Point-Counterpoint: To Bernie, or Not to Bernie?

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Yesterday, a Splinter writer made the extremely unpopular argument that Bernie Sanders should not run for president in 2020. Today, Splinter’s own Libby Watson argues with him about whether or not he is very wrong.


Libby Watson: So, my primary reason for thinking your post was wrong is because I agreed so much with your previous post about how you should vote for the candidate you agree with. Bernie is the candidate I agree with most and I want him to be president, therefore. But I also don’t think there’s another candidate who comes close to him, policy-wise. We can debate what “comes close” means endlessly, and this is essentially the essence of intra-Dem party fights for the last three years—who is Good, and does that matter if they can beat Trump, and are you making things worse by supporting a candidate who is Good over one who political elites think can win? Frankly, I don’t think there’s another serious 2020 contender right now who would really push for the things we need. There isn’t another socialist. Bring me another socialist and we’ll talk.

Hamilton Nolan: Well you ju-jitsued by paying me a compliment first before disagreeing, very crafty. I have not changed my belief that people should vote for who they agree with. And I too overwhelmingly agree with Bernie’s positions. However in the case of Bernie as a possible candidate I see three mitigating issues that we should take seriously: A) He will be more than 80 years old in his first term. That is a big downside, in my opinion. Not disqualifying but not ideal. B) Unlike 2016 when there were 2 candidates, this time we can expect a large number of primary candidates. I believe the fundamental battle will be between a lefty candidate and a centrist candidate for the Democrats. In that framework, it would be good to try not to split the non-centrist vote. And C) Since we are so far from the election still, there is time for Bernie to seek out and handpick a candidate—who SHARES HIS VALUES and largely agrees with him on policy and gives him an important role in the administration—and throw his support behind that candidate and have them win. This strikes me as the best way to ensure that the actual policies and values that the lefties support carries successfully through the primaries.

Libby Watson: I agree with you on his age, it really is not ideal and I’m not 100 percent sure I would be ok with a president that old. He does seem to be in better shape cognitively than Trump by a long way, but it’s hard to ignore when we’ve got such an obviously decrepit president. However! I care more about the policies than I do about that, I guess, is the answer. Just do not care enough about the president being too old to give up on such a thoroughly great and authentic candidate. On B, you’re right again that this is very different, but I guess the lesson I drew from 2016 was the power of having a socialist making socialist arguments on stage. I don’t know who would make those arguments, and who would push the platform left, without him. Bernie’s 2016 run inarguably pushed the entire party left. Now, you have all these candidates who say they support Medicare for All, for example—and I admit I’m very singleminded about that—but I don’t trust that any of them actually give a shit about it like Bernie did. I guess I want him up there to keep them honest. On C, I’d honestly be fine with that if he could find one who actually did! I just don’t know who that is right now. If AOC could run, conversation over. I think Sherrod Brown is probably the closest to that, but, again on M4A, he doesn’t support the Sanders bill; he supports a buy-in at 55, which sucks ass. Maybe it’s Warren; her thing about being a capitalist drives me totally nuts, but if she could stop saying that I could get there.

Hamilton Nolan: I also would 100 percent vote for AOC for president if she was old enough to be legal. Guess we’ll have to wait a few years. Until then, of all the 2020 candidates floated thus far it does seem like Warren is probably the closest to Bernie, and I think she is generally very good on policy although I admit she lacks the fire Bernie has when she speaks. But I can absolutely see her ceding some amount of control over policy to Bernie (or just moving a little farther left) in exchange for his backing, and I would be happy with that. I would NOT like to see Warren, Bernie, and several others all run and divide the votes between them resulting in a Biden nomination. (Like, lefties can dislike Gillibrand or Harris or Brown or Warren, but there is no doubt that each of them will take a slice of the people who voted for Bernie in 2016, making his road that much harder.) That said it is so early on that we don’t even know who the candidates are or what their platforms will be, so I think that if Bernie were to decide to back someone else now is the time, because he can exercise his influence on their policies from day one. If a year from now the whole field is completely disappointing, I would still vote for Bernie. But I think anyone who knows many 80 year olds would have some concerns about giving them a job for eight years.

Libby Watson: I guess that’s the trade off—are you so firmly against an 80 year old president that you’re willing to make the risky bet that a candidate, like Warren, would definitely move left with his backing, and actually stick to that if she won? I am not willing to make that bet. I don’t worry as much as you do about the centrist/left split, though I don’t know why... I guess I don’t really see the vote splitting thing as as much of an issue in a primary process that lasts months, where people drop out after the first one or two primaries. Nor do I put as much weight on Bernie backing another candidate as you do; I think if Bernie doesn’t run, a lot of voters who were energized by him just stop paying attention, they don’t go vote for Warren just because he tells them to. He has a unique ability to rally those voters because of his policies and his authenticity, and I don’t see that translating over if he throws his weight behind someone else. But I guess I’m also just not that afraid of Joe Biden. I’m weirdly optimistic that the 2020 nominee would be someone more like Harris, Warren, or Brown than someone like Biden, Klobuchar or, god forbid, a Bloomberg.

Hamilton Nolan: Well I sincerely hope you are right about the direction the Democratic Party will take in the primary. After 2016 I stopped trying to predict how people will vote because I found I have no ability to predict it— I really did not think people would elect the dumbest man in America president but here we are. Honestly, I’ve always liked Warren a lot and have assumed I would be happy voting for her except in the past six months or so when she’s gone into full-on campaign mode I find I am starting to like her less. Which is not a good sign but it’s still early so I’m thinking positive. In any case I do believe this election is the best chance the left has had in my lifetime to actually translate policies into power within the federal government so I hope we do not blow it with a candidate who is either a tepid centrist OR dead. Now I will give you the last word.


Libby Watson: Yep, totally agree about Warren. I also think I’m probably completely fucking wrong to feel optimistic about 2020—what? Libby, what? Why would I feel optimistic about anything? And I also have no ability to predict how people will vote. I’m a moron, give me a New York Times column. That said, I agree with you this is the left’s best chance in years, and I don’t want to spoil it by giving the nomination to a candidate who will make all the right noises in the campaign and then govern like Obama or, god forbid, Clinton. With the left ascendant, the biggest risk to me isn’t a centrist defeating the left, but a fraud taking up the mantle of the left in order to win and then throwing it off in office. Bernie’s the only one I trust not to do that.