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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Sanders, the Left, and African Americans

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the 2016 campaign. The 2019 update includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms. The 2020 race, the subject of our next book, is well underway.  

At NYT, Sydney Ember notes that there has been a surge in progressive activism,  but it is not the kind that Bernie Sanders promoted.
Mr. Sanders, whose slogan on his campaign was “Not me, us,” described the protests as a validation of his theory of social change: “What I have said for a very long time is that real change is never going to come from the top on down, it’s always from the bottom on up.”

But during his presidential bid, Mr. Sanders at times seemed uncomfortable speaking overtly about race. At a presidential forum in April 2019 for women of color, he offered few specific policy details, and drew some groans from the audience when he referred to marching with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in response to a question about how he would handle current challenges.

And more recently, during an event in Flint, Mich., in March that campaign aides had billed as an opportunity for him to speak directly to black voters, he decided not to deliver a planned speech and instead largely ceded the stage to panelists including the academic Cornel West.

When Mr. Sanders spoke about racial equality, it was often in the context of economic equality, championing proposals and prescriptions that he believed would improve the lives of all working Americans. He said that policies like single-payer health care would address higher maternal and infant mortality rates in black communities. And he wanted to legalize marijuana and end cash bail, policies he said were aimed in particular at helping black Americans and other people of color.

These proposals, however, also amounted to an implicit expectation that voters trust the government — an especially difficult sell for those including older black voters who feel they have been historically let down by the government.

They were shortcomings that help explain why Mr. Sanders lost to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in the Democratic primary race: Unable to win over older black voters, he came in a distant second to Mr. Biden in South Carolina, then went on to lose to Mr. Biden in every Southern state on Super Tuesday. Those defeats, Mr. Sanders’s allies say, contributed to the perception that Mr. Biden was more electable and would fare better against President Trump in the general election in November — a notion that helped propel Mr. Biden to victory in the primary.