If you spend any time at all on social media, you’ve had confrontations with Dems who trash talk Bernie. Apparently, you can’t be a true-blue, card-carrying Democrat anymore unless you’re willing to become a member of the Bernie Bashing Club, smacking down his supporters in exchange for verbal high fives from complete strangers with #I’mWithHer featured prominently in their Twitter profiles.
We all know the obvious reasons why some Dems have turned against Bernie: They blame him for dividing the party, he won’t give them his email list, he’s critical of Dems who aren’t liberal enough, he defends pro-life Dems (but isn’t Tim Kaine pro-life?), and he ignores women’s and minority issues (you know, like universal health care, raising the minimum wage, and free college tuition).
But there’s more to it than that. Let’s look at some of the less-commonly discussed reasons— illogical, irrational, and maybe even subconscious.
1. Bernie’s a Jew. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: There’s no way enlightened, educated people would ever discriminate against someone just because he’s a Jew, right? But that kind of thinking underestimates just how deeply—maybe even subconsciously—prejudice against Jews runs.
Consider the fact the fact that in 2014, during the crucial period leading up to the 2016 election, 64% of Dems identified as Christians (https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/11/how-americas-demographic-revolution-reached-the-church/433455/). Theoretically, let’s assume these are open-minded Christians, respectful of people’s differences, but for all intents and purposes, Jews are still the Other.
Let me put it another way: Would Obama have won the presidency if he actually had been a Muslim? Nope. (I hope Ellison steps up to prove me wrong.) Is WASP/Catholic America ready for a Jew, even a non-practicing one? Probably not—unless, of course, the other candidate happens to be a Muslim or self-described atheist. Then a Jew might actually have a shot.
Consider, too, that the main stereotypes regarding Jews involve greed and money hoarding. Funny how Republicans don’t seem to have a problem with Trump (a self-described Christian) amassing an obscene fortune; and most Dems don’t have a problem with Hillary (also a self-described Christian) doing the same; yet Bernie has been widely criticized by Dems and Republicans, many of whom should identify with his otherwise modest lifestyle, simply for buying a lake house: (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/reliable-source/wp/2016/08/10/bernie-sanders-buys-a-half-million-dollar-vacation-home-and-the-internet-cries-hypocrisy/?utm_term=.3bfe9d988914).
Just because Bernie’s revolutionary campaign was built on small donations rather than corporate ones doesn’t mean he was obligated to divest himself of his own savings, but based on the outrage expressed on social media, you’d think Bernie had been caught sitting on a big pile of money on the shores of Lake Champlain, cackling while counting it, plotting new and diabolical ways to poison Democratic Party wells.
2. Bernie isn’t handsome, charismatic, or funny. It would be nice to think this stuff doesn’t matter, but we all know it does. Bernie doesn’t have the charm of a Bill Clinton; the good ol’ boy façade of a George W.; the movie star looks of a Reagan; the cool, quick wit of an Obama; or the dignified demeanor of a Hillary.
Bernie is that curmudgeonly old man who lives on your block, messy hair and glasses askew, dressed in a suit he didn’t put much thought into, ranting about what’s gone wrong with the world and how we can fix it. He seems genuinely concerned, but he’s not going to sugarcoat the problems, and he’s not going to use academic language (which is what Dems have come to expect and maybe even want from their candidates) to lecture you about them.
In fact, Bernie is that cranky neighbor who will keep harping on the very same things every time you see him: like “the rigged economy,” “universal health care,” “raising the minimum wage,” “free college tuition,” and “a political revolution of millions of people.” This kind of monotonous hammering away at message didn’t endear him to voters who had been groomed to expect the soaring, inspirational prose of an Obama or the polished, rehearsed delivery of a Hillary.
