Should Progressives Back Sanders?

Though Bernie Sanders – as a “democratic socialist” – is the most progressive presidential candidate in years, some progressives are rejecting his campaign because he doesn’t go far enough, a stance that Rick Sterling rejects.

By Rick Sterling

In the past year, some progressives have explained why they are not supporting Bernie Sanders. Last summer, Bruce Dixon from Black Agenda Report presented a “sheepdog” theory suggesting that people who join the Bernie Sanders campaign will eventually be herded into supporting Hillary Clinton. More recently, Chris Hedges wrote “We must focus exclusively on revolt” and break with the establishment parties. Steven Salaita criticized Sanders’s lack of a radically different foreign policy, especially regarding Israel and Palestine.

While there is some truth in all these criticisms, I personally think it’s important to support Bernie Sanders. In my view, here is why:

Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a Democratic presidential debate sponsored by CNN.

Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a Democratic presidential debate sponsored by CNN.

Sanders is not just a “lesser evil.” His proposals and policies are good on some key issues such as economic inequality, health-care, education, and the judicial/criminal system. His ideas on foreign policy suggest a substantial shift away from interventionism and militarism.

In addition, Sanders seeks to change the current electoral process based on money coming from corporations, political action committees and wealthy individuals. Changing this system is the first step toward breaking the strangle-hold of the military-industrial complex, Wall Street and reactionary lobbies such as AIPAC and the NRA.

While some people will be led from supporting Sanders to supporting Clinton, this is not a given. Many people pushing for Bernie now will not vote Hillary if she is the Democratic Party nominee. Why? Because there is a huge difference in policies and because campaigning for Bernie significantly involves criticizing and exposing Hillary’s history and policies.

The Democratic Party establishment has not been encouraging Sanders, as suggested by the “sheepdog” theory. On the contrary, it seems they have been trying to diminish or undermine his campaign from the start. Sanders is rounding up new voters and activists, but they are coming for his message which is substantially different than that of the Democratic Party establishment.

Some people falsely assume one needs to commit to one candidate or one party. Given the year-long-or-longer length of the U.S. presidential campaign (compared to most countries where elections start and finish in less than three months), there is time to campaign for the Green Party’s Jill Stein after the Democratic Party Convention if Clinton becomes the nominee.

I personally support the campaigns of BOTH Bernie and Jill. But strategically, right now, Bernie Sanders has a small but real chance to win the Presidency which would result in a huge change. Even if he does not win the nomination, millions of people are being educated and inspired by a message that directly criticizes our current economic/political system. Many of these newly inspired voters can and should be encouraged to vote for principles not party.

Though surely there are multiple reasons to criticize Sanders or any other politician, following are specific reasons why I believe that Sanders is not simply a “lesser evil” candidate:

–He is not part of the Democratic Party establishment. Sanders was elected to Congress as an Independent.

–He has a long history as a left-liberal mayor, congressman and then senator with principles.

–He is not afraid to buck the tide. Sanders did a one-person filibuster trying to stop the Wall Street bailout.

–Unlike President Obama, Sanders was not vetted by Wall Street. On the contrary, he is opposed by Wall Street.

–Sanders’ opposes the core U.S. foreign policy of aggression and “regime change.” He opposed the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of the Libyan government. He opposes current calls for aggression via a “no fly zone” or “safe zone” against Syria.

–He is one of the few in Congress who openly questions or criticizes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the U.S. weapons trade to Israel. He is the only major candidate who did not speak at the recent AIPAC convention. He is the only candidate who says he wants to be a friend of Palestine, not just Israel.

–Sanders’ calls for an audit of the Defense Department. This is the necessary first step toward dramatic military budget cuts.

–Sanders has energized and educated young people about systemic inequality, the domination of Wall Street and corruption in the U.S. political process. Sanders explicitly calls for a “political revolution.”

–Sanders has called for working with Russia against the Islamic State and terrorism instead of promoting division and rivalry as pushed by neoconservatives such as the Clinton-appointed State Department bureaucrat Victoria Nuland, who now serves as assistant secretary of state for European Affairs.

–Sanders has consistently opposed “free trade” agreements which have been disastrous for workers at home and abroad. He opposes the looming TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership).

–Sanders opposes the demonization and pervasive expulsion of refugees.

–Sanders has a better chance of countering Donald Trump or whoever is the Republican nominee because Sanders can increase voter turnout, especially among the youth. In contrast, Hillary Clinton may well increase Republican voter turnout because of her intense unpopularity among much of the U.S. population.

