On April 9th, following months of wrangling and political machinations, the campaign for the Democratic nomination for U.S President ended when Senator Bernie Sanders made the surprising decision to drop out of the race. The decision came after the Supreme Court refused to suspend physical voting in the Wisconsin primary elections due to the Covid-19 lockdown. Facing the prospect of spreading the virus further, Mr Sanders chose to suspend his campaign and effectively hand the nomination to his rival.
Bernie’s brother, who now lives in the U.K, and who formerly served for eight years as an English and Welsh Green Party councillor for Oxfordshire, said: “The failures in America and Britain have been very similar. The core question is why we haven’t followed the normal epidemiological procedure, which is to find people who might have the disease, test them, and the ones who have been suffering from the disease you track their contacts very rigorously. You find everyone they have been in touch with and you isolate both the people who have had the disease and the people they have been in contact with, that is the gold standard. For some reason, and it’s not altogether clear, why Britain and the United States haven’t followed that.
“Some of the main things that Bernard campaigned on history is proving him correct. So for instance the universal healthcare – I think more people are more and more aware of how much better things would have been if they had that.
“One of the recurring themes throughout the whole campaign is people would say ‘Oh well that’s a very good idea but how are you going to pay for it?’ All the way through there was this ideology that somehow or other you have to raise taxes to pay for the things that people need. Now of course you see Trump, who’s supposed to not be a socialist, has raised trillions of dollar without anybody wondering where the money is coming from on the basis that everybody knows that you have to do first things first.
“Horribly, if the pandemic kills a lot more people, then people will become aware of the weaknesses of other approaches.”
Of course, Sanders was facing an uphill battle after one of the biggest turnarounds in U.S political history saw former Vice-President, Joe Biden, sweep the boards on ‘super Tuesday’ following a disastrous start. In spite of large corporate campaign contributions, (or perhaps because of it), Biden had been at one point trailing 5th in the polls, but after the short-lived campaign of Michael Bloomberg, (the billionaire former mayor who appeared to stand purely to crush socialist support), and the exiting of Amy Klobuchar and Paul Buttigieg from the race, Biden surged back to become the front-runner for the nomination.
Another problem for Sanders was Elizabeth Warren neglecting to back him upon the conclusion of her campaign. Professor Mara Keller of the California Institute of Integral Studies had
originally backed Senator Warren for the Presidency, but when she dropped out her vote went to the former Vice-President rather than the socialist Senator. She said: “At first, during the primaries, I was glad to see a wide variety of Democratic candidates who represented the Big Tent diversity of the Democratic Party in terms of race, class, sex and gender, age, as well as some policy differences. I finally decided to back Elizabeth Warren, as I hoped she would be able to pull the Democratic Party together, in order to defeat Trump. I am a progressive who strongly supports the kinds of policies that Warren and Sanders advocate.
However, I was concerned that they were not able to attract the Black vote; and the black vote is crucial for a Democratic win in the fall. So, it was after Biden’s primary victory in South Carolina, by overwhelmingly winning the Black vote, young as well as old, that I decided that I would back Biden.”
Professor Keller also highlighted this when she pointed to where she believes the race was won, and why Biden was able to achieve such a remarkable comeback. “What seems to have won the primary for Biden”, she said, “was the endorsement of James Clyburn, US Representative for South Carolina and a revered Civil Rights leader. That is what turned the tide, and Biden’s strong win in South Carolina forecast widespread support of Black voters for Biden – a demographic who already had a favourable view of Biden as trustworthy for his years of service as President Obama’s Vice President.”
Sanders expected to lose by the time April came and so dropping out to potentially save lives was not something it seems he had to ponder much over. That said, much like the election of Keir Starmer as Labour leader in the U.K, it is a blow to progressive politics in the U.S from which it may prove difficult to recover.
There are a number of parallels between outcome of the Democratic nomination and the outcome of the Labour leadership contest in the U.K. It is difficult for any politician who genuinely challenges the status quo to make the final cut, largely thanks to a corporate dominated mainstream media. Larry Sanders acknowledged this saying “They have very much the same kinds of enemies.”
One of the more absurd criticisms was an attempt to half-echo the smears levelled at Jeremy Corbyn over antisemitism. Given that Sanders is, himself, Jewish, and has spent time living in a kibbutz in Israel, the idea of him being antisemitic is, of course, insane, but that has not stopped sections of the U.S media from labelling him a ‘self-hating Jew’ over his position on Palestine.
Bernie’s brother, however, has highlighted the importance of their Jewish upbringing in forming their politics, explaining that Zionism, as it is today, is far removed from the Judaism they grew up with and which helped inform their world views.
He said: “Obviously it’s political – people who don’t like him politically want to find a way to attack him – and secondly it’s just ignorance.
“Bernard and I grew up in a very religious environment. Our parents were both Jewish, many of our friends were Jewish, we went to synagogue we went to Hebrew school. We followed a lot of the festivals, but we weren’t Orthodox. We were, and I think in many ways are, mainstream Jews.”
Bernie would even take time out with his brother to move to a kibbutz in Israel in his youth where he contemplated a life lived more simply in the spiritual homeland of his faith. Speaking on the history of modern Judaism in America he explained how his parents and other European immigrants felt upon arrival in the U.S.
