Bernie Sanders Remains the Authentic Progressive Among Democratic Presidential Candidates

Interview with Norman Solomon, co-founder of RootsAction.org and a California Sanders delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention, conducted by Scott Harris

As expected, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, joined the already crowded field of Democratic candidates vying to be the party’s presidential nominee in the 2020 election. Sanders, who defied conventional wisdom with his unexpectedly strong run against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primary, is credited with moving the party to the left on a host of issues he championed in his earlier campaign.
His advocacy of universal health care through Medicare For All, moving to a national $15 minimum wage and tuition-free public college have become mainstream positions among most of the 12 Democratic candidates who have already launched their campaigns.  A recent Morning Consult poll found that among Democratic primary voters nationwide and in early voting states — former vice president Joe Biden led the pack, followed by Sanders, California Sen. Kamala Harris and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Norman Solomon, co-founder of RootsAction.org and a California Sanders delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention. He’s currently a coordinator of the recently re-launched Bernie delegates network. Here, Solomon addresses recent criticisms leveled at Sanders regarding sexual harassment claims during the 2016 campaign, his relationship with the nation’s black community, while maintaining that Bernie remains the authentic progressive voice in a growing field of Democratic candidates.

NORMAN SOLOMON: On the surface, there is a lot of cohesion and willingness to say what Bernie has been saying for years – actually decades. For instance, about the need for Medicare for All, the need for free public college education. The need to see human rights in economic terms as rights, not privileges. The right to a job and opportunity, not just an opportunity, but a reality. So on the surface, a lot of these candidates have been understanding that there is a progressive undertow and wave that has swept this country very visibly in the last couple of years since the 2016 election and they don’t want to be left behind. In baseball terms, they don’t want to be leaning the wrong way on the base pads and get picked off. They’re trying to win. They want to be with the current zeitgeist.

But what’s different about Bernie? He’s not on the surface. He hasn’t just been saying these things for a few months or a year or two. This has been his entire political career and indeed his activist work before that. So people really are going to be faced with the choice of whether they’re going to go for a candidate that put on the fashion clothes of this particular historic moment or whether they’re going to go for the real deal.

BETWEEN THE LINES: And I wondered if you would comment, Norman, on a flurry of recent attacks on Bernie Sanders, including accusations he didn’t do enough to address sexual harassment allegations made against some of his 2016 campaign staff. There was also a recent New York Times story on Bernie’s – as they termed – troubled relationship with the African American community in this country during his 2016 campaign. It seems to be a feature of presidential campaign coverage in 2020 that Bernie’s on the receiving end of a lot of barbs here.

NORMAN SOLOMON: To put this in context, when Bernie ran for president – announced and began running in 2015 – first he was ignored and disparaged by the news media. It was predicted by some, he would barely, if at all, get out of single digits in the primaries. And when from the grassroots, the campaign gathered momentum, there were ferocious attacks from the corporate mass media. The Media Watch group FAIR, where I’m an associate, released a study at the time of the Michigan primary. This is when Bernie was really, really gaining momentum. And on the eve of that very decisive primary, which he – quite surprising the pundits – actually won. The Washington Post published 16 negative stories about Bernie in 16 hours. Not In 16 weeks or 16 days, but 16 hours. Sixteen negative stories by the Washington Post. And that just tells you the ferocity of some of the major media hostility towards Bernie.

Now, is it a coincidence that the owner of the Washington Post is the richest man in the world? Jeff Bezos, who also owns as well as the Post, Amazon and Whole Foods and so forth. Bernie has been campaigning against the oligarchy.

So that said, certainly this is not a justification, but just an explanation. Every large campaign has some really bad things that go on with thousands and thousands of volunteers and supervisors. And clearly, Bernie Sanders should’ve done a better job of making sure that to the maximum extent possible, there were strict rules that were conveyed to volunteers and supervisors and employees about sexual harassment. And we have to hope, and we’re certainly advocating for him to do a much better job as a candidate in that way, as he has said he will. In terms of African American voters, there’s no doubt that Hillary Clinton simply crushed Bernie in the South among African American voters fairly early on in the campaign.

But it’s also true, according to exit polls and public opinion polls, that by the end of the primary season, Bernie had more support among African American young people than Hillary Clinton did. And what we didn’t get from the recent New York Times’ very high-profile story is the fact that a recent CNN poll showed that among people of color, Bernie is the most, not the second or third, but the most favored candidate for president for 2020. So it all depends unfortunately on how it’s spun and Bernie has had a lot of hills to climb. Going from a Vermont senator to a presidential candidate, I think that this campaign is going to have a lot of momentum. I have no idea whether he’ll be the nominee, but I think he has a great shot at it.

I think that what we’re seeing is some real public discourse and label shifting. And it’s hard to know how that will sift out, but I would say this. When we have a lot of candidates running for president who have been shifting their policies with the wind, going the way the wind seems to be blowing when they perceive the wind shifting, perhaps after getting the nomination, they could easily in character shift back in another direction. Bernie doesn’t blow with the wind and shift with the wind. He has helped to create a progressive wind and that is a very big difference. It’s crucial that Trump be defeated or if Trump doesn’t run that Pence or some other Republican who does run in 2020, that person has to be defeated. Bernie has as good a chance, at least according to polling, to defeat the Republican in 2020 as any other prospective nominee of the party.

So let’s go with what we believe in, instead of going with fairly hollow candidates.

For more information on Norman Solomon, visit normansolomon.com.

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