Sanders’s policies are closer to those advocated by Green Party candidate Jill Stein than the policies of Hillary Clinton. But unlike Jill Stein, Sanders has a remote but real chance of winning the presidency. And, it’s not only a question of how much Sanders can turn American politics and policies in beneficial directions; it’s also a question of how bad things will be with either Trump or Clinton.

Clinton is the single person most responsible for the political and human rights disasters in Honduras and Libya. If she becomes President, she will likely continue her dangerous and aggressive policies against Iran and Russia, not to mention Syria. As African-American academic Cornel West, campaigning for Sanders, recently said: “Clinton is hawkish, right wing and imperial.”

Though time is running out – as Clinton builds a substantial delegate lead – U.S. progressives have a chance to join a populist campaign reaching millions of people. With enough grassroots effort, there is still a chance for an upset victory. Some critics believe the contests have already been decided, but this has been a year of surprises, as shown by the advances of both Trump and Sanders.

It would seem to me to be a lost opportunity for progressives to sit on the sidelines or give up without trying.

Rick Sterling has been an organizer and activist for about 45 years. He currently works with Task Force on the Americas, Mt Diablo Peace & Justice Center and Syria Solidarity Movement. The views expressed in this article are his own. He can be contacted at [email protected]


24 comments for “Should Progressives Back Sanders?

  1. RoseM
    March 30, 2016 at 11:07

    If Bernie Sanders is not the democratic candidate… I will write in his name.

  2. dhinds
    March 28, 2016 at 15:04

    Bernie will win the Primaries and the Federal Elections in November.

    This article clearly states the reason why and the information it contains should be made widely available.

    Any attempt by the Democratic Party’s establishment (it’s Super-Delegates) to subvert the will of the party’s base would be a grave and costly error.

  3. Shosholoza
    March 28, 2016 at 11:05

    Please stop already the canard that under Trump hell breaks loose. I am no fan of the Donald but if we are naming evil I see it more in Hillary than in Trump.

  4. Frances in California
    March 26, 2016 at 12:21

    We are currently in a flawed system, using the Electoral College. If we don’t eliminate it, none of your Ideological Purity is worth a rotten fig. If the rotten system (this goes back a very long time; did you also fail to read C.Wright Mills?) nominates Clinton and, given you are not already disenfranchised, and you don’t vote for her, I hope you at least have a rotten fig to eat; under Trump there will be little else for the majority of Americans.

  5. Peter Loeb
    March 26, 2016 at 05:31


    Mr. Sterling fails to deal with why a voter should
    vote to elect a person as president who would be
    as weak as Bernie Sanders inevitably would be.

    Neither does he confront the fact (the word is
    used advisedly) that the worn out “solutions” of
    the Democratic Party do not now and never did
    have the effects so commonly ascribed to them.

    As Gabriel Kolko documents in his landmark
    HISTORY, the alphabet soup of the New Deal
    programs resulted in increased unemployment.
    The Federal Budget of 1941 —the first Federal
    budget for World War Two– solved the Great
    Depression. There were profits for the
    private sector, cost plus contracts, many
    other perks, and jobs and income not only
    for males but for “Rosie the Riveter.” For
    those still working in the weapons industry,
    those days were “the good old days”!

    None of these realities provides much comfort
    for liberals.

    I remain proud of the fact that I did not follow the
    crowd and vote for Barack Obama in 2012. I have
    had to deal with the result (Obama won!).

    If one wishes to support someone like Hillary Clinton
    you are giving support to a militarist, a neocon
    supreme, a supporter of the Israeli extermination
    policies concerning Palestinians …Should Hillary
    Clinton prevail, I personally will have to continue
    to find the truth while facing cries of treason and
    “anti-semitism” ….

    —Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  6. Franklin Benjamin
    March 26, 2016 at 03:32

    Funding of the Anti Trump Provacateurs – and George Soros

    FYI – Donald Trump political rallies have become famous for their disruptions caused by protestors. It has almost become a ritual. Protestors concealed within the crowd begin disruptions one after the other, with Trump yelling “get ’em out!” until they are removed by police (which, since his events are private, he has a perfect right to do).

    These persons are not interested in actually debating Trump, but rather just interfering with his freedom of speech.

  7. Franklin Benjamin
    March 26, 2016 at 03:11

    Jerry Brown

    All Sheepdogs who claimed to start a progressive movement. Sanders is this election’s sheepdog. Movement Bernie? What program for jobs? He is already planning to endorse Clinton and has said so.

    Functionally, he is performing as a sheep dog for the Democrats. At 74 years old, he is certainly to follow in the same path as the above.

