Bernie Sanders is the best presidential candidate.
He’s better than Hillary Clinton, who voted against the Civil Rights Act, supported the Iraq War, and centers her corporate-funded campaign not on her ideas but the fact that she’s a woman. He’s better than the other Democratic candidates, who don’t seem to stand out. And he’s definitely better than the Republicans.
The Bernie fandom, however, has gotten out of control. One YouTube user posted a video of himself singing “Can You Feel The Bern Tonight?” to the tune of the Lion King hit. And on Tumblr, various users have described Sanders as “Grandpa Cinnamon Roll” and “literal precious cinnamon roll,” referencing a meme inspired by an article in the satirical newspaper The Onion that describes said cinnamon roll as as “too good for this world, too pure.” While others don’t go that far, many still admire him as a radical unproblematic fave who is going to make everything okay.
Sanders may be the least bad, but he’s far from perfect.
First, he calls himself a socialist, but he’s really not. Socialism is an economic system in which workers democratically control the “means of production,” or everything that goes into creating goods and services. Bernie, on the other hand, seems to think “socialism” just refers to the government charging taxes and running things, even describing the police and public libraries as “socialist institutions.” So do plenty of people who aren’t Bernie, so it’s hard to completely blame him.
Can those two things go together? Maybe, but slapping a few welfare programs on top of a capitalist society isn’t socialism. In the words of Rosa Luxemburg, a Marxist economist who helped orchestrate a revolt in 1918 in Germany:
“We know that the present State is not ‘society’ representing the ‘rising working class’… It is a class state. Therefore its reform measures are not an application of ‘social control,’ that is, the control of society working freely in its own labour process. They are forms of control applied by the class organization of Capital to the production of Capital. The so-called social reforms are enacted in the interests of Capital.”
And of course you could try to nitpick and go “but Bernie is a Democratic socialist,” but you’d still be wrong. Democratic socialism just means that there’s socialism, and also democracy. Since actual socialism refers to a society where both the government and the economy are run democratically, the term “democratic socialism” is redundant and has nothing to do with Sanders. Regardless of what you think of real socialism, or whatever Bernie thinks socialism is, you’ve gotta wonder whether someone who doesn’t know what to call his own political stance is fit to be president.
Perhaps unintentionally so, Sanders’ populism is infused with xenophobia. He complains about American workers having their American “jobs shipped overseas,” as if the people in other countries aren’t just as hard-working and deserving as we are. That kind of rhetoric paints entire countries, and the people who live in them, as “stealing our jobs”—which fuels racism and inspires the Donald Trumps of the world to make outrageous plans to “beat China.”
America isn’t exceptional. We don’t deserve those jobs any more than anyone else. Even if we did, the things we’d have to do to keep them aren’t good for the country as a whole.
We could give corporations tax breaks to try to get them to stay. That would perpetuate inequality, dig the country further into debt, and undermine Sanders’ entire platform.
Or we could raise taxes on foreign goods to try to keep people from buying them. This is an idea Donald Trump supports, which just goes to show how bad it is. It artificially props up industries that would otherwise be unable to compete in the global economy, giving them a false sense of security. American manufacturers aren’t going to realize it when their products suck, because people will still buy their products over more expensive foreign ones—and if they do, they won’t have the motivation to do better. This isn’t good for American consumers, and in the long run, it will only give other countries a stronger advantage.
Some well-meaning free-trade opponents may point to the fact that working conditions are bad in other countries, and that more jobs would just lead to more exploitation. In reality, when more companies come, the jobs have to compete for the workers rather than the other way around. They have to become better places to work and pay higher wages to attract employees. This makes life better for the workers, and their higher wages help them afford—guess what—American products!
In the long run, it helps everyone. But no, Bernie won’t go for that.
Sanders’ protectionist economic views also apply to immigration. While he rightly believes that creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is a great thing to do, he wants to restrict future immigration because immigrants allegedly lower wages and steal jobs. He’s called open borders a “Koch brothers proposal” that “would make everybody in America poorer.”
In reality, the math doesn’t back this up: economics professors Giboon Hong and John McLaren released a paper explaining that immigrants actually create jobs for native workers, because while they increase the labor supply by coming here, they also increase demand—immigrants do have to buy things too. Furthermore, even if U.S. wages do drop a little, open borders will still do wonders for poor people outside the country.
Besides, we have plenty of money to go around—it’s just concentrated in the hands of a few. If you don’t want wages to drop, raise the minimum wage. Better yet, tax the rich and give the money to the people who need it. Immigrants are being used as a scapegoat for the poverty and economic stagnation across America; striking at the heart of the problem would end the nativism that has fueled hate crimes, unnecessary deaths, and chilling demagoguery threatening forced labor and mass deportations.
As a side note, some Sanders supporters think his biggest flaw is that he’s a little softer on gun control than his contenders. That’s not a problem at all. Certainly, Sanders’ stance on guns has its issues, but not because it’s too lenient.
It’s because it’s too strict.
Sanders has blamed gun violence on “mental health illness,” despite clear evidence that there is no causal relationship between the two. He has also ignored the reality of how race intersects with gun control: he’s claimed that “urban” (a codeword for black) areas are more violent because of a “cultural divide.” And as Brown University professor Alex Gourkevitch warns in Salon magazine, the “strong” gun control Sanders wants “means creating yet more pretexts for a militarized police, full of racial and class prejudice, to overpolice.”
Gourkevitch goes on to explain that “one of the most notorious areas of policing, the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program, was justified as a gun control rather than a drug war measure.” Gun possession is also used to lengthen sentences for other, often victimless, crimes. If Sanders wants to address mass incarceration and systemic racism, he needs to be consistent about it.
Bernie Sanders is terrible at being a socialist. Not only does he try to redefine the term to mean slightly nicer capitalism, he actively supports measures that promote American exceptionalism over the rights of the workers of the world. He opposes open borders because they mean “doing away with the concept of the nation state,” when plenty of socialists want to do just that.
Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, has helped create an actual socialist economy in the face of war and imperialism. In a manifesto outlining his philosophy of “democratic confederalism,” he describes the nation-state as “an enemy of the peoples” that uses patriotism to promote its economic interests, conceal its crimes, and expand its power through the creation of a single, homogenous national identity. Sanders wants to keep this concept, and he wants to do it by violently punishing economic refugees for seeking opportunity. And he uses racism and ableism to make his anti-gun agenda seem extra feel-goody and nice.
Sanders’ populism may appear progressive, but it has more in common with Trumpery than with the “socialism” he claims to espouse. He’s a protectionist who plays off of nationalist bias to get votes. He just does it more nicely.
Of course, Bernie does have his good points. But even if he were a perfect candidate, he’d still be competing to lead an imperialist nation founded on and powered by bigotry and exploitation. No election can turn that around.
No president can ever be a perfect cinnamon roll.