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Bernie Sanders in the Age of Coronavirus: We Need Him Now More Than Ever

Does anyone here seriously believe we’d be hearing a loud call for party unity if it were Bernie Sanders leading in the delegate count?

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, speaks to supporters at an Immigration Town Hall in San Ysidro, California on December 20, 2019. (Photo: Sandy Huffaker/AFP via Getty Images)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, speaks to supporters at an Immigration Town Hall in San Ysidro, California on December 20, 2019. (Photo: Sandy Huffaker/AFP via Getty Images)

Bernie Sanders threw his hat in the 2016 Democratic presidential ring in order to wage a campaign highlighting the need for a universal national health insurance system and, more broadly, a government run in the interest of the common person, rather than the melange of billionaires, mega-corporations, and their campaign donors and political action committees that currently dominate. In 2020, with the entire presidential primary process halted by a pandemic that profoundly challenges the nation’s health care system—and the entire economic system—you don’t have to like Sanders’ chances of actually winning the nomination to recognize that his campaign message has never been more to the point.

Can Sanders somehow recover from the very effective unity effort on the part of his Democratic Party opposition? Can he come from behind and catch Joe Biden? Well, we do know that in 2016 candidate Sanders famously did the unprecedented—and previously assumed impossible—many times over. He introduced the idea of democratic socialism to mainstream politics, rejected corporate backing, raised previously unimaginable amounts of money from people who—for the most part—didn’t have all that much of it. And, oh yes, he did this as the longest serving independent in congressional history.

"Does anyone here seriously believe we’d be hearing a loud call for party unity if it were Bernie Sanders leading in the delegate count? Or would the story of the moment instead be the mainstream/establishment machinations to thwart him at the convention?"

But we also know that thus far in 2020, it has been the opposition—which you might call the party’s “mainstream” or “establishment,” depending on where you stand—rather than Sanders, that has notably accomplished the unprecedented, with a three-day unity tsunami that saw three of five major contenders withdrawing in favor of the one remaining who was not named Sanders. How badly did these folks not want Sanders to be the nominee? Enough for Michael Bloomberg—who had just spent a billion dollars on his own presidential campaign in only three months—to drop that effort and sign on to the anti-Sanders program. Granted, this was not Bloomberg’s last billion, but still you would have to say that this was definitely one billionaire who really doesn’t want to see Bernie Sanders become president.

This move proved quite successful, with Biden handily winning the March 17th primaries (with Ohio postponed and Illinois participation cut by a quarter) before the whole shebang went on hold, leaving him leading Sanders in delegates 1215-909, with another 93 pledged to candidates now supporting Biden, and 83 to Elizabeth Warren. And 1751 yet to be elected.

But so far as the unprecedented goes, it has been nature that has set the pace this time around, with the unprecedented coronavirus hiatus, which has started a race of another kind—the disaster capitalism feeding frenzy. Even before the Senate as a whole got into motion, four U.S. Senators—Republicans Kelly Loeffler (GA), James Inhofe (OK), Richard Burr (NC), and Democrat Dianne Feinstein (CA), a Biden endorser—had set personal examples for the rest of us, so far as not relying solely on government assistance, by taking the personal initiative in avoiding financial harm by selling off hundreds of thousands of dollars of their stocks following an administration briefing on the impact of coronavirus.

And, by the way, we will all be assured that we can and must take comparable steps of personal responsibility. For instance, even as I wrote this article, Barron’s magazine was kind enough to post me a Facebook ad on the “18 Stocks to Buy Amid the Coronavirus Carnage, According to Barron’s Roundtable Experts,” along with the kicker: “When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.” (And no hand sanitizer necessary for this shopping, either.) Of course, disaster capitalism’s real financial killings aren’t marketed to Sanders donors. They’ll come out of the $500 billion slated to go to American corporations in the government stimulus package. Corporate lobbyists will likely do the heavy lifting there—that is unless we can somehow thwart business as usual in D.C.

Which brings us back to the presidential race again and the not unexpected call for Sanders too to step aside for Joe Biden. Which in turn brings us to our first question for the reader: Does anyone here seriously believe we’d be hearing a loud call for party unity if it were Bernie Sanders leading in the delegate count? Or would the story of the moment instead be the mainstream/establishment machinations to thwart him at the convention?

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The logic behind the withdrawal call is clear and simple—the other candidates put aside their own ambition and united behind Super Tuesday’s big winner, so why not Sanders? The answer is also clear, although you’ll seldom find it addressed in the major news media. The candidates who dropped out did so in favor of another who shared their basic presuppositions, e.g., that we shouldn’t immediately try to extend health insurance to everyone currently uninsured, but only some portion of them; that the relationship between government and the nation’s powerful corporate interests does not require major overhaul; that our foreign policy is basically on the right track; that fracking should not be banned, etc. Sanders and his supporters are running a campaign that at its heart contests those presuppositions.

So while it may be a logical proposition for the other candidates to throw in the towel when they decide they won’t be able to grab the ring themselves, it does not follow for Sanders, particularly when 43 percent of the primary electorate has yet to vote. The primaries of New Jersey, New Mexico, District of Columbia, Montana, and South Dakota were originally scheduled for June 2, and Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island have rescheduled for that date, with others postponed to an even later time. In announcing the changes, governors have spoken of protecting their states voters’ “constitutional right to vote.” Presumably they also have some right to cast a meaningful vote. And certainly when a campaign challenges the status quo and conventional wisdom, while winning remains the main goal, it isn’t everything—as it is when the campaign aims to answer only the question of “Who?” and not also “What?”

Some will grant that, yes, the Sanders message is important and, yes, the Biden campaign should adopt some of it, but maintain that it’s no longer appropriate for Democratic candidates to argue publicly. These things should be dealt with in the party platform. Unfortunately, as a past member of the Democratic National Platform Committee, I can assure you that while contesting the content of the platform is a worthy endeavor, a candidate actively campaigning on, for instance, universal health care coverage will be immeasurably more helpful to the cause than the issue’s inclusion in the generally unread and ignored platform.

And back to that unprecedented coronavirus crisis. The rationale of the Sanders campaign has always been that Donald Trump should not be allowed win another term in the White House by painting the Democrats as the business-in-Washington-as-usual party. Which leads me to my second question for the reader: With a half trillion dollar corporate give-away in the offing, does anyone here really believe that Joe Biden is the candidate to challenge the Wall Street way of doing business—either in perception or reality?

Sanders does seem to have now sloughed off the invitation to go home and decided to carry on. Remember that a principal reason for presidential candidates dropping out of the race has generally been the inability to continue to raise money. Final question: Does anyone here not think that Sanders supporters will continue to fund the race?

If the candidate is willing, huzzah! We’re in it to the end.

Tom Gallagher

Tom Gallagher

Tom Gallagher is a former Massachusetts State Representative and the author of 'The Primary Route: How the 99% Take On the Military Industrial Complex.' He lives in San Francisco. He can be reached at TGTGTGTGTG@aol.com.

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