Newsflash:
Elizabeth Warren Economic and Social Justice Thoughts on a Bernie Sanders Run
Sunday, 06 April 2014 00:27

Thoughts on a Bernie Sanders Run

Written by  Bill Fletcher, Jr. | Portside | The Progressive

... if the candidate has a real mass base, is building a broad progressive front around a clear, transformational program, and sees the candidacy as one step in a multitiered process, then it might be worth going for it.

To the Point

I first met Bernie Sanders in the late 1980s. He was contemplating a run for Congress and had chosen to take time to study and teach at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. We went out to lunch one afternoon.

Sanders was already a legend. An avowed socialist who had served as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, he struck me as someone who was quite thoughtful and prepared to listen to views other than his own. We chatted about a matter that has preoccupied me for much of the last thirty years: How to build a national electoral project that is truly progressive and also focused on the fight for power.

Sanders went on to win election to Congress and, ultimately, the U.S. Senate. He has been outspoken on virtually every issue that matters to working people and is unapologetic in his critique of capitalism. At the same time, he works to build unity among progressives rather than simply staking out his claim and expecting people to rally to his flag.

I don’t live in Vermont, but without question, Bernie Sanders is my Senator.

For the last few months, the word on the street has been that Sanders is contemplating a run for the Presidency. Sanders has hinted at the possibility but has not confirmed or denied that he may take the plunge.

Excitement around a possible Sanders run is palpable. After more than one term of the complicated, neoliberal Presidency of Barack Obama—combined with the relentless assaults by the political right on all that for more than sixty years appeared sacred—there is a deep and clear desire among many for a different direction.

Yet a Sanders run brings its own complications.

One issue is whether Sanders should run as a Democrat or as an independent.

There are many progressives and leftists who will automatically suggest, out of disgust with the Democrats, that Sanders should make a “pure” run as an independent. Yet this raises an even more fundamental question: Why should Sanders run at all?

It only makes sense to run for the Presidency of the United States—as a progressive or leftist—if the person is both running to win and running as part of a broader electoral project. A run just to “show the colors” or make a statement is a waste of time. Running for President is both too expensive and time-consuming for that.

On the other hand, if the candidate has a real mass base, is building a broad progressive front around a clear, transformational program, and sees the candidacy as one step in a multitiered process, then it might be worth going for it.

But in suggesting this, I do so with qualifiers. Too many candidates who suggested that they were interested in building a grassroots movement that would transcend their campaigns only to see such candidates close up shop afterwards. A Sanders run as part of a longer-term effort at movement-building and energizing a progressive front only makes sense if there is a demonstrable commitment by the candidate to do the right thing after the election.

Let’s take an example of what not to do. After Obama’s successful 2008 run, there were many people who assumed he was going to keep his campaign organization together as a sort of independent force. But Obama moved it into the Democratic Party instead.

Then there was the choice that Jesse Jackson made in March 1989 when, following the 1988 elections, he completely reorganized the National Rainbow Coalition into an organization that he totally controlled rather than the mass democratic organization that many of its members had thought that they were building.

If a run makes sense, and I think Sanders might be the candidate who would turn his campaign into something lasting, the question is how to do it. I believe that Sanders needs to make a strategic decision to run within the Democratic primary system for the nomination. Despite the discontent with the electoral system among so many people in the United States of America, it is not likely that an independent candidacy at this moment can win. Should the Republican Party fracture, which is a real possibility over the next few years, all bets would be off. But as long as the Republicans stand firm as a hard, rightwing party, it is unlikely that at the national level an independent candidacy can win.

Quite explicitly, I am suggesting that winning must be a major objective of the campaign. The campaign needs to be organized in such a way that it aims to build an electoral coalition that is interested in gaining power, is committed to winning, and has a plan for governing.

Contrary to the contention of some of my friends on the left, there is no contradiction between running as a socialist and running as a Democrat—with the real intention of taking office. Former Massachusetts state representative and two-time mayoral candidate Mel King was an independent socialist, yet ran for state office as a Democrat. Former Congressman Ron Dellums of California was also a socialist and a Democrat. Sanders could run as a Democrat yet be very clear and open about his socialist politics. Such a candidacy would send a bolt of lightning throughout the Democratic Party and change the discourse within it. An independent candidacy would not have anywhere near that impact.

A Sanders candidacy would need to also take on race. We live in a moment that is reminiscent of the period of the Southern coups in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when white supremacists usurped the franchise from African Americans and poor whites, and when Chicanos (in the Southwest) were treated to de facto segregation and voter exclusion. The political right, fearing the future, is moving to exclude millions of voters and ensure the ongoing supremacy of a quite xenophobic Tea Party-esque Republican Party. This is being orchestrated through the brilliant usage of racial symbols, all at a time when people of color have been suffering from the worst effects of the transformation of U.S. capitalism.

