Support the news

Bernie Got Us Here. But Now It's Someone Else's Turn

In this Nov. 27, 2018 photo, Sen. Bernie Sanders,  speaks at an event in Washington. Sanders, whose insurgent 2016 presidential campaign reshaped Democratic politics, announced Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019 that he is running for president in 2020. (Alex Brandon/AP)
In this Nov. 27, 2018 photo, Sen. Bernie Sanders, speaks at an event in Washington. Sanders, whose insurgent 2016 presidential campaign reshaped Democratic politics, announced Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019 that he is running for president in 2020. (Alex Brandon/AP)

There are a lot of good reasons to run a long-shot campaign for president. Ego is not one of them.

In 2016, Bernie Sanders, the independent U.S. senator from Vermont, made an audacious bid for the nation’s highest office as a Democrat, highlighting the economic and social inequities plaguing the United States, where the top 1 percent of households own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined.

It was an inspiring act of public service, with a message of political and racial inclusion that resonated across generations of voters exasperated by the greed on Wall Street and the gridlock in Washington. He mobilized armies of progressives as appalled by Hillary Clinton’s coziness with Goldman Sachs and Hollywood fat cats as they were by Donald Trump’s demonization of minorities, homosexuals, Mexicans and Muslims.

There are a lot of good reasons to run a long-shot campaign for president. Ego is not one of them.

He attracted younger people to electoral politics who saw, perhaps for the first time, an elected official on the national stage driven by ideas, not personal ambition. He rekindled idealism in older people, many of whom recalled their own youth knocking on doors for such upstart candidates as Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy.

“In a sense, this campaign is a continuation of what we did in 2016,” Sanders told “CBS This Morning” on Tuesday when he announced his candidacy for president in 2020. But this time, he said, “we’re going to win.”

That is a sad prediction, spun of the same skein of hubris and self-delusion that prompted a far less serious man, former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, to announce his Republican bid for president a few days ago.

We thought Sanders was wiser than that.

Why must Bernie Sanders — the candidate who told us in 2016 that his campaign was about us, not about him — be on the ballot for progressives to win in 2020? When he entered the race, Sanders became the 12th Democrat to run or to form an exploratory committee. Some of those are vanity runs, but many of those candidates are progressives in the Sanders mold, emboldened by his courage in challenging the timidity of the political establishment and enraged by the conduct of the current occupant of the Oval Office. Most of them are men and women of substance and commitment.

A line of voters in Portsmouth snaked around several blocks in a snowstorm last weekend to hear California Senator Kamala Harris talk about the concerns of ordinary people — inadequate wages, onerous student loans, disastrous climate change — that Bernie Sanders brought from the periphery to the center of the national agenda in 2016. Voters from Iowa to South Carolina have been filling auditoriums to hear Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren echo his call to rid politics of the influence of the big money of this new Gilded Age.

Why must Bernie Sanders -- the candidate who told us in 2016 that his campaign was about us, not about him -- be on the ballot for progressives to win in 2020?

Are those bearers of his progressive message — and the wave of liberal Democrats elected to Congress last fall — not worthy enough for Sanders, a lawmaker who has forged little in the way of a legislative legacy in his nearly three decades on Capitol Hill? Is only Bernie Sanders pure enough to lead Americans to the Promised Land?

“Our campaign is not only about defeating Donald Trump, the most dangerous president in modern American history. It is not only about winning the Democratic nomination and the general election,” Sanders said in his campaign announcement. “Our campaign is about transforming our country and creating a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice.”

That campaign has moved beyond him. The bold policy pronouncements of 2016 are the mainstream Democratic messaging of 2020. Bernie Sanders can be a leader helping to guide a new generation of political activists or he can be a crusty septuagenarian refusing to surrender the stage. He can’t be both.

Related:

Eileen McNamara Cognoscenti contributor
A Pulitzer Prize-winning former columnist for The Boston Globe, Eileen McNamara is the author of "Eunice, The Kennedy Who Changed the World."

More…

+Join the discussion
TwitterfacebookEmail

Support the news