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Why A Vote For Sanders Is Not—And Never Will Be—A Vote for Trump

Most of the cases against Bernie Sanders amount to arguments against citizens voting their conscience. One of the more cynical arguments pushed by establishment media pundits in the 2016 Election is that Sanders would lose to Donald Trump in a general election, so his supporters, and every other American, should not vote for him.

Let’s be clear: A vote for Sanders is a vote for Sanders. A vote for Trump is a vote for Trump. A vote for anyone in the election, who is on the ballot in November, is a vote for that candidate. Anyone who uses their platform as a columnist for a media organization to lob spoiler arguments is engaged in a poisonous act to delude citizens, who are willing to vote their conscience.

In a column for The Daily Beast, Jay Michaelson declares, “I am writing to you because I am sincerely worried that you will hand this election to the Republicans, and I want to do my best to convince you not to do so.”

At this point, Sanders has mobilized hundreds of thousands of Americans. He has inspired numerous citizens to believe in a positive vision for radical change. That has created enthusiasm for participating in the election. Yet, Michaelson would rather this election be framed as “Anybody But Trump,” a direct descendant of all the “Anybody But a Republican” campaigns that have failed to turnout voters to help Democrats win, especially in midterm elections.

Because this is representative of much of the dominant ideology among commentators in U.S. establishment media, it is worth further exploring Michaelson’s case against Sanders.

“The point of primary elections is not to select a president; it’s to select a candidate. For that reason, “electability” is not just one among many issues: It is the central issue. Yet despite having absorbed several dozen pro-Bernie articles and videos, I have yet to hear a plausible path to victory for Bernie Sanders.”

Leaving aside the fact that Michaelson has clearly digested multiple analyses or theories for how Sanders could, in fact, defeat Trump but he does not buy any of them, the fact is citizens are not managers of democracy. They should not concern themselves with political strategy and cynical concepts like “electability.”

To the extent that voting actually matters, a citizen’s job should be to vote their conscience. After voting, citizens should participate or return to direct actions and grassroots organizing, which can grow movements that provide the momentum, which will make it possible to enact the kind of policies which commentators like Michaelson claim have no chance of ever being enacted.

Michaelson acknowledges “head-to-head polls right now that show Sanders doing even better than Clinton against Rubio, Cruz, and Trump.” However, he claims “these polls are meaningless” because “most people still have no clear idea of who Bernie Sanders is or what he stands for. This may sound ridiculous to those of us who follow politics closely, but it’s the sad reality of American democracy.”

Up until the end of December, it was possible to say that few Americans knew of Bernie Sanders or what he stood for because establishment media was not covering his candidacy like they covered Clinton, Trump, or other Republican presidential candidates. Since virtually tying in the Iowa Caucuses and handily winning all demographics (except for two) in the New Hampshire primary, Sanders coverage has escalated significantly. He also appeared on late night television shows. He had a cameo on “Saturday Night Live.” He has benefited from Larry David’s impersonation of him on “SNL.” He has been a subject of a popular “Bernie vs. Hillary” Internet meme.

All of the above should make it increasingly difficult to argue Americans still don’t know of Sanders.

Michaelson, like other columnists, promotes the idea that the Sanders campaign could not handle the Republican attacks against him for being a “socialist.”

There are two major problems with this argument. Hyping the potential impact of attack ads to discourage citizens from supporting a presidential candidate essentially means one surrenders to the influence of money in politics from corporate or special interests, since those interests would be responsible for enabling any deluge of attack ads. This argument also neglects the Sanders campaign’s “fundraising prowess.”

What would really happen if Republican attack ads were deployed against Sanders for being “socialist”? What would really unfold if they went after Sanders for supporting policies like single-payer healthcare and a tax on Wall Street speculation? Wouldn’t this energize supporters and inspire more citizens to donate to Sanders? Isn’t this what happened when Clinton disingenuously criticized Sanders’ healthcare position?

Michaelson’s hyped fear of red-baiting to discourage Sanders supporters is further undermined by the reality that Sanders has a record typical of a liberal Democrat. He has voted with Democratic Party leader Harry Reid ninety-one percent of the time while in the Senate. He has taken the same positions as President Barack Obama ninety-three percent of the time. When Clinton and Sanders were both senators, he “voted with Clinton ninety-three percent of the time,” according to FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver.

After deploying a litany of horrors Michaelson believes will transpire if Sanders loses in November, he argues, “I couldn’t look at someone struggling with poverty, perhaps in a community of color, perhaps in an urban context blighted by a century of the new Jim Crow, and say that I helped bring this about.”

“I couldn’t explain my vote to a civilian family we bombed in Iraq or Syria, or to my children who will have to deal with a changed climate. Hell, I couldn’t explain it to my own husband, who will be legally un-wedded from me within half a decade if a Republican president delivers on his campaign promises,” Michaelson adds. “I think that preferring my moral/political purity over these life-or-death questions is a privileged position to take.”

“I think one reason Bernie’s supporters tend toward the white, young, and privileged is that we don’t have as much skin in the game as others who would be affected by a Republican victory. Moral purity is a luxury not.”

The most sleazy and disingenuous aspect of this argument is that somehow Sanders supporters are responsible for any carnage or turmoil that ensues if Sanders is the Democratic nominee and fails to beat a Republican presidential candidate in November. The responsibility for any terrible outcomes will lie with the Republican, who pursues a destructive agenda and not those who chose to participate in the electoral process.

This argument also discounts the perspectives of actual people of color, who have endorsed Sanders. For example, Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner, who was put in a chokehold and killed by New York police, supports Sanders because she believes he is willing to stand up for people of color and take on systemic racism within the criminal justice system. For her, the decision to support Sanders is an issue of life and death.

What is a luxury for any white, younger, and more privileged man is pragmatism. The luxury is being able to argue left-of-center politics and incremental change will save anyone from the virulent strain of capitalist ideology and imperial warmongering, which dominates so much of American politics. That is why working class people, white, black, and brown, are connecting movement struggles with Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."