As a Bernie Sanders delegate to the Democratic National Convention beginning Aug. 17, I feel two main responsibilities. One is to help defeat Donald Trump. The other is to keep fighting hard for a progressive agenda. With the presidential election looming, those goals might seem to conflict. But they don’t.
Conventional political wisdom says that now is a time to set aside differences and simply rally behind the presumptive nominee. “Unity” is the drumbeat from the Democratic Party leadership. But genuine unity — the kind that pays off against Republicans at election time—can’t be forced. It must be actively created.
Four summers ago, the warning signs were abundant for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Overconfidence—and thinly veiled hostility toward the left—glossed over and shrugged off the disaffection among Sanders supporters, especially young voters. Instead of selecting a vice-presidential candidate who might attract progressives, Clinton chose a pillar of the Democratic establishment, Sen. Tim Kaine.
The imperative of defeating Trump calls for Biden to adopt progressive positions that appeal to disaffected voters and have majority support nationwide.
Today, many “Berners” are frustrated and angry. It’s not only that hopes for a Sanders nomination and presidency were abruptly dashed. More corrosive and significant is a common feeling that, despite his recent nods leftward, Biden remains largely oblivious to social imperatives—most notably, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Medicare for All.
Virtually every exit poll of Democratic primary voters this year reflected strong majority support for Medicare for All, often by lopsided margins, even in conservative states. National polling has continued to show that two-thirds of all registered voters want Medicare for All.
While Biden is now calling for a “public option” that would be an improvement on the 10-year-old Affordable Care Act, he hasn’t budged from his opposition to making Medicare universal — at a time when tying medical coverage to jobs has been exposed as a grim travesty. A new study says that 5.4 million American workers lost their health insurance due to losing their jobs between February and May.
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While touting his “Build Back Better” program, Biden declared in a July 9 speech: “Let’s finish the job of Obamacare by ensuring everyone has access to quality, affordable health care.” By clinging to timeworn and evasive buzzwords like “access” and “affordable,” Biden affirmed his alignment with the multi-trillion-dollar health care industry more than with Americans who want health care to be treated as a human right in reality instead of in mere rhetoric.
Just as Biden’s chances of winning the presidency would improve if he embraced Medicare for All, his prospects would also be enhanced by adopting popular positions that are especially important to racial minorities. For instance, he could do the right thing by finally supporting the legalization of marijuana, which would be a major step toward ending racist law-enforcement practices.
Young African-Americans share with other young people a distinct lack of enthusiasm—and a likelihood of low turnout—for Biden. A similar problem exists with Latino voters, who heavily backed Sanders in the 2020 primaries and caucuses.
While the former vice president can take comfort in recent polling among Sanders supporters that looks better than previous survey data, even current poll numbers in swing states indicate that 12 percent of Sanders supporters do not plan to vote for Biden in the general election. In those states, such voters could make all the difference.
The imperative of defeating Trump calls for Biden to adopt progressive positions that appeal to disaffected voters and have majority support nationwide. That means Sanders supporters should keep the pressure on.