3. Bernie has spent his career representing a rural demographic, which has made him largely invisible to the Democratic establishment. Vermont is made up of mainly country folk with a smattering of old hippies, college kids, and well-to-do urbanites slumming it in beautifully-restored farmhouses. And despite the fact that Bernie is a Brooklyn Jew, the popular perception is that he has aligned himself with country folk, an alliance which is particularly problematic for Dems because of his support for gun rights (http://feelthebern.org/bernie-sanders-on-gun-policy/)
Vermont isn’t exactly a state that’s well understood by mainstream Dems. It doesn’t even have a real metropolis (sorry, Burlington!), and none of its cities have the political cachet of a D.C., N.Y.C., Chicago, Boston, Portland, Seattle, or Berkeley. Don’t get me wrong, I love Vermont; but ask anyone what they know about it and the best they’ll come up with is Ben & Jerry’s and maple syrup.
This might explain why I see Dems tweeting ludicrous things about Bernie like, “He came out of nowhere,” “Who does he think he is?”, and “What has he even accomplished?” But it’s hardly accurate to call someone who has spent most of his life in public service as a mayor, congressperson, and senator inexperienced.
Let’s be honest: Dems have been ignoring rural American for a long time, which also made it easy for them to write off Bernie, the independent from Vermont. And to many Dems, who tend to be educated, white collar, and urban, country folk are just one more manifestation of the Other. (If this weren’t the case, we wouldn’t have so many horror films about killer rednecks victimizing college kids and city dwellers on vacation.)
4. Dems are haunted by the ghost of Nader past. Want to see some terrified Dems? Ask them about Nader and they’ll croak “Nevermore!” as if they’re forever trapped inside Poe’s worst piece of writing.
There are plenty of Dems who think Nader was a spoiler who ruined Gore’s chances in 2000. This has created a sort of knee-jerk reaction to all third-party candidates because they all summon the specter of Nader, whose campaign might have helped make possible the travesty that was George W.
This fear and anger prevented some Dems from even contemplating the idea of Bernie, fear and anger that was fueled by Bernie’s decision to co-opt the Democratic Party for his own democratic socialist platform instead of running as a third-party candidate.
But Sanders and Nader do have one key thing in common: They’ve both been openly critical of Clintonian pay-to-play politics, and anyone who is critical of the Clintons is of course automatically cast in the role of bogey by mainstream Dems.
5. Dems see Bernie as a kind of Pied Piper for millennials, a dangerous figure who will lead their kids and grandkids down the dark path of democratic socialism, spiriting them away from the Democratic Party to the tune of free college tuition.
I’m not sure when democratic socialism became anathema among liberals, who should know better, but I’ve observed that there’s a contingent of Dems, some of them Baby Boomers living on Social Security, who have a skewed vision of millennials as lazy sods who don’t deserve “handouts.” (In this, their views aren’t much different from Republicans of the same age.)
Some of these same older Dems are also terrified of technology. So when they hear random information about “Bernie bots” from someplace like CNN, this heightens their mistrust of Bernie even more – as if Bernie himself is an evil genius who dispatched these bots to do his bidding. They probably don’t even know what a “bot” is, but as soon as they hear the term, it becomes somehow vaguely and menacingly associated with Bernie, just one more facet of a rapidly-changing world they don’t quite understand, like identity theft, Instagram, and riced cauliflower.
Despite all these criticisms of Bernie bashers, I can’t deny Clinton would have been a capable president. In fact, I voted for her. But she would have been a status quo president, and at the end of the Obama era, status quo isn’t what we needed anymore. Even now, just because Trump has taken us back to the 1950s (minus our old hostility towards Russia), that doesn’t mean we have to settle for candidates who will only help us get back to 2008.
Like many of you in The Resistance, I’ve been anxiously rooting for Padawan Ossoff and relentlessly promoting him on social media. But just being young and a Democrat isn’t enough anymore. If we don’t come together to embrace progressive thinking and policies, which include everyone, not just moderate Dems, LGBT people, minorities, and immigrants, but also hicks, atheists, factory workers, pro-lifers, and man bun-wearing millennials, we’re looking at decades of Republican damage to our democracy.
Bernie was the only candidate who could have brought these disparate worlds together, but unfortunately the DNC, voters, and perhaps most importantly non-voters made some bad choices we’re all forced to live with. Now it’s our job to come together to make sure that the rational triumphs over the irrational, compassion triumphs over profit, and progress triumphs over stagnation.