CONTENT WARNING: This opinion piece contains quotes from Sen. Sanders about sexual assault. Use caution before reading.
In the aftermath of the 2016 election, there has been a consistent buzz over who would be best suited to run against Donald Trump the next time around. Several names have been consistently floated: Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Vice President Biden were all mentioned frequently. But the name mentioned most often was that of independent Vermont senator and 2016 primary runner-up Bernie Sanders. By now, I’m sure all of us know who he is – a candidate who has positioned himself to be the most progressive candidate in the race.
Or is he?
Sen. Sanders’ history – both in his legislative career and before that – has been marred by a number of votes and words that are questionable at best – and outright deplorable at worst. One point his detractors like to focus on is a 1972 essay by Sanders, where he writes:
“A man goes home and masturbates to his typical fantasy. A woman on her knees, a woman tied up, a woman abused. A woman enjoys intercourse with her man – as she fantasizes about being raped by three men simultaneously.”
In my time discussing politics with random folks on the street, almost none of them knew about this piece, which should be disqualifying in its own right. While it has been mentioned in a few miscellaneous articles, it has never achieved enough relevance to become well known unlike quotes of a similar manner from Donald Trump.
Amazingly, this is only one excerpt from several of his writings from the same era, which contain similarly questionable statements. Even after his career began, he has consistently had an issue saying objectionable statements with no reservations. A 2018 report from BuzzFeed News recounts that in August 2015, during a meeting with criminal justice reform activists, Sanders was asked why, in his opinion, people of color were imprisoned at much higher rates for nonviolent drug offenses, to which he answered:
“Aren’t most of the people who sell drugs African American?”
This quote, which has still not been formally addressed by the Sanders campaign, is emblematic of what Sanders thinks about himself and his politics: that he alone can solve everything, and he can say whatever he wants to make that happen. A recent controversy involving his gratuitous use of a racial slur in his 1998 political memoir is equally as emblematic of his mindset – that he alone is the one with all the answers and anyone who suggests he’s not perfect be damned.
These controversies also don’t touch his conservative voting record over the years. Vermont as a state is politically quirky – while it regularly sends Democrats to the Senate and House, it also regularly votes in conservatives for state government positions, including governor and lieutenant governor. Despite Vermont being one of the go-to examples of a liberal utopia, the state is actually fairly conservative in a number of ways, largely thanks to being the smallest state in the US. The state’s low population leads to strange rural politics, even if combined with some liberalism.
Sanders is especially guilty of this – having been elected to the House in 1990 thanks to an endorsement from the National Rifle Association and the state’s police unions. In fact, this NRA endorsement still has echoes in his modern politics, with Sanders’ record being unusually pro-gun for the Democrats, including a vote to allow Amtrak passengers to carry guns, a vote in favor of the Minutemen militia that has been patrolling the southern border armed since 2004 (several members of which were convicted of murdering a 9-year old immigrant in 2009) and a refusal to join his Democratic colleagues’ filibuster in favor of gun restrictions after the Pulse nightclub massacre in 2016.
On the topic of the southern border, this is another topic where Sanders’ positions are moderate at best. In 2007, he voted against an immigration reform package that would have provided undocumented immigrants with a path to citizenship due to concerns that immigrants would “flood the American job market” and just earlier this summer Sanders had two cases of espousing anti-immigrant views, first in Iowa where he said:
“If you open the borders, there’s a lot of poverty in the world, and you’re going to have people from all over the world. And I don’t think that’s something we can do at this point. Can’t do it.”
This statement was followed by a comment before the first Democratic debate where he spoke in support of not closing detention facilities at the border, but instead building new facilities “right on the border.” This is in contrast to the immigration policy of every other major Democratic campaign, all of whom call for a return to the pre-Trump policy of simply housing migrants in hotels or by letting them stay with family in the United States.
Sanders has also come under fire from activists for questionable support of LGBTQ+ rights. In 2006, he reaffirmed his opposition to the government legalizing marriage equality during a US Senate debate, more than two years after prominent Democratic figures had argued in favor of it (including 2004 presidential nominee John Kerry).
More recently, Sanders has come under fire for using rapper Cardi B as a surrogate after numerous transphobic remarks, as well as a tweet from his national campaign press secretary making a joke at the expense of folks who identify outside of the gender binary.
To round this out: Sanders has positioned himself to be optically progressive, which goes in direct conflict to his past and present politics. His campaign and the press in general have successfully defrauded American liberals and progressives into thinking he is an icon within their respective movements – while in reality he is nothing of the sort. He is a moderate-to-conservative Democrat who has some moderate-to-severe racism and xenophobia in his past that he needs to answer for.
While his 2020 campaign is already burning up in the stratosphere (polling in 3rd place nationally and below 10 percent in New Hampshire, a state he won by 33 percent in 2016), it is important Democratic voters hear the truth about his background. He is unfit to lead the Democratic Party and especially the United States.