If Bernie Sanders is such a progressive revolutionary, why does he insist on undermining an eminently qualified female presidential candidate who can beat a fascistic demagogue?
The morning after the United Kingdom shockingly voted to leave the European Union, Senator Bernie Sanders finally said, Yes, he would vote for presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for president. Sort of.
Mere hours after he told the hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe that he will vote for Hillary Clinton in November, he skirted around that commitment on CNN and reiterated his refusal to drop out of the race, despite the fact that Clinton has mathematically clinched the nomination.
It was yet another example of what has underwritten much of Bernie Sanders’s campaign for the Democratic nomination for president, and it isn’t progressive populism; it’s his white, male privilege.
To be a white man in politics means that you inherently occupy a privileged space. Every single president we’ve ever had has been a man, and all but one have been white. Eighty percent of those in Congress are men. Ninety-four percent of senators are white, and Bernie Sanders is one of them. That’s fine, of course. You can’t help which privileged identities you inhabit. But you can do something about moving the dial away from those privileges. You can refuse to rely on your privilege. Bernie Sanders hasn’t or, quite simply, won’t.
In this long and at times, outright baffling campaign for President of the United States, we have watched that sophomoric, fascistic bigot Donald Trump ascend to the helm of the Republican Party, becoming that party’s nominee for president by defeating establishment candidate after establishment candidate. The Democratic race has been unpredictable, as well. Former secretary of State Hillary Clinton was considered a shoo-in, and Bernie Sanders’s upstart campaign has given her a much tougher run for her money than anyone ever predicted. But that should be over now. So why isn’t it?
As we pivot from the primary season to the general election in less than five months, we have two presumptive nominees who have won enough delegates to clinch their party’s nomination. But that hasn’t stopped Bernie Sanders from remaining in this futile race, because it doesn’t have to stop him.
More than any other demonstration of his privilege, of which there are many, his utter refusal to drop out despite having lost the nomination speaks volumes. When asked why he refuses to exit the race after Clinton clinched it, Sanders responded, “Why would I want to do that when I want to fight to make sure that we have the best platform that we possibly can, that we win the most delegates that we can?”
Moving the Democratic platform to the left is a laudable goal, but it isn’t one that he alone has led. There have been many movements, including the movement to end the Hyde Amendment, the “Fight for 15,” and the #BlackLivesMatter movement, that have pushed the Democratic party to the left. But Bernie Sanders is presenting it as if he himself is the leader of this progressive revolution, as if he and his candidacy have been doing all of the work. This is privileged ignorance at best, and sinister appropriation at worst. Sanders has constructed himself as the progressive revolutionary savior that we have all been waiting for, a privileged and entitled point of view if there ever was one. He is unwilling to stop mansplaining to the country that he’s right because either he believes so deeply that he is right and we are wrong or does he sense that this is the one time that he will ever be this relevant to American politics and his male ego is unwilling to let this go?
What’s more, for a candidate who spent an inordinate amount of time railing against “superdelegates,” who choose which candidate to support, they are the only rung on which Sanders is attempting to hang his futile hat. It is both hypocritical and entitled to attempt to derail Hillary Clinton, the candidate who has received the most votes, by relying on the mechanism that you have spent so much time criticizing.
The potential of a fascist America is more real than ever. That’s not hyperbole—it’s a fact. A candidate for president from one of the two major American political parties has called for: the closing of the border between Mexico and the United States and the mass deportation of immigrants; a closing of the border to Muslim immigrants; assassinating the family members of suspected terrorists (a blatant war crime, by the way); the criminalization of women who have abortions; and the list goes on. The “Bernie or Bust” argument seems innocuous if you aren’t one of the millions of marginalized people whose health, rights, and lives depend on the November election results. To stay in a race that you mathematically cannot win against the first woman presidential candidate of either major party is privileged enough. To do it when the country is facing a very possible descent into fascism? That’s just dangerous.
While Bernie Sanders claims that it is important to defeat Donald Trump, many of his supporters are not convinced. These people, many of whom are young white men who proudly label themselves the “real progressives,” are watching as the United States stares down the barrel of a fully loaded gun of racism, misogyny, and xenophobia and are shrugging. To even hint at voting for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, or claim that they are the same, is privilege personified.
These are the “Bernie Bros”: white men who support Bernie Sanders but seemingly ignore the issues that affect marginalized people, who bellow and bully women and people of color for supporting Hillary Clinton, who claim ideological purity without having their rights and lives on the line. Not only that, but they have time and again berated and harassed women and people of color with whom they may disagree, in some cases threatening Democratic women like Nevada State Democratic Chairwoman Roberta Lange. Bernie Bros are relevant to this argument; they are a sexist reflection of the privilege emanating from the man they worship, a man who has done little if nothing to curb their atrocious, bigoted behavior.
There was the time when he said that Hillary Clinton isn’t “qualified” to be president of the United States because of the vast amount of financial support she has. For whatever you think of her or her politics, Clinton is arguably the most qualified candidate in recent memory as both a former senator and a secretary of State with more than two decades in national politics. So what makes her unqualified in Sanders’s mind? Is it the fact that she has a Super-PAC, like nearly every other politician running for national political office? Or is it her gender? Because it certainly cannot be her résumé.
Sanders says that he isn’t ready to endorse Hillary Clinton (or even concede to her in a race he has already lost) because he hasn’t “heard her say the things that need to be said.” Funnily enough, many of us haven’t heard him say “the things that need to be said” about reproductive rights and gun violence, yet Bernie Sanders gets to be the “real progressive” in this race.
Make no mistake: Bernie Sanders has continually voted in support of abortion and other reproductive rights. His legislative record is strong. But his refusal to fully embrace this issue, at a time when the assault on abortion rights has left millions without access, is telling. When Donald Trump said that women who have abortions should be punished (a goal that many in the anti-choice movement quietly work toward but publicly denounce), Bernie Sanders stated that those comments were a “distraction.” But it sure isn’t a “distraction” when women of color like Kenlissia Jones, Purvi Patel, and Bei Bei Shuai are criminalized for their pregnancy outcomes. It isn’t a “distraction” when nearly 300 abortion restrictions have been enacted in state legislatures over the past five years. It may be a distraction for a white, cisgender male politician who will never have to face these issues, but for those of us who do, it is a fundamental aspect of politics, this election, and our lives.
And his less than stellar record on gun control seems to be swept away in his positioning of himself as the true progressive in this campaign, as the one who is purely and unabashedly progressive. Initially, his campaign was framed as a way to push Clinton to the left, and that’s fine.
But this ideological purity test that Sanders and so many of his supporters insist on playing belies the crux of his campaign: As a white man, he has the privilege to position himself ideologically pure that Clinton doesn’t necessarily have in the same way. To be a woman in politics for more than two decades (two decades marred with outright misogyny and utter hatred for her, I might add) means something very different than being a man in politics for more than two decades, as Bernie Sanders has. To survive as a woman in politics often means navigating a continual string of sexism, gaslighting, and degradation. It’s harder to be ideologically pure when you are running up against a system that has been built to defeat you, that thrives off of your exploitation. If Sanders is as progressive as he says he is, it’d be nice to hear him acknowledge this.
But he won’t. He hasn’t acknowledged the historical significance of what Hillary Clinton has done in winning the Democratic presidential nomination at all, and that’s because he can’t.
Do you really want a progressive revolution? If so, it’s time to get behind a candidate that will push us forward rather than pull us back. If you are more interested in social justice than in winning, then you need to deliver on it. If you are truly a revolutionary, you will work to dismantle your privilege, rather than rely on it. Until then, you’re just another white man running for office.
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