“Bernie’s Greatest Weakness” – (The Nation)

Today I am looking at an article from The Nation, claiming to illustrate the greatest weakness of Bernie Sanders.

In their words:

Race and gender issues frequently seem like an afterthought to him, and he doesn’t embrace them with anywhere near the fervor he devotes to economic inequality.

There is not much else to say after that, so lets begin.

In politics, few experiences are more unpleasant than being roasted by your allies. Just ask Bernie Sanders, who has spent the past week getting thoroughly barbecued by the left. First, his single-payer healthcare plan came under attack by prominent liberals like Paul Krugman and Ezra Klein. Then, two new Sanders controversies erupted. On Tuesday, his offhand remarks describing Planned Parenthood and the LGBTQ rights organization the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) as “part of the establishment” created a firestorm, particularly on social-justice Twitter. Less than 24 hours later, his tone-deaf comments on reparations stoked even more outrage. Sanders’s left-wing critics have seized on both statements as evidence of his alleged weakness on civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBTQ issues.

There are a few bones that I can pick from this opening paragraph. Lets go in order.

1.) Healthcare

I can understand why Ezra Klein and Paul Krugman are badgering him about the health care proposal. Or as seems the case, the lack thereof.

Ezra Klein’s take:

Sanders promises his health care system will cover pretty much everything while costing the average American almost nothing, and he relies mainly on vague “administrative” savings and massive taxes on the rich to make up the difference. It’s everything critics fear a single-payer plan would be, and it lacks the kind of engagement with the problems of single-payer health systems necessary to win over skeptics.


To be fair, there is a proposal, and it does indeed look to be a good one. But as in everything, the details are important. They certainly are VERY important for a fellow like Sanders. If your openly calling for higher taxes on the rich among other anti-establishment acts, you better be ready to show your work (or in this case, proposals) in detail. Which appears to be the issue here.

In the absence of these kinds of specifics, Sanders has offered apuppies-and-rainbows approach to single-payer — he promises his plan will cover everything while costing the average family almost nothing. This is what Republicans fear liberals truly believe: that they can deliver expansive, unlimited benefits to the vast majority of Americans by stacking increasingly implausible, and economically harmful, taxes on the rich. Sanders is proving them right.


Paul Krugman has more or less the same viewpoint (lack of true transparency with voters). But he also brings up the very obvious issue that is, forcing private interests to relinquish their business model to socialism. Indeed, the numbers work. And many do not dispute that it would be good all around for the american people.
However, like asking social media platforms to relinquish control and socialize million and billion dollar companies due to their platforms becoming increasingly more crucial to human interaction (spaces that should not really be run from a capitalist perspective), good luck. As I said in that post ( Freedom of speech Revisited ), if Trans-Canada can sue the US over derailing Keystone XL, then that ship is sunk before its left port.

The proverbial Titanic.

Here is the Paul Krugman quote I am referring to.

Sarah Kliff has a very helpful account of Vermont’s attempt to create a state-level single-payer health care system, and why it failed. It’s a bit like the old joke about the farmer, asked for directions, who says “Well, I wouldn’t start from here.”

The point is not that single-payer is a bad idea. It is that given where the U.S. is now, achieving the kind of low costs we see in other countries would involve imposing large losses on many stakeholders, including people with generous policies, health care providers, and more — which is the point I’ve been making. The gains would almost surely be bigger than the losses, but that’s not going to make the very hard politics go away.

And just assuming, as Bernie Sanders does, that you can achieve dramatic cost savings without considering how you’re going to deal with the stakeholders — and therefore lowballing the actual cost of the plan — isn’t helpful, and amounts to not really leveling with your supporters.


And here is another article about Bernie written by Paul only today, for those interested. Though supporters be warned, you may not like it.


2.) The Planned Parenthood/Human Rights Campaign Establishment quip

When it comes to Bernie Sanders stirring up shit due to labeling both Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign as being part of the establishment, I cant say I really disagree.

