Sure, you’ve heard all the depressing parts of the Bernie Sanders story, like the three decades of failed grassroots campaign dreams that left him with just 22,069 votes in the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries (including 3 percent from Arizona). Or the fact that his long-time partner in labor union-accomplished gridlock, the Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, has supported virtually every conservative presidential nominee since Gerald Ford. Or the fact that his state’s current Democratic governor is pro-life and considering legal change to outlaw abortion. Or the fact that he voted against several pieces of legislation protecting trans people from discrimination. He has made some decent, long-term alliances, but they are uncomfortable ones.
Still, this week the public saw more of the old Bernie Sanders, the one who, as this year’s Massachusetts Democratic Party chairwoman Katharine Abraham wrote, turned down Vermont’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate hoping to “make sure she had the support of unions, women, and diverse groups of voters who have been ignored for far too long.” Back in 2010, Sanders ran an anti-coal ad with his then-senior advisor Carl Sagan in a state with two energy producers — the mighty Burlington Electric Corp. and the much smaller Pilgrim Nuclear Generating Station. Sanders wanted to drive home his anti-renewable energy message. Sagan, a man so fearful of exposure as to quote Dr. Seuss, instantly saw this as an odd choice. And yet one of them was paying for the ad, not the other.
So what happened?
Well, for starters, Sanders has always been a racist, thinks black people can’t do as good a job as white people (a campaign subtext that at least explains his failure to get a single African-American elected), and is therefore more likely to oppose efforts by black or black-dominated unions to improve their leadership. Bernie Sanders’s rotten personal politics compounded his bad policy stances. We watched, over the years, the trajectory from a genuine liberal Democrat who, as Sanders himself admits, would have opposed the Iraq War, for example, to a reflexive leftist who would make peace only with hard leftists who want a dictatorship. During the 2008 presidential primaries, which he won by single-digit margins in national polls, he revealed his adamant anti-Israelism. “We have had this [Israel-Palestine] conflict on a shelf and we should take it out on the shelf and smash it against the walls and walls must come down and they must come down peacefully,” he told an audience in 2008, as nowquoting Dr. Seuss.
Then, in 2015, Bernie Sanders began making the now traditional arguments in support of open borders. Since he uses Donald Trump as his foil, there were many on the left who praised him. Nonetheless, instead of merely criticizing Trump’s xenophobic, anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies, Sanders reacted with the lecturing and clucking and resistance. A new advertising campaign aired around Boston explaining that “Sanders agrees with [Trump] when he says there are many innocent people like the father of the four murdered Boston Marathon bomb survivors who no one has accused of anything.” Of course, in 2016 Sanders attacked Hillary Clinton for belittling young male babies to provoke Trump; and he apologized — half-heartedly and half-heartedly. It’s easy to pounce on someone who isn’t up on history and goes against those who’ve had the best interests of progressive causes at heart for over four decades. After Sanders’ announcement, protesters at Occupy Hollywood shouted: “There will be hell to pay.” But if that’s what the left endures, then that’s what the left can expect.