For Sanders to run and to make a real difference, he will need to tap into the African American, Latino, and Asian electorate and inspire them with a vision. This has to be far more than a “rising tide lifts all boats,” but must acknowledge race and class as integrally connected. Sanders would need to speak out on the anti-immigrant hysteria of our times, as well as address the manner in which so many workers, particularly workers of color, are being rendered redundant in today’s economy.

He would also need to be a candidate who denounces the misogyny that has pervaded U.S. politics. This is more than the question of abortion. It really goes to women’s control over their own bodies, expectations of women in today’s economy, who is to blame—and not to blame—for the declining living standard of male workers, and basic issues of equality.

I have no worry that Sanders will speak out on behalf of workers. Yet doing so will be insufficient for a campaign to gain traction. Sanders would need to be a spokesperson for a different path, one that addresses not only the issues mentioned above, but also a non-imperial foreign policy and an environmental policy that brings us back from the cliff of climate change. His voice would need to be the voice of the future—the voice of the progressive bloc that seems to be assembling to prevent a dystopian future.

A primary challenge is worth it, even if he just pushes the victor to the left.

The last thing we need is another symbolic candidacy that, while touching our hearts and minds, brings us no closer to clobbering the political right and winning power for the dispossessed and the disengaged.

It can be done.
_______________

Bill Fletcher Jr. is a columnist for The Progressive. He is also a senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the author of “ ‘They’re Bankrupting Us’—And Twenty Other Myths about Unions.” Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

Read 6974 times Last modified on Sunday, 06 April 2014 01:04

ERA Legislation in your State

Unratified states Gold - Ratified States Purple

Latest News from the Warren Campaign

  • Will new senators push Democrats to the left?
    Will new senators push Democrats to the left?

    When Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren and the rest of the 2013 class of liberal senators start work this month, they'll have to do more than figure out the byzantine ways of getting things done in Washington.

    They'll also have to decide how seriously to engage a progressive movement that sees their assent a historic opportunity to shift the Democratic Party to the left.

    Written on Saturday, 05 January 2013 19:11 Read more...
  • Elizabeth Warren Wins Senate Banking Committee Seat: Sources
    Elizabeth Warren Wins Senate Banking Committee Seat: Sources

    WASHINGTON -- Nearly two years after Wall Street waged a successful campaign to keep consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren from running the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the incoming senator will be tapped to serve on the Banking Committee, according to four sources familiar with the situation. 

    Written on Tuesday, 04 December 2012 19:22 Read more...
  • Elizabeth Warren Redefines "Balanced Approach"
    Elizabeth Warren Redefines "Balanced Approach"

    Politico recently declared, "The Senate is about to become a liberal lion’s den." 

    In 2012, groups like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, MoveOn.org, CREDO Action, and Democracy for America worked hard to build progressive power in Congress. This week's iconic photo of Senators-elect Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) walking together down the corridors of power is symbolic of the rising progressive tide. 

    Written on Sunday, 18 November 2012 14:20 Read more...
  • Elizabeth Warren Wins the "Which Side Are You On?" Debate
    Elizabeth Warren Wins the "Which Side Are You On?" Debate

    An overbearing and at times ridiculously aggressive Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown came across as a desperate man Thursday night, as he attempted to gain the upper hand in the first debateof this year's most closely-watched U.S. Senate race and, by extension, in a reelection contest that seems to be slipping away from him.

    Written on Sunday, 23 September 2012 16:27 Read more...
  • Mayor Menino to endorse Elizabeth Warren in Senate race at Roslindale Square rally on Friday
    Mayor Menino to endorse Elizabeth Warren in Senate race at Roslindale Square rally on Friday

    Mayor Thomas M. Menino is expected to endorse Democrat Elizabeth Warren on Friday in her bid to unseat Republican US Senator Scott Brown, according to two people with knowledge of the plan.

    Written on Thursday, 20 September 2012 19:47 Read more...
  • Elizabeth Warren's DNC Speech: "Corporations Are Not People"
    Elizabeth Warren's DNC Speech: "Corporations Are Not People"

    Bill Clinton may have stolen the show at the DNC last night with his 45-minute, half-ad-libbed barn-burner of a speech, but there were a few other noteworthy speakers as well. After dragging for an hour or two, the night's program picked up when Massachusetts Senate candidate, CFPB creator, and economic realtalker extraordinaire Elizabeth Warren took the stage.

