I am not a fan of Senator Bernie Sanders. The feeling of “ugh” that washes over me whenever I see him on my television screen is not new, but today it is much more pronounced. As I look at the current attempts to restructure the Democratic party, I wonder why Democrats are involving Sanders in this process.
I didn’t always feel this way about Sanders. Initially, I was excited. I am a registered Democrat, but I liked the idea of an independent candidate who was projected to be further left than my party’s leaders. When he announced he was running on the Democratic ticket, it made sense.
As someone who follows politics, I immediately began thinking about what his strategy must be. He knows he won’t win the primary, but he can cause enough of a fuss to force former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton more to the left.
But, as I watched him on the campaign trail, a feeling of disappointment began settling in the pit of my stomach due to his visible agitation with protesters, his dismissive comments about issues that did not directly involve economics, and his disconcerting gaffes.
I was prepared to tick the box for Sanders in the primary, but decided to look more into him. A story that circulated on The Daily Beast, Slate, and other online news outlets calls Sanders’ record on race issues into question. In 2006, the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity hosted a Candidate Night during Vermont’s U.S. Senate election.
Curtiss Reed Jr., the executive director of the organization, said Sanders “was just really dismissive of anything that had to do with race and racism, saying that they didn’t have anything to do with the issues of income inequality.”
When the election ended and many on the left looked for someone to blame, Sanders was front and center. He, at this point, had returned to congress as an Independent and was on cable news talking about the shortcomings of the Democrats.
While on CBS This Morning following the election, Sanders said, “It is not good enough to have a liberal elite. I come from the white working class, and I am deeply humiliated that the Democratic Party cannot talk to where I came from.”
The liberal elite that Sanders speaks of is not a group of corporatists, whom he charges with ruining the economy, it is the “big tent.” He slams what he describes as identity politics and focuses on class issues.
The problem with this is that class is not independent of “identity.” Race, ethnicity and gender also come with their own issues that, oftentimes, intersect with class.
Identity has a major impact on the everyday lives of Americans. Sanders may not be concerned that a candidate is anti-choice or views birth control as a luxury, but plenty of women, who are also members of the white working class, find this to be potentially financially devastating.
LGBTQIA Americans have to contend with the potential stripping away of property rights after the death of a partner, medical procedures being viewed as a luxury, and discriminatory hiring practices.
Undocumented immigrants seeking citizenship are worried about having their entire lives uprooted, Muslim Americans worry about violence at the hands of their neighbors, and Black Americans are worried about violence at the hands of the state.
All these things carry a financial cost and are inextricably bound to economic issues. To only focus on class would be actively pushing marginalized groups to the side for white working class males. Although the issues impacting white working class males need to be addressed, the Democratic party cannot grow by focusing on only one group.
Reaching out to all the communities that make America is the way to propel the party forward. Bernie Sanders’ narrow views alienates large swaths of the Democratic coalition. In a country that is growing in diversity, this is the past. The senator is not the future of the Democratic party, and he should be treated as such.