Bernie Sanders's biggest appeal: He's not a Democrat

Bernie Sanders's biggest appeal: He's not a Democrat
© Stefani Reynolds

Write anything vaguely positive about Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersCory Booker has a problem in 2020: Kamala Harris Wage growth shaping up as key 2020 factor for Trump Booker to supporter who wanted him to punch Trump: 'Black guys like us, we don't get away with that' MORE (I-Vt.) on Twitter and the rejoinder inevitably comes back: “He’s not a Democrat!” This is meant to be a debate-ender, a definitive blow so lethal that there could be no response. His ideas on health care and free college and criminal justice reform, and the remarkable way he has shifted the entire Democratic Party to more closely resemble his vision for the country, all crushed by this fact: “Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat.” Of course, what those leveling this charge fail to realize is, yeah, Sanders is not a Democrat — and that is exactly the point.

Let’s dig a little deeper into what exactly is meant by the statement “Bernie is not a Democrat.” After all, he is running in the Democratic primary and has just signed a silly Democratic National Committee (DNC) pledge to govern as a Democrat if elected president. As best as I can figure, the essential charge here is that, if Sanders’s principles conflict with party orthodoxy or whatever pander-strategy is in vogue, Sanders is going to stick with his principles. What else could the statement possibly mean?

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So when party leaders said, “We are good with a Heritage Foundation, Mitt Romney-backed private insurance health care,” Sanders didn’t fall in line. When the party said, that “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act were political necessities, he didn’t fall in line. And when the sitting Democratic president went to bat for yet another big trade deal written by big business, Sanders didn’t play along. To the folks who brought us decades of neo-liberal Clintonism, including the disastrous campaign of Hillary Clinton, Sanders’s steadfastness seems to be a problem. To most of America, of course, this is a positive attribute.

For progressives, the establishment Democratic Party has aided and abetted many of today’s worst ills. From banking deregulation to undermining union rights to dismantling the social safety net, Republicans relied on Democratic votes — even Democratic leadership — to fully realize the “Disneyland for Plutocrats” in which we currently reside. Progressives aren’t looking for someone to go along with the triangulation of the day. They aren’t hoping for someone who’s content with the timid palliative care for the working class on offer from the Democratic Party.

Progressives are in the market precisely for a candidate who is comfortable residing outside the mainstream of the Democratic Party.  

Non-coastal America has come to see the Democratic Party as synonymous with condescension, elitism and contempt. There is a reason why Democrats lost 900 state legislative seats in an eight-year period. It’s not because voters in red states hate our position on the minimum wage, and in spite of what Bill Maher says, it’s not because “they want to be us.” Voters in America’s heartland hate Democrats because Democrats appear to hate the heartland.

Democrats threw their lot in with a rising coastal creative class, the “coalition of the ascendant,” over those decaying small towns that dot the landscape in “flyover country.” The Democratic answer to factory closures was more bad trade deals and chiding about white privilege. Their answer to an increasingly precarious workforce was to set off in search of a “grand bargain” to cut Social Security. And when the election results didn’t come back in the Dems’ favor, there was a lot of outrage about how “these people” just don’t vote in their self-interest.

So, if you are going to free Bernie Sanders from the baggage of association with the Democratic Party, to much of the country that is a good thing.

Finally, I am reminded of the weak attempts to thwart Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpThorny part of obstruction of justice is proving intent, that's a job for Congress Obama condemns attacks in Sri Lanka as 'an attack on humanity' Schiff rips Conway's 'display of alternative facts' on Russian election interference MORE’s ascendance by attacking him as not “a real Republican.” As it turned out, a lot of the folks who vote in Republican primaries were delighted to vote for “not a Republican.” Republicans, after all, had sent America’s sons and daughters to die in endless wars (with Democrats’ help, of course) and  gleefully sent jobs overseas and gorged on big-business campaign contributions. Yes, Republican voters were excited to vote for Trump and, judging by the polls, plenty of Democratic voters would be happy to vote for “not a Democrat” as well.

Therefore, if you’re down for the political revolution and you’re feeling the Bern, please keep reminding voters that Sanders is “not a Democrat.” It does nothing but help his cause.

Krystal Ball is the liberal co-host of “Rising,” Hill.TV’s bipartisan morning news show. She is president of The People’s House Project, which recruits Democratic candidates in Republican-held congressional districts of the Midwest and Appalachia, and a former candidate for Congress in Virginia. Follow her on Twitter @krystalball.