Critiquing Bernie Sanders Isn’t the Same as Betraying Him

i’m just here for the free food

I didn’t have anywhere to live during the 2016 primaries, but if I’d had a permanent place of residence I would’ve definitely cast my vote for Bernie Sanders. I intend to make the same decision in 2020; I’ve been a type 1 diabetic since I was a year old, and as such I have a lot of skin in the Medicare For All game. And a great many of his other beliefs and ideas, like his general inclination towards ramping down US imperialism, hold a lot of water with me as a voter as well.

I like what the future of a Bernie Sanders presidency would probably hold. But increasingly, I really don’t like how the people I have to think of as my fellow voters are behaving about him. Any time his campaign hits a bump in the road, the baby explodes on contact with the window in an attempt to bail out the bathwater as quickly as possible. Saying he did something wrong is not the same as saying you don’t want to vote for him, and it’s time to stop thinking of all criticims of his campaign as a personal attack.

One of the beautiful things about being a progressive is that by nature, it’s a general ideology that gives you the freedom to hold people accountable when they mess up. This goes double and triple for leaders. You don’t, and shouldn’t, have to fall in lock-step when they make a mistake; you can let them and others know that they’re doing something that you think compromises the integrity of their vision, and if they’re on your side as much as you think they are they’ll take your words into account and try to amend their ways if they think your comments hold water.

I say all this because it has been a strange and disheartening thing over the last few weeks to see Sanders supporters react to gaffes on his part that have been trivial and serious alike with the same level of wrathful rejection. A few weeks ago, there was a kerfuffle over a leak from the Warren camp (which had all the signs of a strategic bit of ratfucking on the part of a compromised staffer, which sensible people probably should have ignored or refused to disseminate). Apparently Warren and Sanders had a conversation wherein Sanders disagreed that a woman could be president. We don’t really know the context for this statement — did he mean that a woman would make a bad president (unlikely), that Americans wouldn’t vote for a woman (this is probably what he meant), or something else? — but there aren’t many charitable readings one could sensibly make. The point is that Warren confirmed that the statement had been made, but also that she didn’t think it was a big deal and that it was a distraction, and that should have been the end of it.

Instead, Bernie voters went on the offensive, immediately assuming that Warren was making up lies about Sanders and even getting “Never Warren” trending as a hashtag for a time. It was difficult to concot a scenario where such a statement made Sanders look good, no matter what specifically he meant by it, so instead it was largely assumed with nothing in the way of proof that she made something up to make Sanders look bad. I would think that someone who was trying to hurt a political opponent wouldn’t try to downplay their rival’s error and tell their voters to pay attentio to something else, but I’m not a political scientist, and clearly neither is most of Twitter.

More recently, Bernie Sanders accepted an endorsement from Joe Rogan. Joe Rogan is an MMA comedy man with the most popular podcast in the world. He has also, at various points in his recent podcasting history, spewed virulently transphobic rhetoric, badgered Jack Dorsey to reinstate Alex Jones of Infowars on Twitter after banning his account, and for a time he formed an important connective tissue between media personalities on the alt-right. The guy sucks, is what I’m getting at, and it doesn’t seem like he holds many of the ethical values that Bernie does, which is why it was so weird to see Sanders not just take a photo with him or retweet a piece of praise, but actually use campaign money he drudged up from his supporters to film and air a commercial letting everyone know that Joe Rogan is voting for him.

There was, again, a massive backlash among Sanders supporters against the idea that maybe it’s not a good or commendable thing to throw your lot in with a powerful person that stands against everything you believe in for the sake of getting some more votes. One prominent leftist media personality even went so far as to say that people who were concerned with this development are “why the left loses.” The thing is, the whole reason a lot of us liked Bernie to begin with is that part of his brand is that he didn’t do things like this in the first place; his integrity is a lot of what makes him who he is. If we can hold Clinton’s feet to the fire for giving talks to Goldman Sachs, we can definitely criticize Sanders for getting in bed with an influential bigot.

It shouldn’t be this difficult to have qualms about some of the things Sanders does without immediately calling down a typhoon of conspiracy theories and uncomfortably venomous dunks. You can say that Bernie’s comment about women leaders was out of line, and that the Rogan endorsement was a bad idea, and even that it is kind of rude and weird to think calling someone on their birthday is a sign of pandering. And what’s awesome is, none of this has to take away from your belief that Bernie Sanders is the best choice for President of the United States and that his candidacy is our best shot at getting some real change to happen in this country.

A campaign doesn’t have to be flawless for you to support it, and by the same token an intention to vote isn’t a blood pact that signifies undying loyalty. The fact is that Bernie Sanders has made mistakes and will continue to make mistakes, and as a conscientious citizen you have every right to point them out and make sure your candidate of choice is consistently lining up with your interests. No Democratic candidate is above critique just because they’re not Trump, and we definitely shouldn’t start trying to excuse the errors of the one guy who isn’t puporting to be the lesser of two evils.

Writer, media critic, and thinker of thoughts based out of Austin, TX. Get in touch at chrismichaeljones@gmail.com, or follow on Twitter at @CJIsWingingIt

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