Op-ed: What's up with Bernie Sanders?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017 - 12:02pm

Last year, I voted for Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Michigan primary. I was also one of the nearly 7 million small-dollar contributors that fueled the Bern. However, his actions in recent months have had me asking: what’s up with Bernie Sanders?

I supported Sanders because I liked that he ran without the backing of a billionaire-funded super PAC and his platform was rife with ideas and policies that I could get behind, like aggressively addressing climate change, making peace with Iran and Medicare for all.

I cast my vote for Sanders in the March primary and when he won Michigan (despite FiveThirtyEight putting the odds at around 99:1 for Clinton) I was justifiably excited. However, as it became clear that Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee I accepted it, like any supporter of a losing candidate should and moved on to fully supporting her.

Then, after the Dems were utterly smashed in November 2016, in a time where the left needed unity and a coherent plan for the elections to come in 2018 and in 2020, Sen. Sanders began acting, well, strange.

First, Sanders repeatedly antagonized new DNC Chair Tom Perez — who bested Sanders pick in Rep. Keith Ellison for the role — during their joint “Come Together and Fight Back Tour” across several red and purple states. I can understand why he has not joined the Democratic Party, the leadership was not exactly fair to him in the primaries, but he should have at least honored the intentions of the tour instead of inflaming the troublesome divide among the left that he played a significant role in creating.

He has also endorsed and stumped for a string of candidates across the country, each of which has lost despite help from America’s most popular politician.

So all this has me scratching my head. If Bernie Sanders is going to try for the Democratic nomination and the presidency again then why is he not focused on helping Democrats win?

I concede that the 2018 midterms are 13 months away. However, Sen. Sanders has yet to indicate any interest in helping Democrats save the few that he finds ideologically pure. That needs to change.

Looking at his major endorsements since Ellison, a pattern emerges: the candidates he has endorsed were either running in deep red constituencies, such as Montana at large and Kansas’ 4th Congressional District, or in areas where Clinton won handedly in the primaries, like Virginia and California.

It’s not hard to see what Sanders is trying to accomplish: He wants to prove that his brand of progressivism can win both in areas that went heavily for Trump and in traditional Democratic strongholds.

Meanwhile, there are critical, winnable elections that Sen. Sanders could actually make a significant impact in. Instead of going all in for Ben Jealous in Maryland (a reliably blue state that backed Clinton in the primaries), Sanders should turn his eye to Michigan, a state that he won in the primary but that Trump won (by a slim margin). Here he could play a pivotal role in retaining Democratic control of a Senate seat and take back a governorship from the Republican Party.

It does not stop in Michigan either. Five other states voted the ways Michigan did in 2016 and will have Democrats up for reelection in the Senate. The Republicans need to win eight seats in 2018 to gain a filibuster-proof majority. Sanders could have a significant impact in six of those races. The math does not get any simpler.

If Sanders wants to push for Medicare for all and a $15 federal minimum wage then he needs allies. While being an outsider is part of his brand, he is going to eventually have to make peace with the Democratic establishment. Helping reelect Sen. Stabenow and putting a Democratic governor in Lansing would go a long way towards achieving that needed peace.

For any potential 2020 Democratic nominee, supporting Democrats, both incumbent and challengers, makes a lot of political sense. They get to put their name out across the country, collect key allies and be seen as a leader in the party. In fact, two of Sanders’ potential primary opponents, Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, are already fundraising for vulnerable incumbents.

So what’s up with Bernie Sanders?

He has both hinted at and refused to deny his plans on seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination to take on President Trump in 2020. However, he has done little to deserve it.

Sanders’ callous disregard for helping Democrats win in the midterms, even if it is over a year away, needs to change or the very future to believe in that he campaigned on risks death, especially if Republicans gain their Senate supermajority.

I hope to see Bernie Sanders come to states like mine and help Democrats in Michigan and elsewhere win critical elections. Otherwise, he can count me out in 2020.

Ali Safawi is a rising junior in the School of Public Health.