Blog Posts, Op-Eds, Presidential Debates, Presidential Elections

The 11th Democratic Presidential Primary Debate: “Bernie’s Last Stand.”

Published in Politico Magazine, March 16, 2020

By, Michelle D. Bernard

For Bernie Sanders, the 11th Democratic primary debate was Custer’s Last Stand.

And Sanders was Custer.

It was the effective end of democratic socialism.

As with Custer, in the short term, many will romanticize Sanders’ loss. They will see him as their Robin Hood—the man who asked important questions about the “corporate elite”; vilified billionaires; advocated for “Medicare for All,” free college, the “Green New Deal” and “workplace democracy.” At first, maybe even for decades, some of his supporters may demand revenge for his defeat. Some may refuse to support Biden and the Democratic Party. Some may stay home on Election Day. Others may vote for Trump. Many will forever see him as a heroic man of the people, victimized by the Democratic establishment.

However, today, tomorrow, and possibly 100 years from now, the history books may see things quite differently than some of today’s Sanders supporters do.

Sanders was defeated in a debate at a time when everything the United States stands for and stands to lose is at stake. The nation is in the midst of a pandemic. Schools and businesses are shuttering their doors. Many Americans lack health insurance or are underinsured. Closures and shutdowns may be imminent. Jobs will be lost. Homes may be lost. Countless lives are at stake.

Add to this the changing demographics of the country; the gender gap; the thousands of women and people of color painfully aggrieved by the losses of Cory Booker, Julián Castro, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang to two septuagenarian white men; and the extraordinary pragmatism of the members of the Democratic Party who can be relied upon to stand in line for as many hours as it takes to vote.

And add to this Biden’s unequivocal commitment to name a female running mate if nominated; his pragmatism; his understanding of what would have happened to America’s workforce if Wall Street had not been bailed out in 2008; his willingness to enlist the Army in building 500-bed hospitals to confront the coronavirus; his willingness to reach out to the progressive left on issues like Sanders’ plan to make public colleges and universities free for certain families; and his place in our nation’s history as a white man who stood behind the nation’s first African American president through thick and thin. And Sanders no longer looks like a hero, but more like a man who was misguided by hubris and led his army to a resounding defeat.

Michelle Bernard is a political analyst, lawyer, author and president and CEO of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics & Public Policy.


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