Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., recently joined the growing pool of candidates vying for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president. His decision has been met with its fair share of criticism.
Some people opposed to Sanders’ campaign believe he is acting unreasonably and irresponsibly. I’ve seen journalists and students alike express concerns about his age, progressive policies and aptitude for generating polarization within his own party.
During the 2016 presidential election, I was 17 years old and ineligible to vote. Nonetheless, I was enraptured by Sanders’ campaign. It was energized, and excited millions of young Americans.
Rather than feeling obligated to support Sanders, voters were enthusiastic and believed in his message. The momentum Sanders captured three years ago remains, and is arguably stronger now.
Within the first 24 hours of his announcement, the Sanders’ campaign raised $6 million. This figure alone is enough proof that he’s going to be a serious contender.
“What makes Sanders so valuable is his perceived authenticity” — Chris Agard CM ’21
There’s legitimacy to Sanders’ popularity. His campaign was driven by grassroots efforts, addressing the growing inequalities in wealth that we see today in the U.S. His focus on health care, education and workers’ rights reflects a resistance to these inequities. The senator represented an alternative to the continued status quo that Hillary Clinton stood for.
Many Democratic leaders have since adopted his policy ideas and brought them to the forefront of political discourse, although this in itself is a double-edged sword.
On paper, Sanders is much less unique than he was three years ago. But we have seen the faults and inconsistencies of candidates within the Democratic Party who aim to appeal to young voters.
The current front-runner is arguably Sen. Kamala Harris of California, whose track record as San Francisco’s district attorney and California’s attorney general has come under intense scrutiny.
Another leading Democrat, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, has been the subject of much ridicule for her strange dedication to identifying with her minuscule amount of Native American ancestry.
Liberal voters do not easily overlook the controversies of their leaders. It is a fine line to walk, as we should expect our politicians to always be on the side of what we believe is right.
Some missteps are more forgivable than others, but all taint their reputations.
That being said, a politician’s track record should be taken into account when considering how they will act if elected. Members of the Democratic Party try to find different ways to be appealingly progressive by using liberal buzzwords or youth platforms.
As a voter, I find it challenging to know whether a candidate is being authentic or pandering to me. This is when their past political actions become important.
What makes Sanders so valuable is his perceived authenticity. In Congress, he maintains a long and proven track record that has been subject to minimal scrutiny. While it is true that he has passed less legislation than other prominent congresspeople, he has remained committed to his progressive agenda that advocates for the rights and equity of all people.
Some would argue that despite his experience, he has never proven to be a true leader. But when given the opportunity, Sanders has provided leadership through powerful speech.
A more substantial concern is his age — he’s 77 years old.
Because of this, it is imperative that Sanders chooses a younger running mate whose policy ideas align with his and who shares his ability to engage with audiences.
A final argument against Sanders is a residual one from 2016: he is too divisive of a figure. To this, I say that it is better to nominate a candidate who is divisive; it proves he has core beliefs and is not working to simply capture the votes of certain demographics.
It is indicative of a vision, which is more likely to enact meaningful change than saying what he needs to win.
The 2016 election taught us that we cannot rely solely on a highly qualified candidate. The Democratic Party needs a leader who will energize those disillusioned by the current state of politics. And Sanders is that person.
Chris Agard CM ’21 is from Atlanta, Georgia, and studies Philosophy, Politics and Economics. In his free time, he enjoys lauding Frank Dining Hall for its brunch, but only going once a semester.