As the coronavirus crisis has disrupted the Democratic primary season, I thought I’d reflect on how the primary season has turned out. It looks like Joe Biden will win the Democratic nomination. I was an Elizabeth Warren supporter. But when Warren dropped out, I had hoped that Sanders would stay in the race so he could put pressure Biden on the campaign trail to move further Left on a variety of issues. I’m still hoping that both Warren and Sanders are working behind the scenes with the Biden camp in a give-and-take on areas that Biden can take on more progressive proposals and reach out to the progressives voters that he’ll need to beat Trump in November.
I think Biden should consider two areas in particular. Many younger Sanders supporters that I know are especially worried about how climate change is going to negatively affect their future. They are drawn to Sanders’ more radical proposals because they believe only radical solutions can stop the worst effects of climate change from taking place before it’s too late.
A second area would be tackling problems that have exacerbated economic inequalities in our nation and have destabilized the American middle class. Many Trump supporters in Red States have legitimate grievances on how many of the jobs that had provided access to the middle class in their communities have disappeared due to either outsourcing or automation. The remaining jobs pay half as much as the jobs that disappeared. This has led to people taking 2 or 3 jobs to make ends meet, a rise in poverty and crime in these communities, a deadly opioid crisis, young adults leaving these areas to find better opportunities elsewhere, and a steep rise in suicides for those who can’t cope. In Blue States, rising economic inequalities has led to gentrification and rising rents that have pushed the poor and middle class out of good neighborhoods and has led to farther commutes, a growing segregation of the classes, less opportunities for quality education for poor and lower middle class students as they’re driven out of good school districts, and an ever growing homelessness problem. Both Warren and Sanders focused a lot of their proposals on ways to solve the problems of economic inequality in this country.
Looking at the remaining primary season, I see two things that are handicapping Sanders ability to make a comeback against Biden: Sanders continues to have difficulty attracting significant support in the African American community; most Americans right now are focused on the COVID 19 crisis and are no longer focused on the primaries, making it impossible for Sanders to make his case to the public in the remaining primary states.
In trying to get some lessons from this primary season, one of the things that progressives need to do is to regain the support of the African American community. Neither Warren nor Sanders was able to get enough black votes to be effective. Sanders has been able to get a significant number of Hispanic votes, and that may offer some lessons on how he, Warren and some future progressive candidate can make inroads in the black vote. In the past, progressive candidates like Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Robert F. Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, and Jesse Jackson were able to build a coalition of both white blue collar voters and black voters. Roosevelt, Truman, the Kennedys and Jackson received a significant amount of black votes because they had built up trust spanning years with the African American community. They weren’t just showing up in the election season and making promises, then disappearing when the election season was over. Sanders had been able to attract younger black voters, and Warren had won the support of many younger black activists. But to get the older black voters, I think they need to come up with concrete legislative actions that benefit their communities and make long term commitments to be there for these communities. I think that is the key to Biden’s support among black communities in the South.
One of things that has bothered me this primary season has been how Trump, conservatives and even some moderate Democrats have tried to equate Democratic Socialism with authoritarian Communism. That’s unfair, as the two are very different ideologies. Democratic Socialists are committed to democratic norms like the freedom of speech, a free press, and to democratic elections, while authoritarian Communists like Stalin are just a left-wing version of a totalitarian autocrat. Democratic Socialists have been among the strongest critics of authoritarian Communism and any authoritarian government whether it is left-wing or right-wing. George Orwell was a Democrat Socialist, and his two books 1984 and Animal Farm are among the greatest critiques of authoritarian Communism in literature.
I am a liberal Democrat not a Democratic Socialist. But I am a big admirer of Democratic Socialists like Eugene Debs, Norman Thomas, W.E.B DuBois, Helen Keller, and Bayard Rustin. I see Democratic Socialists as competing friends from the Left and not as ideological enemies. Over the past century and a half, Democratic Socialists have fought for the 8 hour work day, an end to child labor, the right of workers to collectively bargain, women’s suffrage, a social security system for the elderly, laws to prevent the lynching of black individuals in the South, protested the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and fought against racial segregation in the South. They have fought the good fight and have made America better.
In this 2018 video, Bernie Sanders defends the freedom of speech and speaks out against violent protests. Sanders specifically defended the right of right-wing provocateurs to speak in a college campus.