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As I sat sweating in my un-air-conditioned apartment watching the July Democratic debates, I started to get heated for an unrelated reason. The candidates were asked to debate about health care—except they weren’t really talking about health care. They were arguing about which position on health care would be the most electable.
This kind of dialogue dominates the Democratic debates and media coverage of the election and even poisons the platforms of the candidates themselves. The race to get elected has become a spectacle, more of a reality show than a democratic process. We have stopped talking about the issues at the heart of the buzzwords bandied about in headlines and advertisements. Labor rights are reduced to debates about minimum wage, the climate emergency is tempered by talk of gradual change, and candidates treat the word “tax” like a slur.
But there’s one candidate that doesn’t shy away from talking about the actual structures of power that gave rise to all these problems. Bernie Sanders—the only candidate who has consistently, effectively, and openly fought for the institution of a socialist system in the United States—is the only true progressive candidate.
The Vermont senator isn’t new to the debate stage. His 2016 presidential run was ultimately unsuccessful in winning him a spot on the ticket, but it wasn’t a failure. A quick glance over his 2020 opponents’ policy pages and you can find hints (or sometimes, large doses) of Bernie.
You can see his push for a $15 minimum wage in almost every platform. In 2016, Hillary Clinton campaigned for a minimum of $12, a low standard that’s since been abandoned by the left.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, perhaps the candidate closest to Bernie (to his right, of course), has hopped on board Sanders’ free college for all plan, co-opting it into a detailed tax plan that would make public colleges and universities free. Bernie’s plan for total student debt forgiveness has yet to be matched by any other candidates, who’ve taken that idea and complicated it with ridiculous requirements and hoops to jump through (ahem, Kamala).
There’s a distinct pattern that pops up again and again as liberal Democrats adopt and change Bernie’s foundational policies. Somewhere along the way, the “for all” part gets dropped and becomes “for some,” “for this specific group,” and “on these conditions.” That’s not the spirit of progressivism. Compromise is no longer an option when we have a dying planet, millions of exploited workers, a debt crisis, and politicians in Washington throwing up their hands wondering how we can ever get out of this mess.
Compromise isn’t an option because capitalism isn’t a viable option anymore. We need a president who, although he’s old, can usher in a new phase of social, political, and economic change that uplifts even the most overlooked people in the nation. We need Bernie.