Papastefan: Feeling the Bern? Proceed with caution


Grant Papastefan, Columnist

Bernie Sanders is on fire. Not really, as he still trails Hillary Clinton by about 20 points in most national polls, but there is no denying that Sanders’ campaign is sparking national interest, thanks to a small minority with a very big voice. It’s hard to scroll through any social media or news site for more than a few minutes without coming across a post or article praising the 74-year-old senator from Vermont, either for his bold, progressive stances, unwillingness to play the political game or general carelessness toward societal norms.

The problem with Bernie Sanders is none of the things I mentioned above the boldness, the nonconformity, the uniqueness because why would those be problems? The problem with Bernie Sanders is that all of those things are projections that, in the heat of a very vocal grassroots movement, are doing an excellent job of covering up the real Bernie Sanders.

I’ll start with the progressivism because frankly, a person’s character does not necessarily reflect his or her ability to be a good president. Bernie Sanders claims he is a democratic socialist, but that is not actually true. The policies Sanders advocates for are much more in line with those of a social democrat than a democratic socialist. Whereas a democratic socialist would seek to impose policies geared toward eliminating the competitive marketplace, a social democrat (Bernie Sanders) supports expanding social services and government involvement in the marketplace without eliminating it. There are official democratic socialists in the United States, but Sanders stands far right of them. Not only is Sanders not a democratic socialist by definition, but also it is questionable whether he is even a social democrat. History shows that Sanders’ actions are not quite as progressive as his words.

In spite of recently speaking out against the Iraq War and voicing support for military intervention only as a last resort, Sanders supported President Bill Clinton’s military actions in the 1999 Kosovo War. Additionally, after supporting the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, he supported resolutions funding U.S. involvement in Iraq in 2003. While Sanders has voted consistently on some issues like abortion and veterans’ rights, he has failed to stay consistent with progressive values on a number of occasions. Sanders voted five times against the Brady Bill, which sought to impose background checks and waiting periods for gun ownership. When first voting against the bill in May of 1991, he cited the need for instant background checks, a technology not available at the time, instead of the suggested seven-day waiting period. But he still voted against the bill in 1993, which proposed an even shorter five-day waiting period temporarily until technology for instant checks was developed. Sanders has frequently, and recently, alluded to Vermont being a big hunting state as justification, but congressmen from many other hunting-oriented states, such as Iowa, Kentucky and Indiana, voted in favor of the bill. While Sanders recently said he would support background checks, his voting record suggests such statements are more of an effort to appeal to progressive voters and not his true stance. Contradictions like these should raise questions about the extent of his progressivism.  

Sanders’ legislative history is not the only concerning aspect of his candidacy. On a personal level, Sanders has portrayed himself in a manner that is also highly questionable. Most recently, a story about Sanders meeting with Sandra Bland’s mother and telling no one about it was used to perpetuate the narrative that he acts out of genuine humanity and not political interests. It’s comical to think that an interaction between the most vocally progressive presidential candidate and Bland’s mother would go unnoticed, and it should take a lot less than nearly three decades in politics to see how that story would manifest itself. The questionable behavior doesn’t end there. At the recent democratic debate, Sanders abandoned political strategy, or so he said, by saying that the American people were sick of hearing about Hillary Clinton’s “damn emails.” Sanders may have sounded genuine, but it’s difficult to see how a man with so many years of experience could not know about playing to the room, one of the oldest political ploys, which his statement executed perfectly. It’s especially hard to see how that could be the case when his campaign sent out an email to supporters about the topic just minutes later — seems like great strategy to me.

Bernie Sanders is just another politician. What sets him apart from other politicians is not his progressive record and policies, which are inconsistent at best, but his ability to convey a sense of trustworthiness and honesty to voters. While he has managed to convince voters he is the progressive, socialist voice for them, his voting record shows otherwise. While his supporters will bombard your Facebook newsfeed with story after “Berning” story of his integrity, a little digging shows otherwise. I’m not saying Bernie Sanders is a bad guy or he doesn’t have some truly progressive policies. All I’m saying is the contradictions between his actions and his public image should bring people to examine his candidacy with a more critical eye. If Bernie Sanders is elected president, his economic policies will probably get us all fired, so the least we can do is make sure we’re actually feeling the Bern, and not just getting burned.

Grant Papastefan is a Bienen freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.