Sanders Has Chosen Pragmatism Over Ideology. Will His Supporters Do The Same?

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Since Senator Bernie Sanders ended his second presidential campaign, his actions have contrasted with his somewhat half-hearted approach in 2016. He pushed Hilary Clinton all the way to June before suspending his campaign, taking another month to formally endorse her campaign.

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This time the 78-year old took just 5 days to endorse former Vice-President Joe Biden, appearing on a joint video call with the presumptive Democrat nominee for President.  The two men, who have repeatedly clashed in the race so far over issues such as health care and the economy, were warm and jovial with each other.  They acknowledged each other’s differences and similarities but seemed much more united than Sanders and Clinton did 4 years ago. Sanders said of his counterpart ‘We need you in the White House, I will do all that I can to see that happen‘. Biden graciously responded by telling Sanders ‘I’m gonna need you, not just to win the campaign but to govern.

To see these two political titans, Biden (running for President for the third time) and Sanders (who was virtually unknown prior to 2016) so united was comforting for many Democrats. They would have feared a reluctance from many of Sanders’ supporters who were unsatisfied with the choice of Clinton in 2016.  Indeed, several other endorsements since Sanders from former President Barack Obama and progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren, have been effectively choreographed according to the New York Times to reflect the unity of the party compared to that of 2016.  The distrust of Clinton by many younger voters who saw her as an example of elitism and the establishment is thought to be one of the reasons that she was defeated by Donald Trump.

It is their opinion of the current President that both Biden and Sanders most heavily agree upon it would seem.  Back in 2019, when Biden announced his candidacy, he remarked that he was fighting a ‘battle for the soul of the nation‘. This response was deemed necessary by the former Vice-President after President Trump’s comments following the 2017 Charlottesville Riots.  Sanders has also been a constant critic of the President, stating in his call with Biden that Trump was ‘the most dangerous President in modern history‘. Sanders cited the President’s response to the current Coronavirus pandemic in ignoring advice from experts that has led to the US having a confirmed 650,000 cases, with 33,000 deaths.  That is more than any other country.  Senator Sanders then continued to report the White House’s failings. These include the President threatening to fire Dr Anthony Fauci, an expert on infectious diseases who has so far been a central figure of the US Coronavirus task force.  This was met with a shake of the head from Biden, seemingly in agreement with his colleague at the ineptitude of the current administration’s response to the Pandemic.

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They may agree that it is imperative that President Trump is defeated in November but things have not always been so pleasant between Biden and Sanders. Whilst Sanders has been convinced that to defeat Trump means supporting Biden, the same might not be said for a proportion of his supporters who oppose Biden’s more centrist views on the economy and healthcare. Indeed as reported in the Guardian, Biden’s interest in appealing to more progressive left-wing voter has been found wanting so far. The culprit, many progressive voters would have the public believe is Biden.

There is some merit to this argument, with Biden known to be one of the more conservative Democrats in the Senate prior to his stint as Vice President to Barack Obama. He has also come into conflict with Sanders supporters over his views on the issue of healthcare, in particular, Sanders proposed Medicare for All.  Biden has simply looked to lower the age of Medicare from 65 to 60 rather than consider a universal method of healthcare. This is enough for Biden to be considered a weak candidate, who despite his new alliance with Sanders, some believe that he ensures the wealthy Democratic donors that nothing too fundamental will change within the party’s ideology. There is also a new sexual assault allegation that could prove troublesome to Biden in light of the #MeToo movement which has seen many of the country’s most powerful men exposed due to sordid actions in the past.

There are signs, however, that Biden is willing to compromise his own beliefs to appeal to a left-wing base. Indeed, he has praised another of his former Democratic Rivals Elizabeth Warren, a progressive senator from Massachusetts, for proposing a policy on student debt that would see $10,000 in loans forgiven per student, as well as introducing easier measures for student debt repayment by repealing a tax-cut that Biden believes benefits only the wealthiest of Americans. Biden’s victory in the Super Tuesday primaries also saw a surge of support in black voters, which helped him convincingly win such states as Virginia and North Carolina. His endorsement by former President Obama will further assist in gaining support in minority voters, especially black voters who, according to one political scientist, are not desiring a Sanders type revolution but a more safe choice who will provide familiarity in terms of economic and domestic policy.

Sanders supporter and Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, has stated that to unite the party, Biden must be made to feel uncomfortable. That may be true for left-wing voters who once again feel let down by the political establishment. But the majority of Democrat voters, according to a Gallup poll, find the more centrist candidate as the preferred choice, as they feel Biden is more likely to defeat Trump compared to Sanders, whose policies are more popular but some fear may be too costly. Sanders himself has proven that pragmatism and a united front is more important to America than a revolution based on socialist ideology. He has been able to make that sacrifice. The question remains as to how many of his supporters will be able to do the same come November.

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International Editor 2019/20. BA Film and History. Liverpool Fan-YNWA

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