My oldest sister and I get along, dare I say it, actually like each other, and not just in the “we grew up together” way so we know how to hang out without grating too much way. This is not to say that I don’t like my other sisters because I do, but my oldest sibling and I really see the world much the same way, so when we talk we can veer off into the “no-go” topics without fear of alienating each other. Frankly, life seems to thrust “no-go” topics at us constantly.
Lately, we’ve been working through the political minefield of presidential politics in preparation of launching into full throated support of the eventual Democratic nominee. It’s here that our differences start to creep in, and I can’t help but think the differences in the geography we call home might be informing our choices. I live In Albuquerque, and we are represented by one of only two native American congress people: Debra Haaland, who is very liberal. Haaland is not liberal in the same way that someone from Boulder or San Francisco is liberal; she’s liberal because her constituency is diverse, has been left behind, and expects the government to not only occasionally provide a leg up but to actively put their finger on the scale to make things balanced in a way that many centrist Democrats seem unwilling to support. So, it’s no surprise that my taste in Democrats is on the progressive side of the ledger.
While I flirted with supporting Warren, a few months ago I came down squarely in Sanders’ camp. From my perch, where most of my days are spent at a community college, the only candidate that will enthuse the base I see is Bernie. These are not died-in-the-wool Democrats. Though they mostly vote democratic, the real decision they make is whether they want to vote or not.
My sister, on the other hand, is living in firmly Republican territory: Greeley, Colorado. While Colorado has been pretty reliably blue in the last couple of elections, the reality is that Denver is so much more populated and diverse that it can paint the state blue when many of the rural voters (especially east of Denver) are very red. Northeast of Denver, Greeley is in Weld County and is represented by Ken Buck. So my sister is divorced from what many of her neighbors believe. That is not to say that Greeley is super-conservative because it is not. It is a college town that is becoming more and more a bedroom community for the Denver metropolis, but it is not Boulder, Colorado. So the urge to be as liberal as possible is not rewarded. I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t talk politics with her neighbors and co-workers at all.
So, when she sees Sanders, she can’t help but see that his positions seem a bit too radical, too far out there. Free college is not a perk that her neighbors need as many of them can handle the bills reasonably well. Most of her friends, I suspect, have decent health insurance so blowing up the health insurance industry and replacing it with Medicare-for All (M4A) seems a bit too idealistic and, based on the experience of watching how the ACA was fought and is now just a husk of the original program, how could we even get to M4A anyway?
In our conversations, I try and explain that a lot of what Bernie is proposing is aspirational. He, and surely the people who support him, know that it’s going to take a lot more than just voting to change it. So, when I suggested she read a Paul Krugman article (who is no fan of Bernie), it was to try and show her that supporting Bernie shouldn’t be seen as some sort of radical bridge too far. The argument I really want to make (as many a centrist also make in my direction with a centrist Dem instead of Bernie) is that if the election were to come down to Trump vs. Sanders, who are the centrist Democrats going to support? By my thinking, the answer is simple. They are going to vote Bernie.
So, instead of asking us to sacrifice our aspirations as outlined by Bernie’s plans, we should be asking them, “At the end of the day, who will you support?” If your answer is “Anybody but Bernie,” then you should really think long and hard about your commitment to liberal values. We can be pragmatic about his success in achieving his agenda, but his agenda, in my estimation, is the only agenda that’s going to get people to turn out in the numbers that we’ll need to beat Trump. And no, I don’t buy the argument that moderate Republicans aren’t going to vote for Bernie and we need them to beat Trump. There were many non-college educated White voters who pulled the lever for Trump when their interests align with Sanders and traditional Democratic values.
Trump, for many voters, represented a repudiation of the status quo, the elite who disproportionately run both parties (CEOs and bankers for Republicans and tech entrepreneurs, bureaucats, and academics for Democrats), so to bank on the Never Trumpers switching over to a centrist Dem again is naïve. Yes, Clinton pulled some of them, but if expanding our tent to make room for people who don’t support a woman’s right to choose, want to further restrict immigration, don’t allow for DACA recipients to be fully integrated and given citizenship, and don’t believe that government has a legitimate function to make people’s lives better then we need to look at who we’re welcoming into our party because of political expediency. So, yes, as my sister texted back after reading the article, she’s still “Meh” about Bernie, but, at this point, what choice does she have if Sanders is the nominee?