“They landed in a very harsh capitalism which treated them the way it treated everybody it could get its hands on, which was very harshly. The work was hard, the pay was poor, the living conditions were rough, so Jewish people and other immigrants identified the establishment and the basic ownership pattern as hostile to them.
“Although New York politics wasn’t perfect, it was very corrupt, nonetheless it existed and people could organise. They could print newspapers, they could organise political parties and so on, and they did. 95% of it was on the left, from the Bolsheviks to the Mensheviks.
“Zionism was there, although quite weak. Orthodoxy was there, although not very powerful. So, the milieu that we grew up in…for the vast majority of Jews at that point…was very left-wing in a whole variety of ways, and we grew up into that atmosphere. So the socialism that we ended up with was not all that distinct from the Judaism that we grew up with.”
The mood among grass roots Democrats has changed thanks to the Sanders campaign, with even the most establishment of Democratic figures paying lip-service to the concept of things like ‘medicare for all’. One of the lesser discussed fears surrounding a Sanders Presidency is that he could have won and yet been unable to pass any substantive legislation thanks to the largely Republican make-up of the House of Congress and the Senate. Professor Keller explained: “I think Biden needs not only to win the presidential election, but also the “post-election,” by being ready to challenge all the dubious tactics of voter suppression or even voter fraud on the part of the incumbent Republicans, not only in the South but also the Midwest.
“Along with that healthcare is the number one issue for most US citizens; and of course, now with the pandemic, even more so than ever! I think Biden’s commitment to providing universal healthcare, as fast as possible, is both reliable and feasible. He has already proposed lowering the age for Medicare benefits from 65 to 60. That is a step in the right direction. If the Democrats can win not only the White House, and keep the House, but also the win the Senate, then I think we will see universal healthcare within the next four years. But that requires defeating the Republicans. As we can see during the present crisis, Republican politicians are more interested in holding on to profits than in saving lives. I think this will backlash against them.
“While all Democrats agree on universal healthcare, we disagree about how best to get there. Sanders wanted to go right away to a single-payer government healthcare system, while Biden wanted to keep and improve upon the Affordable Health Care, adding to it a public option. I think Biden has a chance of passing that. I do not think that Sanders had a chance of getting his plan through Congress.
“The far right-wing Republicans currently control the White House, the Senate, and the Supreme Court. The Democrats really must have the biggest possible coalition to resoundingly defeat Trump and his allies.”
A lack of cross-party support in a country still enamoured with Republican politics is something which those on the left of the Democratic Party must consider going forward. Bernie supporters have been here before. Four years ago, the Democratic nomination came down to a straight shoot-out between Senator Sanders and former first lady and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Many on the Sanders side felt then that the nomination was stolen from them, even fixed, and some defected to third party candidates such as the Green’s Jill Stein, or simply didn’t turn up to vote. The result was Donald Trump in the White House.
Clinton was once seen as being able to command cross-party support, but her detractors then felt that one of her biggest issues was, in fact, her establishment history. While supporters would claim this as a benefit it was not in keeping with the rebellious spirit of the times. People across the world had lost their faith and trust in ‘experts’ and establishment figures, who had improved very little for them since the financial crash of 2008.
They feared that Clinton would lose to a man seen, albeit falsely, as railing against the establishment. On the other hand, Bernie, as someone who had genuinely railed against it for his entire political career, was viewed as the more viable option, and so it would prove to be, (despite Clinton securing the national popular vote). The concern is that the same will prove true again, only this time there is a greater desperation not to repeat that history given the threats to the environment and workers’ rights and the increasingly right-wing authoritarian, (and frankly unhinged), direction of the Trump Presidency.
Owing to this desperation, and a sense that internal divisions have harmed the left globally in recent years, Bernie Sanders has now unequivocally endorsed his ‘old friend’ Joe Biden for the Presidency.
Clearly the need to beat Trump, trumps political rivalries, but Joe and Bernie’s policies and outlooks differ, in fact, quite greatly. Sanders has consistently expressed the sentiment that Biden is his friend, (a sentiment Biden echoes), but his brother is not quite so sure that we should understand that in the way we perhaps might like to.
He said: “They’re not friends in the sense that they pal out with each other. They’re friends in the sense that they’re colleagues; they work together. Contrary to what’s said Bernard is quite a reasonable co-operator, but they’re colleagues, not friends in the personal sense. We do talk about colleagues as friends but if someone really pushed you on it and said ‘How many of them are really your friends’ you’d say, well, one or two.”
Bernie has done much for the political left in America, and the Democratic Socialists, (the left-wing organisational section of the party to which Bernie belongs, has increased its membership recently from 6,000 to 60,000). As for the Presidency though, that dream is clearly over. He will not get another shot at this.
For now, progressives must focus on how far they can push Bernie’s ‘friend’ Joe on key issues such as social care and student loan debt, hoping that it will prove to be enough to crush Trump in the Autumn. For the future their hopes rest on young female up-and-comers such as Senator for New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. If America is ever going to escape the Cold War mindset and embrace meaningful reform it will likely take a firebrand, a unique intelligence and an entertaining leader, but it won’t be Bernie Sanders. His race is run, but thanks to him, the race for a better future for Americans and for the planet goes on.