth-led Sunrise Movement. Do they not understand that millions will be displaced, millions may die? It’s possible they just don’t care that much, but I’m tired of speculating on the inner dialogues of sociopaths. Whatever the motives, Bernie Sanders is the only candidate with a real Green New Deal proposal, a blueprint for the type of mobilization necessary to actually have any chance of saving places like Myanmar (much of which will be underwater by the century’s end), or my home state of Florida.

Just as importantly, he is the only candidate with a theory of political change that has a shot in hell to implement anything approaching such a grand proposal. If Elizabeth Warren punts for 3 years on Medicare for All, how many of the 11 years we have left to avoid catastrophic climate outcomes will she sacrifice before negotiations even begin? If corporate candidates like Senator Amy Klobuchar and Joe Biden balk at the relatively modest price tag of free public university education, how much in deficit spending and tax increases will they be willing to champion to save our planet? Better to let us all burn than to be Fiscally Irresponsible. Meanwhile, Bernie’s campaign has gone all in on the only demographic that matters when we’re talking about radical transformation: those without power, wealth, or connections, the people who will actually suffer the consequences of climate catastrophe.

There’s another existential threat worth talking about, one rarely discussed. Thanks to the presence of thousands of nuclear weapons around the world, at any given moment, we are just a couple of hours away from potential oblivion, given some small technical or personnel mistake. As Noam Chomsky takes every possible opportunity to remind us, the vast and unchecked nuclear arsenals could destroy all human life in just a few hours. And despite Barack Obama’s previous work on the issue with Dick Lugar during his time in the Senate, the Obama administration pushed the largest nuclear arms expansion since the Cold War, setting off a renewed arms race with other nations, China in particular. Today, only one candidate is running on negotiating a multilateral agreement to draw down advanced military weapons systems. Only one candidate has any record of bucking the marauding U.S. military and foreign policy establishment. (Jamal Khashoggi said in his last interview before being murdered and dismembered by the Saudi government that Bernie was the only U.S. politician willing to take on Saudi Arabia) So to liberals: There will be no more “incremental change”—as if we’ve even seen that happen—on an uninhabitable planet cooked by climate change and wiped out by war. And to the cynics and ultra-leftists: Supporting Bernie is cheap (~$27 USD), and there will be no glorious working-class uprisings if we don’t avoid a nuclear catastrophe.   

* * * *

We need to discuss Elizabeth Warren for a moment. I believe it’s her candidacy that is holding back many progressive organizations, unions, and others who endorsed Bernie in 2016 from doing it again this time, and is keeping many progressive-leaning people from enthusiastically taking sides in the primary. 

If and when the media find themselves having to mention Bernie Sanders in the same sentence as Elizabeth Warren, the same shibboleth is uttered: Their Policies Are The Same. But, as this magazine has pointed out before, one only needs to listen to Warren to realize quickly that this isn’t true at all. It’s not just that she sides with Trump in vowing to protect America from Bernie’s socialism. She also seems to be planning to be co-opted. Under some relatively mild questioning by Amy Goodman over racial bias in the Democratic primary process, Warren became flustered, defending herself by saying: “I’m just a player in the game.” (Inspiring!) When Goodman asked her whether she agreed with Senator Sanders that billionaires shouldn’t exist, Warren defended billionaires with right-wing talking points about how they had earned their billions with “good ideas and working hard.” (They did not.) On foreign policy, an area with massive moral import but little grassroots political attention—and without a doubt the most important domain for a U.S. president, in terms of the potential impact of individual decisions on  human lives—Warren hasn’t demonstrated interest in bucking the U.S.’s endless wars or wealth extraction in the poorer nations. Foreign policy should be a very important test—we are, after all, giving this person atomic bombs and the world’s most powerful army—and Warren has demonstrated a chilling willingness to support the brutal policies of Donald Trump over a genuine democratic socialist foreign policy. She publicly legitimized the coup government in Bolivia which is murdering indigenous protesters daily (only Trump and neo-fascist Bolsonaro of Brazil have recognized the regime), excused the slaughter of Gazans by Israel, and said that the U.S. should not only continue economic sanctions against Venezuela, but declare a man to be President who nobody ever voted for that office. (The hard-right Wall Street Journal editorial page was thrilled.) If this is Campaign Trail Warren, what can we expect from President Warren, who will be under significant pressure from the foreign policy establishment and military brass? 

