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Editorial: Bernie’s back: Don’t take him lightly

  • FILE - In this Oct. 30, 2018 file photo, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a campaign rally in Bethesda, Md. Can Sanders recapture the magic that fueled his first presidential campaign? To win the nomination, he may not need to. As Sanders, a 77-year-old self-described democratic socialist, formally launches his 2020 campaign, the lessons of President Donald Trump’s victory in the GOP’s packed 2016 contest loom large. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Published: 2/23/2019 10:10:12 PM
Modified: 2/23/2019 10:10:13 PM

Welcome back, Bernie Sanders.
Sure, Vermont’s favorite independent U.S. senator is now 77 years old and may be a little late to the party this time around. He joined what is already a crowded field of 2020 Democratic presidential aspirants only last week.

And yes, it may well be that Sanders’ moment in the sun has come and gone, as a number of political observers suspect. Certainly, many of the progressive positions that he championed in 2016, which were seen then as radical, have been broadly adopted within the Democratic Party mainstream and by several in the current field of presidential candidates. With a number of appealing options available, many Democrats may be seeking a fresh hero on whom to pin their hopes.

And Sanders has not been warmly embraced by black voters, a key Democratic constituency.

But still, there is a certain internal logic to a second Sanders run for the White House.

Consider:

■ He’s battle-tested, which should not be underestimated. At the moment, Sanders is the only Democratic hopeful who has endured the rigors of a 50-state campaign for national office. Historically, many a candidate who looked strong on paper wilted when the voting actually started. (Think Jeb Bush, and before that, Howard Dean, and before that, John Glenn.)

■ Sanders has demonstrated electoral appeal. During his 2016 primary race against Hillary Clinton, he won 23 contests and garnered 13.2 million votes. And his primary victories included wins in places such as Michigan and Wisconsin that Democrats need to hold in the general election.

■ He begins his 2020 candidacy with an online donor base of 2.1 million people who have made low-dollar contributions to him over the past six years, according to a New York Times analysis, which is roughly equivalent to the donor base of all the other announced Democratic candidates combined. It should not be overlooked that Sanders raised nearly $6 million in the first 24 hours after he announced his candidacy on Tuesday.

■ Still a highly sought-after speaker, Sanders can rouse crowds in a way that few politicians now practicing can match. And if confronting Donald Trump head-on is to your taste, Sanders just might be your candidate. “We are running against a president who is a pathological liar, a fraud, a racist, a sexist, a xenophobe and someone who is undermining American democracy as he leads us in an authoritarian direction,” the senator said in announcing his candidacy.

■ Over many years in office, Sanders has displayed good judgment on some important issues. He voted against the disastrous Iraq war and in 2008, against the $700 billion bailout of the big banks. More recently, he has been a vocal critic of Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, introducing a resolution, passed by the Senate, to cut off U.S. military assistance for it.

■ Sanders can also fairly claim to have effected a political revolution that spawned a new generation of activists who are bidding to return the Democratic Party to its progressive roots. His crusade against a system that he believes is rigged to favor the wealthy and Wall Street at the expense of the working and middle classes has resonated in ways that few could have imagined when he launched what appeared to be a quixotic bid for president four years ago.

But there is one way in which Sanders is at odds with the Democratic Party’s prevailing ethos, and it is perceived by political observers as a weakness. “He also continues to draw ire from critics who say that the way he talks about race and identity is out of step with the calls for diversity and change within the party,” the Times reports.

That may well be a weakness in the narrow sense, but maybe not in the big picture. There’s good reason to fear that emphasizing the things that make people different — race, gender, sexual orientation — can overshadow what unites all people in the fight for a just society. And that brand of grievance-oriented politics is played masterfully by the current president.

Sanders has consistently resisted those kinds of appeals, most recently on Vermont Public Radio when asked whether he best represents the party as it is now constituted. “We have got to look at the candidates, you know, not by the color of their skin, not by their sexual orientation or their gender or by their age,” he said. “I think we have got to try to move us toward a nondiscriminatory society which looks at people based on their abilities, based on what they stand for.”

We hope that as the campaign goes on, Sanders continues to advance the theme that individual experience must lead to collective action at a time when American democracy itself is under unprecedented assault from the highest office in the land.




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