I will quote Bernie himself, from a Rachel Maddow interview.

“I would love to have the endorsement of every progressive organization in America. We’re very proud to have received recently the endorsement of MoveOn.org. We’ve received the endorsement Democracy for America. These are grassroots organizations representing millions of workers.

“What we are doing in this campaign, it just blows my mind every day because I see it clearly, we’re taking on not only Wall Street and economic establishment, we’re taking on the political establishment.

“So, I have friends and supporters in the Human Rights Fund and Planned Parenthood. But, you know what? Hillary Clinton has been around there for a very, very long time. Some of these groups are, in fact, part of the establishment.”


As noted in the article, Bernie made a slight error, mistaking the Human Rights Fund for the Human Rights Campaign. It happens.

Anyway, I can understand what he is saying. People seem to be getting their panties bunched up because they think he compared the 2 organizations to the Koch brothers, or Citibank. Which is an extremely offensive comparison, being how many view the 2 as being both progressive and grass roots.

While they both indeed do a lot of work at the grass roots level, and both serve a much needed humanitarian purpose, one could say they become part of the establishment should enough of their funding originate from establishment sources.

I know little about the finance structure of HRC, but I do know that PP gets a fair bit of government financing (for good reason, I know! I have written a post defending them from GOP psychopaths before). And im sure both likely get (or have gotten in the past) financial assistance from establishment figureheads. And so they may feel proud (but hopefully not obligated) to stand behind behind such supporters as they advance their political careers.

I do not fault any organization for not being picky in taking endorsements, money or other help from people of all backgrounds that hold out a helping hand. You do what you have to to survive.
But at the same time, I can see how these organizations can also become (even if somewhat involuntarily) part of the establishment. Its just an unfortunate aspect of life as a non-profit in a financially uneven and ideologically driven world.

3.) Reparations

Bernie also ruffled many progressive feathers by (seemingly to them) coming out at the wrong side of a reparations debate. Again, I will quote Bernie himself.

No, I don’t think so. First of all, its likelihood of getting through Congress is nil. Second of all, I think it would be very divisive. The real issue is when we look at the poverty rate among the African American community, when we look at the high unemployment rate within the African American community, we have a lot of work to do.

So I think what we should be talking about is making massive investments in rebuilding our cities, in creating millions of decent paying jobs, in making public colleges and universities tuition-free, basically targeting our federal resources to the areas where it is needed the most and where it is needed the most is in impoverished communities, often African American and Latino.


Frankly, I agree.

As many Canadians as this next statement is about to piss off, look how much good simply throwing money at our indigenous people has done in the long run.
Money does not help cure deep rooted social imbalances that often manifest themselves in the form of addiction, violence or suicide. Money does not provide meaningful work and existence to those who wish to seek it.

Money simply, corrupts. Sometimes at the expense of the few, while the many live in squalor. Sometimes it fuels a self destructive path whilst almost guaranteeing no hope in finding an alternative way. Or sometimes, it just becomes a privilege. Even though one is from a background that has done alright for themselves, their blood ensures they have a leg up over all others.

Its the reason why I refuse to utilize my own aboriginal (Metis) privilege when it comes to employment, education and other things. Indeed it would help. But if many people around me either have to pay (or get their family to pay) just because of their skin tone, its unfair if I can be skipped ahead just on blood. I did not earn it academically or due to my intellect. So I can find my own way, like the rest of us. Even if it means that I may be run over by less principled people than me.

Its funny that the least receptive audience to this stance of mine, tend to be those that do not have access to these privileges of the blood. Though they bitch about how they at times get railroaded by this, they still chastise or can not fathom someone NOT using the opportunities.
Then again, we live in a selfish and individualistic society. So projection should not be as much of a surprise as I would like to think it is.

But that is enough of my anecdotal material for now. Lets take a quick look at the rest of the reparations article.