In reality, Warren is worse on a wide range of specific issues than Sanders (school privatization, student debt, Green New Deal, rent control, long pushing for just a $10.10 an hour minimum wage instead of $15, means-testing benefits, etc.) But her worldview is also just much more elite, technocratic, and essentially conservative. It’s the approach that failed (or never intended to succeed) under Obama. It can’t get the job done. We can see a taste of what would come in Warren’s recent announcement that she will not even introduce Medicare for All for three years. Here, Warren has shown her true colors. She is all for “big structural change” on paper, but her actual plan is pre-emptive surrender. (And if someone surrenders before the battle has even begun, it’s fair to ask if they were ever on your side in the first place.)

It’s obvious—even Slate recognized it—that Warren’s supposed “plan” was actually an acknowledgement that she’s not serious about single-payer healthcare, something that should have been clear from the number of times she called it a “long-term plan” in her original proposal. Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said as much in defense of Warren’s candidacy: “You give her some time,” Reid said. “I think she’s not in love with that [Medicare for All], you’ll wait and see how that all turns out.” Reid was clear that Warren didn’t really mean what she’s saying: “Oh, I know she’s pragmatic, just wait.” In fact, we didn’t even have to wait for a President Warren; shortly after, Candidate Warren openly said Medicare For All was a plan for sometime later down the road. (Bernie has promised to introduce it in his first week.) If anyone knows the truth about how a senator wields their power, it’s the Floor Leader, and Reid is offering insight into Warren that anyone who wants to understand her modus operandi should take seriously. 

It should be plain to anyone who is looking honestly that Warren isn’t a threat to Washington and Wall Street. Other political players with the interests of the wealthy at heart agree, from Third Way to right-leaning finance pundit Jim Cramer (and even some of the savvier Wall Street financiers themselves), that Warren won’t actually overthrow the wealthy and powerful, or even cause them much minor discomfort. As the New York Times has reported, Warren has spent much of the campaign privately reassuring rich people that she isn’t really as scary as she looks on TV, that she’ll play ball, that her Plans are actually just a “framework” and at the end of the day, a Warren administration will all just sit around a table with business interests and party power-brokers and make a deal. Warren is very clear in saying that she endorses precisely the political approach that Sanders has built his campaign around rejecting.

In fact, in many ways Warren’s campaign is the exact opposite of Bernie’s. Instead of “Not Me, Us,” it’s “She’s Got a Plan for that.” Instead of When millions and millions of people rise up and organize, we will transform this nation, it’s She’s a Harvard professor who understands the intricacies of bankruptcy law and will design effective banking sector regulations. The public framing of the campaign is actually eerily similar to Hillary Clinton’s “I’m with her” and its “many detailed proposals.” (Warren’s campaign is also employing cheap political theater seemingly straight out of the ‘90s. In a recent campaign appearance, she was joined by a 30-foot inflatable version of her dog Bailey. Her dorky college-educated supporters progressed from chanting “Big Structural Change” to “Big Structural Bailey,” because politics is a joke that doesn’t mean anything.) Where Bernie’s campaign is powered by the likes of Walmart employees, teachers, and electricians, Warren is backed by lawyers and media elites. Where Bernie conveys authentic emotion and commitment talking about dental care, Warren lies and distorts about her own racial heritage, putting her son in a private school, and her history working a corporate legal counsel against injured consumers. A campaign which lacks honesty and credibility is not a campaign which will mobilize the working poor to defeat Donald Trump.

* * * *

Let us not overpraise Bernie Sanders, or put excessive faith in him. Given the immense power of corporate opinion-makers to shape our thinking and the strength of Democratic Party machine politics in much of the country, it’ll still take some luck and sacrifice for him to win the nomination. And even if we do get him into office, which I think we must, he’s bound to make all sorts of unseemly compromises that keep murderous policy alive both here and abroad. I could easily imagine a candidate with a stronger anti-imperialist agenda who is more embedded in racial justice struggles, one who would be much preferable to Bernie.

But we don’t get a whole lot of viable left candidates in the United States. Bernie is the first such presidential candidate in at least 96 years. And he’s the first ever self-described Socialist to come anywhere near the office. The potential of a Sanders presidency to remake our concept of the politically possible and breathe new life into workers’, socialist, and left-wing movements is overwhelming. And given the looming deadline to save dozens of nations from climate oblivion, it’s an opportunity we cannot afford to give up. When we look back in decades, we do not want to have to say: We saw this chance and we watched it go by. A very special moment has come, a moment that could change the future of the country and even of human society. Let us rise to the occasion, and take a chance on the first democratic socialist president so that we may never have to regret what we could have and should have done. 

More In: 2020 Election

Cover of latest issue of print magazine

Announcing Our Newest Issue

Featuring

Spreading Sweetness and Light! Current Affairs takes on hellfire, why teens love socialism, the magic of Motown, and the legacy of Huey Long. Cover art by Aleksandra Waliszewska.

The Latest From Current Affairs