It’s time to stop framing Sanders’ agenda as radical, and accept that the, “Moderates” are the radical ones.
“Bernie? He’s crazy!” A voter said to me a few months ago. After this voter, a middle aged working class black man, made this statement he expressed his opinions on the issues to me. He told me how he believes in universal single-payer healthcare, the enfranchisement of all incarcerated people, and raising the minimum wage. I agreed with him on every single one of those issues, and so does Bernie Sanders. Does that mean that we’re all crazy? Maybe. However, I think the broader lesson to pull from this situation is that there’s a huge disconnect between the perception that many voters have of Bernie and their perception of his ideas.
Part of this discord is a result of biased media coverage. Another part is the failure of the Sanders’ campaign to package their agenda better to make it more palatable with older voters. Super Tuesday has come and gone, and the Sanders campaign is at a clear crossroads. The race has narrowed down to just two candidates, Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden. Biden was able to sway many late deciding voters because they viewed him as the, “safe choice”. The question now is, how does Bernie turn the tide? The answer is that he needs to alter his approach a bit, and fine tune it to make older voters less weary.
“I Like Bernie”
Bernie possesses the highest favorability ratings among all sitting Senators. He also leads all Presidential Candidates that were still in the race in late February. In short, people like Bernie. We also know that they like his ideas as well.
The common framing on the Health Care debate is that Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All proposal is radical. Joe Biden says we can’t afford it. Pete Buttigieg says it takes away “choice”. Amy Klobuchar says it’ll never pass Congress, so why even try? To top it all off, the insurance industry has been running ads against it as well. Even after all of that, not a single state’s exit poll thus far has yielded unfavorable results for Medicare for All. Healthcare just so happens to be voters’ top issue this election cycle. So, to recap, Bernie Sanders is the most popular candidate in the race. He’s also the most trusted on the issues that matter most to voters; yet somehow, many of these very same voters are voting for someone else to be our Presidential Nominee. Why?
“Who can beat Trump?”
The numbers tell us that voters are most concerned with who can beat Donald Trump. Most voters, especially older voters, don’t really care one way or another which candidate they agree with more on the issues. They are most passionate about ousting the 45th occupant out of the Oval Office. Whoever they feel has the best shot, is who will ultimately get their vote. The rapid consolidation of moderate endorsements coupled with a strong victory in South Carolina convinced a lot of voters that Joe Biden was indeed the chosen one to deliver us all from The Donald. Biden’s poll numbers vs Trump have always been strong. In fact, I’d presume that this was the main reason he entered the race in the first place. I’ve written recently about why Joe Biden’s electability could very well end up being a myth, but the question before us right now is how can Bernie change the narrative? How can he convince voters that he’s indeed the best candidate suited to deliver us from Donald?
Who’s the radical one here?
Bernie Sanders needs to ground his policies in past American politics. He needs to base them off of programs that already exist. He needs to attach himself to past Democratic Presidents such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ), and most importantly Barack Hussein Obama. He’s done this a bit recently, but he needs to do this all the time from here on out. FDR rescued this country from the brink of oblivion during the Great Depression. He established a social safety net with programs such as federal jobs creation, establishing a national minimum wage and the Social Security fund. LBJ is best known for establishing Medicare and Medicaid. Bernie Sanders, in reality, is literally running on taking these programs and expanding them to include more people. Bernie Sanders must also frame Medicare for All as fulfilling the promise it was always meant to fulfill, but also as the completion of Barack Obama’s goal as well.
Barack Obama’s goal with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was to get the entire country covered. Bernie Sanders’ goal with Medicare for All is to get everyone in the country covered. The goals are identical; the pathway to get there is just different. Bernie Sanders needs to lean into this. What’s radical about wanting everyone to have healthcare? What’s radical about not wanting half a million people to go bankrupt each year from medical bills? What’s radical about taking a current government run healthcare program that people love, expanding its benefits, and phasing people into it over a four year period? That’s all that Bernie’s plan does. Here’s the kicker, a recent Yale study shows that Bernie’s plan will cut our current healthcare costs by $450 Billion each year. So basically, we can save money AND lives at the same time. It’s a no brainer. Every paycheck I receive, money comes out of it for Medicare. Under Medicare for All, that money will go to my own healthcare. This will also eliminate all premiums, deductibles and co-pays, and as a result, workers will see a huge pay raise. It’s common sense. It’s both moral and fiscally responsible. But not only that, it’s building on what we currently have — not creating something completely new.
Joe Biden’s plan is less expensive than Bernie’s. However, the human cost is much higher. Biden’s plan is estimated to leave 10 million people uninsured. It is also estimated that his plan will lead to 125,000 deaths over ten years. How is that not radical? Joe Biden also has a long history of trying to cut Social Security benefits. Is it not radical to propose cuts to a government program that the American people overwhelmingly want to protect? Bernie has a long track record of protecting Social Security benefits. What’s really radical is ignoring the radically amoral elements of Joe Biden’s vision for our country, and feeding into the narrative that he’s “electable”.
Tying it all Together
Bernie is not radical. He needs to send this message loud and clear to the American people by grounding his agenda in American ideals like health and prosperity. Bernie’s platform aims to give working people a fighting chance in today’s economy. He plans to achieve that end by expanding the same policies and ideas that made FDR, LBJ, and Barack Obama popular. Bernie needs to make serious gains with older voters, especially older black voters. Touting his record of protecting Social Security benefits, and explaining to them that they’d see the most immediate gains from Medicare for All could sway many of them. He’s done an excellent job of getting out and mobilizing young people, but older voters still outvote us. As a result, he needs to apply a similar strategy to reaching older voters and sell them on his agenda. However, as we’ve already established, voters need to know whether or not he can beat Trump.
The good news is that, like Biden, Bernie beats Trump in the vast majority of polls out there. The bad news is, this isn’t common knowledge. Grounding his agenda will go a long way into bridging that gap. His ideas are popular, people trust him on the issues, and they like him more than Trump. How is this NOT a campaign that can beat Trump? He has to sell his electability case every time he opens his mouth. He has to figure out a strategy to reach older voters (perhaps newspaper ads would do the trick). Lastly, he has to tie in the popularity of his ideas with his electability case. Joe Biden is viewed as the most electable in spite of his ideas. Bernie has roughly four months left to prove that he’s the most electable because of his ideas.