Unfortunately, Sanders’s radicalism has failed in the ancient fight against white supremacy. What he proposes in lieu of reparations—job creation, investment in cities, and free higher education—is well within the Overton window, and hisplatform on race echoes Democratic orthodoxy. The calls for community policing, body cameras, and a voting-rights bill with pre-clearance restored— all are things that Hillary Clinton agrees with. And those positions with which she might not agree address black people not so much as a class specifically injured by white supremacy, but rather, as a group which magically suffers from disproportionate poverty.

This is the “class first” approach, originating in the myth that racism and socialism are necessarily incompatible. But raising the minimum wage doesn’t really address the fact that black men without criminal records have about the same shot at low-wage work as white men with them; nor can making college free address the wage gap between black and white graduates. Housing discrimination, historical and present, may well be thefulcrum of white supremacy. Affirmative action is one of the most disputed issues of the day. Neither are addressed in the “racial justice” section of Sanders platform.

When it comes to many of the issues listed, I can not see how Bernie (much less, ANY candidate) would be of much help in tackling. You can legally ban discrimination against anyone in terms of housing, wage, employment and other problem areas. But even that does not solve the issue of embedded bias in individuals. It just pushes the bias into the shadows. Thereby effectively rendering the laws useless (unless your future landlord or employer is Donald Trump).

I don’t fault Bernie for not having touched on this. But I also don’t fault Hillary, or anyone else. Because there is only so much you can do.

Sanders’s anti-racist moderation points to a candidate who is not merely against reparations, but one who doesn’t actually understand the argument. To briefly restate it, from 1619 until at least the late 1960s, American institutions, businesses, associations, and governments—federal, state, and local—repeatedly plundered black communities. Their methods included everything from land-theft, to red-lining, to disenfranchisement, to convict-lease labor, to lynching, to enslavement, to the vending of children. So large was this plunder that America, as we know it today, is simply unimaginable without it. Its great universities were founded on it. Its early economy was built by it. Its suburbs were financed by it. Its deadliest war was the result of it.

One can’t evade these facts by changing the subject. Some months ago, black radicals in the Black Lives Matters movement protested Sanders. They were, in the main, jeered by the white left for their efforts. But judged by his platform, Sanders should be directly confronted and asked why his political imagination is so active against plutocracy, but so limited against white supremacy. Jim Crow and its legacy were not merely problems of disproportionate poverty. Why should black voters support a candidate who does not recognize this?

Oh, I think Bernie understands the argument perfectly well. Having been actively working for the rights of the downtrodden for the whole of his career (though only now breaking out of the shadows), I think he knows EXACTLY what he is talking about.

However, unlike the obviously biased author of this article, Bernie seems to have a vision that is beyond racial tunnel vision. Rather than sit in the past, he is proposing a bright future for EVERYONE in poverty, not just the African American community.

This article is a great example of where identity politics often goes awry.

However,I will now go back to the original piece I started out with.

First off, some good information regarding the Planned Parenthood/Human Rights Campaign issue (much more in-depth than my exploration, as I expect from a real journalist).

Both Planned Parenthood and the HRC are highly sophisticated political players with massive fundraising operations and budgets in the tens (HRC) or hundreds (Planned Parenthood) of million dollars. The HRC has come under fire for actions such as endorsing former Senator Al D’Amato, a conservative Republican who frequently opposed gay rights, and honoring the likes of Goldman Sachs. Of course these groups are part of the establishment, and as such, they would never endorse underdog candidates like Bernie.

HRC, Planned Parenthood, and other big, well-funded political groups tend to envision politics as transactional, and they nearly always endorse either the incumbent or front-runner of the party that is most friendly to them. Sometimes they even support candidates from parties who are hostile to them. Much to the exasperation of their allies, SEIU 1199 used to regularly endorse Republican Joe Bruno, the former New York State Senate majority leader. Sanders himself has received few union endorsements, even though he arguably has the strongest pro-labor record of any politician in America.

Organizations make these kinds of endorsements because they believe it’s the best way to maximize their leverage to get the things they want. Indeed, that strategy is often effective, at least in the short term. But as Sanders implicitly suggests, a relentless tactical focus on proximate gains can come at the expense of a long-term strategy for political transformation.

