Why Bernie shouldn’t quit yet

by C. J. Atkins

People’s World | March 11, 2020

Why Bernie shouldn’t quit yet

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. turns from the podium after speaking at a campaign stop at Daniel Webster Community College, Feb. 8, 2016, in Nashua, N.H. Sanders is under pressure by some to wrap up his campaign for the Democratic nomination, but front-runner Vice President Joe Biden has not yet embraced many of the key issues that have propelled the Sanders campaign. | John Minchillo / AP

Super Tuesday II was another round of victories for Joe Biden. Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, and Idaho were added to his column on March 10; as of this writing, only North Dakota went for Bernie Sanders, and Washington state is still counting. After two tough weeks at the polls and with endorsements from elected officials rolling in for Biden, there are increasing calls for the socialist from Vermont to close up shop and head back to Burlington. But there are many big reasons that Bernie shouldn’t call it quits, at least not yet.

We can start with the numbers game. When it comes to the delegate count, there are only 164 separating the two candidates right now, with over 2,000 more still to be awarded. There’s no need to peddle false hope, though. With so many shockers in this race so far, nothing is certain, but it’s more than an uphill battle for Sanders at this point. If current trends and turnout patterns hold, he won’t go to the Democratic convention with the most delegates and thus won’t secure the nomination.

But it’s not just about the battle for the nomination—it’s also about the battle of ideas. And in the fight for determining what ideas make it into the Democratic platform in Milwaukee this summer, delegate numbers matter. The longer Sanders stays in the race and the more he works to expand his voter base (which admittedly shows some major limitations, particularly in its narrow hold among African-American voters), the more delegates he’ll have on the platform committee, the rules committee, and all the internal bodies that determine Democratic Party policy.

In 2016, thanks in large part to the Sanders delegates at the convention, the party went into the election with its most progressive platform ever. A $15 minimum wage, debt-free college, expanded Medicare, community health center funding, the revival of Glass-Stegall regulations on the big banks, opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, reduced spending on nuclear weapons, and the abolition of the death penalty—all of those in the Democratic Party’s campaign platform because of amendments and compromises that came from the Sanders camp. (And as a reminder, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in the popular vote by running on that platform.)

The 2020 party convention could be the same. Want to see Medicare for All in the platform? The Green New Deal? A living minimum wage? Cancellation of student debt? None of these are (yet) the positions of Joe Biden. Boosting the Sanders delegate count will keep them on the agenda.

Building the movements for all these changes goes beyond just the factional fight inside the Democratic Party, though. The major social and economic ills of neoliberal capitalism that the Sanders campaign has diagnosed aren’t going away, and he’s still the only candidate in the race right now who’s offering real prescriptions to combat them.

If he exits too early, who on the debate stage will give voice to the dire need to expand health care to every person in this country, regardless of their status, income, or luck at finding a job with good insurance? Who’s going to talk about the need for massive infrastructure investment with union jobs and a living wage? Who’s going to lead the charge for a Green New Deal to fight the existential threat of climate change and create the new green, union jobs of the next economy? Who will advocate for a rational and humane immigration system rather than one based on deportations and walls? Who will be a strong voice against mass incarceration, voter suppression, and racist scapegoating?

Those are the kind of things the whole nation has been talking about these past few months and which have cross-racial, cross-ethnic, cross-generational support. But a new danger has now emerged that makes the Sanders agenda even more necessary.

The United States—and the world—is now facing the near certainty of a coronavirus-sparked economic recession that is likely to vaporize hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of jobs. We need someone running for president who tells the truth about the kind of policy response that’s needed. The payroll tax cuts proposed by President Trump sound fine…as long as you still have a job. But with no payroll, there’s no payroll tax.

In reality, his administration has botched the response to COVID-19. A major national health crisis is expanding rapidly with each passing day, but states are still without test kits and states are having to turn to the National Guard to enforce quarantines and carry out sanitation campaigns. The nation’s nursing homes and senior facilities are being locked up tighter than jails. Millions of people have no paid sick days, or very few, should they be forced to stay home from work. Those with insurance are still anxious about whether their policies will cover the costs of getting tested or any medications that might be needed in the event of coronavirus infection. And of course, over 27 million still have no health insurance at all.

Is this not a clear-cut example of precisely why we need a program like Sanders’s Medicare for All, which would make health care a basic human right for everyone?

Millions of people still desperately need the solutions that only Bernie Sanders is prescribing. Here, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., speaks at a campaign rally for Sanders at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sunday, March 8. | Paul Sancya / AP

In New York City, they can’t close the schools because over 100,000 homeless students would lose access to the only place they get three hot meals a day, medical attention, and other social services. Yet we have a sitting president who, when it comes to coronavirus, only seems worried that stock prices are falling on Wall Street and a likely Democratic nominee who says he might veto a Medicare for All bill as president even if one was passed by Congress.

It will take a movement to beat Trump in November and build the people-powered pressure needed to win the reforms required to face the economic recession and health care danger facing the country. Biden’s diverse vote count indicates there might be enough anti-Trump sentiment out there, but setting the restoration of “decency, dignity, and honor to the White House” as “our ultimate goal,” as he said in his speech on March 10, is not enough incentive to mobilize the mass turnout needed in November.

That might get an upper-middle-class person who’s economically secure but just embarrassed by Trump to go vote, but working people—especially young working people—who are struggling with debt, low wages, bad jobs, and trying to raise a family need more than just a “decent” president. They need a program of radical reform and change—a program that Bernie Sanders is still the only candidate offering.

Saying Sanders shouldn’t quit yet doesn’t make you an ultra-left sectarian or an enemy of unity. As long as he’s the only candidate talking about what’s required to really build a united movement for social and economic change, then we all need him in the race.

C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People’s World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People’s World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.

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