    In no way does he challenge the belief that the United States has the right to determine the fates of millions of people without regard to their human rights. He doesn’t believe that other nations have the right to oppose what the United States chooses to impose upon them.

  8. Sander is a Fake
    March 25, 2016 at 22:11

    Sanders voted with Hillary a whopping 93% of the time they were both in Senate. This guy is a snake-oil salesman like Obaam was in 2008. See the Youtube Video Bernie Sanders to the Woodshed. Bernie Sanders initials are BS, because that’s all he spews.

  9. Gregory V Driscoll
    March 25, 2016 at 20:05

    Whatever leverage Mr Sanders may have had to influence policy if he were not to garner the nomination, he himself undermined early in his campaign – apparently wittingly – by saying he would support “the nominee”. He should have said nothing and he would now be in the cat-bird seat because he still does have the potential of doing-in Clinton’s candidacy, and could have actually demanded various things should Clinton’s “super delegates” thwart the will of a majority of regular Democrats – the Democratic Party’s delegate process is very undemocratic. That alone shows he may not be up to the grueling efforts of changing the strategic direction of U.S. policies here and abroad. By the way, just saying you’re a socialist doesn’t make you one – his views and statements belie his being a socialist in any true sense; a social democrat yes; an FDR / LBJ liberal yes, but that word liberal has been so poisoned by both Republican propaganda as well as the Clintons “social issue liberals” and other “liberals” of the champagne or limo type, he was probably advised to never use it. I believe his role in this election cycle is to be a “barker”, getting enough enthusiastic younger people and other independents into the big tent, so they can stop the Greater Evil (Trump or some other Republican) – but in fact Hillary Clinton is the Greater Evil, with war criminal cachet and good buddy Kissinger and her own husband who was responsible for the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children under five years of age and about as many older children, women and other adults.

    • Franklin Benjamin
      March 26, 2016 at 03:23


      Disrupting political rallies should not be a task for his supporters. Especially when it is used as a tool “to stop the Greater Evil (Trump or some other Republican).”

      And rumor has it was Funded by the Clinton campaign via the Democratic Alliance and George Soros? If true, it does not look good for Sanders anti wall street stance.

  10. Treena
    March 25, 2016 at 12:51

    Bernie voters: Even if you’re already registered to vote, check your registration status NOW (it takes two minutes). Thousands were denied their right to vote in Arizona because of voter irregularities. Registration deadlines are often well in advance of your primary or caucus. Check yours now at:

    Here are registration deadlines for upcoming primaries and caucuses that are closed (meaning if you want to vote for Bernie, here are your deadlines to register as a democrat):

    Wyoming: Must register by March 25 for caucus on April 9
    New York: Must register by March 25 for primary on April 19
    (might be by noon on the 25th?)
    Rhode Island: Must register by March 27 for primary on April 26
    Pennsylvania: Must register by March 28 for primary on April 26
    Delaware: Must register by April 2 for primary on April 26
    Maryland: Must register by April 5 for primary on April 26
    Kentucky: Must register by April 18 for primary on May 17
    West Virginia: Must register by April 19 for primary on May 10
    Connecticut: Must register by April 21 for primary on April 26
    Oregon: Must register by April 26 for primary on May 17
    New Mexico: Must register by May 10 for primary on June 7
    New Jersey: Must register by May 17 for primary on June 7
    California: Must register by May 23 for primary on June 7
    South Dakota: Must register by May 23 for primary on June 7
    Washington DC: Must register by May 23 for primary on June 14

  11. Eddie
    March 24, 2016 at 20:32

    And Sanders didn’t just campaign as a ‘liberal Democrat’ (ala’ Dukakis, Kerry, Mondale, etc), he’s self-labelled himself as a — sit down for it — SOCIALIST! I can recall a few years ago people I knew responding to my gentle political points with “well THAT would be SOCIALISM!”, as if that were self-evidentially evil. However, here we are with a significant challenger advocating socialistic (yeah, they’re definitely a mild version) policies. If nothing else, at least Bernie is greatly reducing the resistance to policies like this (i.e.; things that the most of the civilized world considers good practices).

    Just to also confirm, should Sanders lose the nomination to Clinton, I’ll be voting for Jill Stein or writing-in Sanders — definitely NOT pulling the lever for Clinton. I voted previously for a Clinton and was very disappointed…

    • Abbybwood
      March 25, 2016 at 20:00

      Social Security and Medicare are “socialism” and people currently enjoying these programs seem to like them just fine.

      • tony
        March 26, 2016 at 09:54

        Uhmmm, the part in the US Constitution that talks about the Congress, taxing the people to provide Post Offices and roads,…….

