Bernie Sanders addresses the crowd at his St. Louis rally. (Thora Pearson)
Bernie Sanders addresses the crowd at his St. Louis rally.

Thora Pearson

Yes/No: Bernie Sanders

March 10, 2020

Bernie Sanders is exactly what democracy needs

After attending both the Biden and Sanders rallies in St. Louis leading up to the primary election, one thing is clear: Bernie Sanders is the candidate that the Democratic party needs. Granted, I will not be able to vote in tomorrow’s primaries, but if I could, I know that my vote would be for Sanders.

At first glance, there are obvious differences between the candidates’ campaign appearances in Saint Louis. While Biden’s Saturday morning rally at Kiener Plaza pulled a sizable crowd, attendance paled in comparison to the packed theater of supporters for Sanders’ event at Stifel Theatre March 9. If Sanders’ event in the middle of a rainy work and school day can draw a larger, more enthusiastic crowd than Biden’s sunny weekend rally, what does that say about the voter turnout each of them will inspire? In 2016, 47 percent of eligible voters did not vote. This voter apathy is a grave threat to the principles of American democracy because when people are no longer participating in the government, the government is no longer working for the people. If Joe Biden is selected as the Democratic presidential candidate, we will see the same troublingly low voter turnout as we saw in 2016— Biden simply does not inspire voters. 

For many people, the top priority in the 2020 presidential election is ensuring that Donald Trump does not win a second term. Some people fear that Sanders is too divisive to unite the Democratic vote against Trump, or that he will split the vote. However, while Sanders has criticized Biden, he has expressed that he will support whoever ends up running against Trump in the general election. In reality, Sanders unites a broader, more diverse group of voters than Biden. Also, Sanders’ voter demographic tends to be more politically active and more likely to show up at the polls to vote 

While it’s not ideal that both candidates are limited to the demographic of old white men, Sanders has done far more to advocate for underrepresented groups than Biden. Sanders has a long record of advocacy, as far back as 1963 when he was arrested for protesting as a part of the Civil Rights Movement. Since then, Sanders has continuously upheld the principles of protecting minority rights and supporting the weakest members of society. In comparison, Biden has demonstrated a questionable voting record on issues of civil rights and social justice. In 1994, Biden authored an infamous crime bill that fueled mass incarceration and over-representation of African Americans in the prison system. In his campaign, Biden is now preaching a message of unity and equality that he’s done little to carry out in his years as a politician. Sanders and Biden’s past actions say more about what they would do if elected than any promises they make in speeches. 

A common criticism of Sanders is that his ideas are too radical and idealistic. Even those who support policies, like universal healthcare and free education, claim that they could never be successfully implemented. However, this mentality only undermines the possibility of progress. The only way to solve major problems in American society will be through comprehensive policy change. Though Sanders will undoubtedly face partisan push-back from Congress, if we don’t even attempt policy for fear of this push-back, there will be no chance for progress. Sanders may have to make concessions in order to pass legislation, but I would far prefer a candidate who enters office with big ideas to one without the conviction to push for change at all. 

The government exists to support the people. In the current climate of partisanship and political gridlock, politicians have lost sight of their responsibility to the public. We have seen our elected officials increasingly placing partisan disputes over the needs of their constituents. Sanders has demonstrated a persistent effort to listen to the people, and fight for them, even when it draws pushback from conservatives. His uncompromising tenacity for progress is necessary to push through the gridlock. Some view his ambitious ideas as an overstepping of presidential power, but if Sanders were elected to office, his intended changes would represent the will of the people. If elected, Sanders needs to do everything in his power to implement the policies people voted for when they cast their vote for him, rather than allowing them to be lost in congress and fade into empty promises. The grassroots passion behind the Sanders campaign is exactly what we need to return our democracy to its core purpose: serving the American people.

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Bernie Sanders is a danger to democracy

If I had the chance to vote on March 10 in Missouri’s primary, I would vote for former Vice President Joe Biden in a heartbeat. This is after attending both Biden’s and Senator Bernie Sanders’ St. Louis campaign rallies — and after a lot of consideration on my part in the last few months of the presidential race. 

As a young woman, it’s probably surprising to hear me support Uncle Joe over Grandpa Bernie. Sanders advocates for zero student loan debt, free universal healthcare and for the expansion of  Planned Parenthood funding. He has consistently voted in support of minority groups and has a history of social activism dating all the way back to the 1960s. 

It’s not that I am against these policies — in fact, if they were to be implemented, it would make my life a lot easier. But, see, in elections of this nature — when we have someone like our current president in the Oval Office — specific policies don’t hold as much weight as Sanders’ supporters wish they did. My (hypothetical) vote for Biden over Sanders rests on two reasons. 

First, the biggest problem in our democracy at the moment: polarization. At his campaign rally, Sanders spoke heavily of defeating Trump. He aims to increase young voter turnout in order to unseat “the most dangerous president in modern history,” Sanders said at the rally March 9. He spoke little of the destructive divisions currently in the Democratic party during his 45-minute speech; meanwhile, Biden spoke for seven minutes total at his rally March 7 and pushed a message of bipartisanship and unification. 

The president is not the only power in the government. (Although it seems to be heading that way — I’ll get there.) Congress is vital to passing any proposed legislation — as any US Government & Politics student knows, only representatives, not the president, can introduce a bill. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) fears that a Sanders nomination would cause voters to “balance out” their Sanders vote with a Republican vote in Congress, since Sanders is far left. 

Unfortunately, the political world we currently live in detests middle ground, which has been increased by our president and used to his advantage. His opponents are quick to condemn this, yet they are the same people hoisting Bernie 2020 signs. Democrats can’t point fingers at the White House and then nominate someone who will push the divide even further. Joe Biden has received criticism for being friendly with Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader. However, this is exactly what we need: a nominee with connections on both sides, friends in the House and Senate — where Sanders is not well-liked among Senators from both parties — and a call to build a bridge, not burn one. 

My second reason concerns the increasing power of the presidency. Since Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal of the 1930s, the executive branch has increased power to a dangerous level. Executive orders are extremely common and the idea of executive privilege, or the president withholding certain information from Congress, is accepted (thanks to Nixon). Moreover, succeeding presidents have operated by what historian Arthur Schlesinger calls the imperial presidency. Ford, Carter, Reagan, H.W. Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama have all conducted extreme foreign affairs operatives without much Congressional oversight. And we now have a president that is gleefully building off the precedents set by his predecessors. 

When Sanders discusses his big plans to reform item after item — college tuition, pharmaceutical companies, minimum wage, infrastructure, Social Security, taxing Wall Street, fossil fuel industry, private prisons,“strongest gun legislation ever proposed,” Planned Parenthood, immigration, to name a few — it begs the question: can the president really fix all of these problems? Will one vote for Sanders really enact change? Even if the answer is yes, and even if all of these come true, I wouldn’t want it to be possible. 

If Sanders does get elected and is able to accomplish all of these actions, it gives a huge advantage to the next president, who will probably be a Republican because the United States will have had enough of Sanders’ democratic socialism. So where have we landed ourselves now? With a presidency capable of leaching into the roots of Congress, of the Supreme Court, of the people and the press. That is not a risk worth taking.

 

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