But I will now move on to more criticisms of Bernie’s reparations stance.

Although some of their attacks on Sanders have been unfair, his critics, regrettably, have a point. For all his political virtues, Sanders has had difficulty connecting his message of economic populism to the other major social justice concerns of the modern left, such race, gender, and sexuality. And unless he overcomes these problems, he will be unable to achieve his goal of expanding beyond his base and sparking a popular mass movement.

The social justice bit made me cringe.

I am not a Bernie expert. But it seems to me that many of their criticisms are more out of short sighted ideological vision than anything else.

The many faces of what we call the SJW movement I have no doubt, started off with the best of intentions. But when you become to self focused as group, you can quickly go from seeking equality to forward momentum, at times insidiously. Though far more visible in some SJW factions than others, this issue can exist in any similar setting.

I truly believe that Bernie envisions a path that is inclusive of all. And as such, I do not think he feels a need to make a detailed and unique pitch to every single group that falls into such a strategy. Nor do I think he should have to pander to everyone individually.

When you become to focused on your own to either move on from the past or accept some compromise to your envisioned utopia solutions, your no better than the force you started out fighting to begin with.

His treatment of the reparations issue, on the other hand, is a political cock-up of the first order. Bernie’s first mistake was his failure to engage the reparations issue in any depth. He dismissed reparations as “divisive” and impractical (“its likelihood of getting through Congress is nil”).

Though opposing reparations is a defensible position, discussing the issue in such thoughtless and insensitive way is distasteful. And for Sanders, the man famous for proposing such implausible (for now) schemes as free college and single-payer, to play the pragmatism card is even worse. His handling of the issue has alienated the very voters (African Americans) that he needs to win over (one recent poll shows Clinton leading Sanders among Latino and African-American voters by some 50 points). The campaign’s failure to return Ta-Nehisi Coates’s calls asking for further comment added insult to injury (and also says not very comforting things about Team Bernie’s competence).

While it is unfortunate that his opinion on reparations is apparently a deal breaker for many African American voters, I think that all of them are being ridiculous. For the very same reasons as outlined just previously, in response to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s article.

And as for calling the Bernie campaign incompetent for not responding to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s request of further comment . . . REALLY?!

All I can see being used as justification for attempting to extort this interview, is his seeming ignorance of reparations. Because clearly, someone would not just breeze over a topic like that in such an offensive and unthoughtful way, unless they don’t get it.
I did use the word extort, because in this case, it seems fitting. A no name progressive journalist from some progressive publication makes an accusation of racial ignorance against a VETERAN of civil rights defense (a man that likely predates us both). And he must respond to these insidious accusations, or risk facing the progressive backlash.

To hell with Ta-Nehisi Coates’s request for clarification.

You are a moron. Everyone that sides with you are morons. And it be a god damned shame if Bernie is not given a fair shake just because a handful of social justice warriors get their knickers in a bundle just because Bernie will not agree with your EVERY word.

I have seen how the progressive media machine can tear to shreds those it despises, at times using the the same tactics that their mainstream counterparts engage in.


What’s especially frustrating about this episode is that is such a missed opportunity for Bernie to connect his democratic-socialist vision to issues of racial injustice. 

Knew it!

A number of black scholars have defined reparations in ways that that would be completely consistent with Bernie’s socialist politics. Harvard law professorCharles Ogletree, for example, supports a form of reparations that centers on universal health, education, and jobs programs. And sociologist Sandy Darity and economist Darrick Hamilton are proponents of race-neutral “baby bonds” as a tool to narrow the racial wealth gap.

It’s depressing that Sanders has given reparations so little serious consideration; does he even have close African-American advisers he consults on these issues?

I some of those scholars have good ideas, but I think that they would be better applied across the board (under a given family financial threshold?).

Race neutral baby bonds? I am not sure what is entailed by that. So no opinion.