    • Kathleen Lowy
      March 28, 2016 at 22:26

      Eddie: “very disappointed”? how about BETRAYED????

  12. rosemerry
    March 24, 2016 at 17:05

    Sanders is way ahead of any other candidate except Jill Stein, and as the writer explains, support for Bernie if he loses can be transferred to the Greens. Many people support Bernie and would never change to Hillary, who is a warmonger and Israel toady.

  13. Joe Tedesky
    March 24, 2016 at 16:09

    Sanders said how he would like to change the campaign finance laws we now elect people under. He stresses how we need to get special interest out of our political decisions. He, also wants to rearrange how America spends it’s money, by spending more on the home front infrastructure projects that are so very badly needed. This would have to mean cutting military spending, and re-diverting that savings towards many much needed social and economic programs here at home in the U.S.. He also happens to be Jewish, and what better person to have as president to finally tell Israel how, ‘enough is enough’. Plus, the irony is that although he calls himself an Independent, Sanders resembles in real life a more traditional Democrat than either Clinton, Hillary or Bill. If the Democratic party is to survive to be what it has been prior to the introduction of the Clinton’s, then it must adopt this Independent who wants to give back to the people’s commons. I would like to see Bernie pick Tulsi Gabbard as his VP running mate. Okay, I’m done.

  14. Cal
    March 24, 2016 at 14:48

    Sanders does need to talk more about jobs and trade ramifications —-he could draw more than just liberals and progressives by doing that.

  15. Cal
    March 24, 2016 at 14:46

    ” Many people pushing for Bernie now will not vote Hillary if she is the Democratic Party nominee. ”

    Then tell them to Write in His Name on their vote ballot. Instead of voting for any of the final nominees get a write in movement started..

    Because we are totally screwed if any of the current front runners are elected so might as well not be party to electing any of them.

    • Abbybwood
      March 25, 2016 at 19:57

      Activists for Sanders need to file for him to run as an Independent now in all fifty states.

      Signatures need to be gathered NOW to qualify him for the ballot in all fifty states.

      If he loses the nomination to Clinton, and he will due to the DNC’s rotten use of the Super Delegates (which were locked up for Hillary Clinton over a year ago), he needs to announce he is running as an Independent.

      He will easily poll past the necessary 15% threshold adopted by the Presidential Debate Commission and will thus be allowed in all four or five “sanctioned” debates.

      A debate between Clinton/Trump?/Sanders would ensure a landslide election for Sanders as both Clinton and Trump are loathed within their own parties.

      And take note that at the beginning of the process Sanders made a blanket statement that he would endorse the nominee of the Democrat Party.

      NOW he has come out with “conditions”. If Clinton will promise to fight for a single payer Medicare for All health care system. If Clinton will promise to enact a national $15/hr. minimum wage. If she will promise to stop the TPP. Etc. Only “then” he now says he will endorse her.

      Clinton will NEVER agree to any of these conditions which makes me think Bernie Sanders might be serious about starting a “political revolution”.

      I will be among the millions of his supporters out on the streets getting signatures if he decides to go Independent in November.

      We can’t afford to “wait” until 2020.

      • Kathleen Lowy
        March 28, 2016 at 22:25

        Abbybwood: That’s what I say….He has got to run as THIRD PARTY CANDIDATE….how do we get the ball rolling? where do you get the filing papers? who do you contact?

        [email protected]

  16. Oz
    March 24, 2016 at 14:38

    I am warming to Sanders after seeing Tulsi Gabbard lend her support to him. But he says virtually nothing about foreign policy, and he obsequiously defends Obama, which worries me. Many progressives were completely deceived by Obama. Once bitten, twice shy.

    • Dogtowner
      March 26, 2016 at 16:19

      I can never understand how progressives could have been deceived by Obama. All one had to do was look at the list of his advisors: Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, Brzezinski (I hoped I spelled his name correctly) as lead foreign policy advisor, etc. I told people about this list of evildoers and no one was interested. If you are fooled because of your own willful ignorance, the fault lies entirely with yourself.

      • Kathleen Lowy
        March 28, 2016 at 22:22

        Dogtowner: my husband and I supported Obama because he promised the ‘seas would recede’, etc., etc.,
        implying he cared about environmental concerns….and also for fear of McCain/Palin administration with
        “drill, baby, drill”….What a joke that turned out to be! I also was concerned when he voted FOR renewing the
        Patriot Act…I even called his campaign office about it, and I was basically assured to somehow not worry about it..
        Talk about being BETRAYED! Not voting for anyone but Sanders….if we can get him to go as a third-party candidtate,, if need be!

Comments are closed.