    Written on Thursday, 06 September 2012 18:54 Read more...
  • Elizabeth Warren: Yes She Can?
    Elizabeth Warren: Yes She Can?

    It was a grim, sleety day in Chicopee, a gritty postindustrial town in western Massachusetts, where paint flakes off worn-out bridges and boarded-up factories. At a community relations luncheon, kind security guards were opening back doors and holding out umbrellas for the few willing to brave the freezing slush.

    Written on Wednesday, 16 May 2012 04:54 Read more...
  • Jonathan Klate: A candidate's connection
    Jonathan Klate: A candidate's connection

    Retired Amherst gentleman John Kick is not known as a political activist. In the Springfield union hall where he ventured last October to hear Democratic senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren, he might have seemed a world-weary citizen with vague curiosity about the professor turned politician.

    But John's sorrowful demeanor and disconsolate eyes betrayed a woefully wounded heart. His son, Gabe, took his own life just a month earlier, at the age of 28. John keeps moving, somehow, in the dreadful private agony understood only by parents who persist in such an aftermath.

    Written on Monday, 26 March 2012 17:09 Read more...
  • The Ascendance of Elizabeth Warren
    The Ascendance of Elizabeth Warren

    If you’re reading this, you probably already know how you feel about Elizabeth Warren. Warren is currently running for Senate in Massachusetts, in the hopes of knocking out Republican incumbent Scott Brown. Very few first-time candidates are so well-known, or so passionately beloved.

    Written on Monday, 26 March 2012 00:00 Read more...
  • NOW PAC Endorses Elizabeth Warren
    NOW PAC Endorses Elizabeth Warren

    NOW/PAC is thrilled to announce its endorsement of Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren for the U. S. Senate from the state of Massachusetts. Warren is the most prominent of the three Democrats vying to run against incumbent Sen. Scott Brown (R) in the general election. Recent polls show Warren neck and neck with Brown.

    Written on Monday, 05 March 2012 19:48 Read more...
  • Elizabeth Warren Says Washington Must Act Now To Help Stem The Tide Of Foreclosure
    Elizabeth Warren Says Washington Must Act Now To Help Stem The Tide Of Foreclosure

    Backs MA Congressmen, Attorney General Coakley Calling on Federal Housing Finance Agency to Take Action To Prevent Unnecessary Foreclosures

    BOSTON – It is past time for the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) to step up and help prevent unnecessary foreclosures in Massachusetts, said Consumer Advocate Elizabeth Warren, reinforcing calls from members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation and Attorney General Martha Coakley.

    Written on Wednesday, 22 February 2012 07:54 Read more...
  • U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern this week endorsed Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren for the United States Senate.

    U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern this week endorsed Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren for the United States Senate.

    Written on Friday, 27 January 2012 20:35 Read more...
  • The Woman Who Knew Too Much
    The Woman Who Knew Too Much

    Millions of Americans hoped President Obama would nominate Elizabeth Warren to head the consumer financial watchdog agency she had created. Instead, she was pushed aside. As Warren kicks off her run for Scott Brown’s Senate seat in Massachusetts, Suzanna Andrews charts the Harvard professor’s emergence as a champion of the beleaguered middle class, and her fight against a powerful alliance of bankers, lobbyists, and politicians.

    Written on Wednesday, 16 November 2011 00:00 Read more...
  • Elizabeth Warren's Appeal
    Elizabeth Warren's Appeal

    For a few years now, politicians straining against all of the antigovernment demagogy have been searching for a way to energize public interest and remind voters of the essential government services and protections they rely on and all too often take for granted.

    Written on Sunday, 16 October 2011 00:00 Read more...
  • Berkshire Democrats Want Elizabeth to Run, Run, Run
    Berkshire Democrats Want Elizabeth to Run, Run, Run

    PITTSFIELD, Mass. —  More than a few local Democrats would be ecstatic if Elizabeth Warren decides to run against Scott Brown for the U.S. Senate. Warren is kicking around the idea of running and stopped in Pittsfield on Friday to meet with party members to gauge their support as part of a listening tour across the state.

    Written on Friday, 19 August 2011 00:00 Read more...

Sign the Petition - Sen. Sanders Run as a Democrat in 2016

Button-SandersPetition

Like Elizabeth Warren

Lori Wallach on the TPP from PDA Progressive Roundtable

Progressive Roundtable with Reps. Ellison and Pocan and Lori Wallach on TPP

TPP: The Biggest Threat to the Internet You've Probably Never Heard Of