As for asking if he has African American advisers to consult on all his issues (including reparations), REALLY?!
Again with the gender politics.

The one saving grace is that Sanders has shown an ability to learn and grow from his mistakes. Early in the campaign he stumbled over Black Lives Matter issues, but he now discusses BLM concerns in an engaged, heartfelt way. In short, he gets it. Those of us who support him can only hope that he makes a similar recovery from his self-inflicted damage on the reparations front.

Gracious are we!

He done fucked up, but he can redeem himself. He once tried to neutralize his way out of our extremely ideologically centered and biased grasp before, but he came around! Let us hope he does so again!

You want to win, right Bernie?

Both the Planned Parenthood/HRC and the reparations controversies highlight what is perhaps Bernie’s greatest weaknesses: Race and gender issues frequently seem like an afterthought to him, and he doesn’t embrace them with anywhere near the fervor he devotes to economic inequality. Yet his record on racial justice and LGBT issues is excellent, and objectively better than Hillary’s (he was supporting civil unions and same sex marriage long before she was, and he’s also to her left on civil-rights issues like welfare and criminal-justice reform). And on women’s issues, he’s at least as good as she is. (To take one example: Hillary has recently been touting her opposition to the Hyde Amendment, which is fantastic, but Bernie has been voting against it for decades).

That should count for a lot. 

Indeed it should.

I would argue that he is currently the best working politician in the United States. Considering the mess that is the American political scene, American citizens should be proud to have such a man vying to represent them to the world.

However, politics is not only about walking the walk, it’s also about talking the talk. Unfortunately, when it comes to race and gender issues, Bernie sometimes sounds like who he is: an occasionally clueless 74-year old white guy (witness his language about paid leave as a program that would allow “mothers”—as opposed to parents—to stay home with their kids).


Appease the moronic masses, or return back to the very back room from whence you came. Heaven forbid you have a slip of the tongue.

UNACCEPTABLE in this day and age!

But along with his faults, Bernie Sanders is also a leader with rare strengths. He has passion, vision, and courage. His message has a thrilling, wake-the-hell-up forcefulness and clarity that has moved countless people and expanded the boundaries of the national political imagination. Because Bernie cares so deeply, he’s forced us to care as well.

We have common ground here.

Bernie has indeed, invigorated many people this time around (me included). Its unfortunate that he is still unknown to the vast majority of passively involved people however.

Being Canadian, I regularly get a glimpse of what people know about the election and its candidates.
Rare are those that can name all of the candidates (which is fine, since politics isn’t for everyone).
Donald Trump is ubiquitous across the board. Hillary is not far behind (she even came to Canada last year, if memory serves. The prairies no less!). Next would likely be Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz (sorry 😦 ) and possibly Ben Carson.

But almost no one knows about Bernie. Though we can thank much of the mainstream media for that, with luck that will change.

Sanders’s Achilles heel is that because he focuses so singlemindedly on economic inequality, he is not always able to speak to the needs and desires of the modern left, a left that is passionate not only about economic injustice but also about injustices tied to race, gender, and sexual identity and orientation. Today the left urgently needs leaders who are fully comfortable with and fluent in the politics of intersectionality, and who clearly understand that, while race and gender inequality are deeply rooted in economics, they also have separate dimensions that cannot be addressed by economic remedies alone. My hope is that the Sanders campaign will be a training ground for some of those future leaders, and that they can learn from Bernie’s strengths as well as his weaknesses.

Well that is a scary paragraph if I ever saw one. Almost as if the Sanders campaign is done.

Its a bit sad that the columnist seems to have already written off Sanders as a good candidate, over not talking the talk. Not paying lip service by acknowledging openly to apparently EVERY DEMOGRAPHIC HE IS TARGETING, how he plans to help their ENTIRE situation. Not just the biggest thread that runs down the middle of all of them (the proverbial, GOOD PLACE TO START!). But every detail.

Clearly many have not listened to Robert Riche and his cautionary advice of NOT spitting the left on racial lines.


Which is unfortunate.

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