Last week, during which the current U.S. president almost bombed Iran and the presumed front runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, Joe Biden, seemed to brag about working with segregationists, one of the most covered stories on cable news concerned polling that shows a surge in popularity for Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. When analyzing this story, many in American media told their audiences that these new polls show, not the strength of Warren’s personality or policy ideas, but the weakness of the Bernie Sanders campaign.
Aside from the fact that the first primary, in Iowa, is well over 200 days away, much of the reporting and a lot of the commentary on CNN and MSNBC has covered Warren’s growing popularity as a divide in the Democratic party’s progressive wing.
“Shock Doctrine” author Naomi Klein recently offered a different framing for this, one that takes into account the fact that these two candidates are in some cases appealing to different constituencies; Sanders is making more inroads with younger voters and Warren with older, more well off ones. In her view, the two candidates might actually be broadening the progressive movement within the party rather than splitting it.
It also seems counterproductive to focus on this as a contest within a contest rather than looking at what each candidate is offering, especially considering that these primaries are going to go on for many more months and seem to get longer with each presidential election cycle.
In view of this latter point, Klein wrote, “It’s a spectacle that comes at a steep price. The relentless process of picking electoral winners sucks up intellectual energy, media airtime, movement muscle, and boatloads of money that are badly needed elsewhere. Like organizing to stop war with Iran, for instance. Or supporting movements trying to free migrants from Trump’s concentration camps. Or figuring out what a transformative Green New Deal should look like on the ground. Or building international alliances with people in countries facing their own hate-filled authoritarian strongmen.”
When Sanders went on CNN’s Cuomo Prime Time on June 19th,, he was asked about this almost entirely fabricated idea of a battle between himself and Senator Warren and he was quite clear that this is not how he feels, saying, “Elizabeth is a friend of mine, I think she’s running a good campaign.”
This positive approach to a fellow progressive wasn’t what ended up catching the media’s attention but rather the fact that he had also said that Warren may have a strong appeal for some primary voters who would like to finally see a woman as president. This truthful statement was twisted by some outlets, perhaps the worst being a piece by Bess Levin in Vanity Fair, who titled it, “Sanders: Warren is surging because she has ovaries”, implying that this is what he said when he didn’t.
Senator Warren’s momentum is being earned on policy grounds as evinced by her slogan, “She has a plan for that”, even if many to the left of her may find things to critique in them. An argument can be made that the friendly competition between the two progressives is actually making both better candidates.
As if to demonstrate this, just this week, Sanders’ campaign released his student debt plan, following up on Warren’s already ambitious but not universal one, with a program that would eliminate all $1.6 trillion American student debt, significantly improving the lives of 45 million Americans in the process. That is, if a President Sanders were able to get it through the U.S. Congress. In terms of the polling itself, which seems to become less accurate with each passing year and usually favors older voters with landline telephone connections, just watching Bernie Sanders’ almost daily campaign events on his Youtube channel shows that he is generating much the same enthusiasm as in 2016 but that this time around it appears to be demographically broader.
Of course, all of the attacks against Sanders over the last few weeks haven’t just been Warren related. If there is one news site preferred by centrist, establishment type Democrats, it’s probably Politico, which seems to delight in trying to throw shade at the Vermont senator and American progressives generally.
Almost every week there is a new piece on the site that finds fault with Senator Sanders. True to this pattern, Politico last week published a long article on his foreign policy ideas. Ignoring the obvious truth that his 40-year record shows a dovish consistency unmatched by any of his opponents, the piece, in a roundabout way, suggests that Sanders may not be as honest on these issues as many people think.
The evidence offered for this is flimsy, mainly based on a vote for intervention in Kosovo in 1999 and his willingness to allow the F35 fighter to be built in his state, bringing jobs to Vermonters.
Early in the story, reporter Bill Scher asked Sanders’ top foreign policy advisor, Matt Duss, if the Vermont senator would ever consider using military force without Congressional approval, to which he replied, “If there’s a situation in which, as president, Senator Sanders feels that he needs to act and he’s spoken to the experts, and he’s engaged with as many people as he possibly could, and comes to that decision point, he’s going to do what he feels is right.”
While this answer seems perfectly reasonable and wouldn’t raise eyebrows if it were made by any other candidate, Sanders is always held to a higher, sometimes impossible standard.
And it isn’t just Sanders facing such relentless, dubious criticism. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez posted a video to Instagram in which she argued, quite off the cuff and with great passion, that the facilities along the U.S. southern border are “concentration camps”.
This led almost the entire media and political establishment in the country, from the so-called center to the right, to another round of hand-wringing about her use of this term. While it’s is probably most often used in talking about what became death camps in Nazi Germany, the term itself predates the rise of the 3rdReich.
In English, it’s believed it was first used was during the Second Boer War in South Africa starting in 1899 and was also used to describe Canadian camps during the First World War and for a couple of years after it that were used to hold foreigners thought to be disloyal to the country.
What this shows us is what’s immediately visible when one looks at the term. A concentration camp, as opposed to a death camp, is a place where a state concentrates people that it views as ‘undesirables’. Just listening to some of the talking points made by members of the current U.S. administration and its media allies, it’s pretty obvious that this is exactly how they view these mostly Central American migrants.
Every time a progressive like AOC, Ilhan Omar or Bernie Sanders says something mildly controversial (or easily misinterpreted) they are set upon on all sides, often facing an onslaught of wilful ignorance or outright lies. The only way to respond to this is by using whatever platforms we have to state the facts and push back. To get the progressive change the country so desperately needs, the American left needs to give its full support to honest politicians like these