The Achilles Heel of Bernie Sanders

Many African-American voters don’t seem to believe his campaign promises. Why should they?

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, Arizona. March 5, 2020. (photo: Gage Skidmore)

Who Against Who?

An idealogical rift has formed within the Democratic Party. And the taking of sides is proving somewhat awkward…and oddly tribal.

Some say it’s been going on for a long time; with skirmishes here, uneasy truces there. Over the years, there have been strained partnerships and loose coalitions formed, rent asunder and formed again. Battle lines have been drawn and redrawn.

It is difficult to trace the exact moment it happened.

The Obama administration was a gorgeous armchair cover that conveniently covered a multitude of Democratic sins for eight glorious years.

That former President Barack Obama was able to bridge the divide between older African-American voters in the South and young white liberals on the coasts, is perhaps his greatest accomplishment in coalition building to date.

And Obama accomplished a great deal of coalition building.

Unfortunately, the Democrats that have striven to follow in President Obama’s hallowed footsteps have spent the past four years, and probably longer, tearing that coalition to pieces.

And the pieces, strangely, look more tribal that anyone in the Democratic Party should be comfortable with.

While no voting group is a monolithic bloc, young white liberals and people of color overwhelmingly like Bernie Sanders. African-American voters like Joe Biden.

It has long been known that older Democratic African-American voters, and African-American voters in general, are predominantly more socially conservative that their white liberal counterparts.

But any division in ideology that pits African-American Democrats against white Democrats must be fundamentally flawed in some way. That is not the direction in which the Demcoratic Party should aspire to go, however well-intentioned everyone in question might be.

Increasingly in progressive circles, the unique needs and identities of the African-American community have been absorbed into the expanded generalization of “people of color”. While the American experiences of people of color are just as valid and valuable as any U.S. demographic, the African-American experience cannot be so casually grouped as such.

Likewise, people of color who are first or second generation immigrants haven’t experienced the historical arc of the African-American community, or have experienced only tangential parts of it.

Part of the ideological rift may have to do more with history and privilege than with race, age or any other factors.

Black Americans, long impoverished and imprisoned at higher rates due to a number of systemic racial disparities, may understand certain hard historical truths better than other Democrats.

If decades more first-hand knowledge of U.S. politics has given African-American voters a jaundiced eye and jaded perspective when it comes to the campaign trial promises of politicians- and it must be said, of white Democratic politicians- is that really any surprise to anyone?

Bad policies don’t hurt the wealthy; they hurt the poor. And they hurt impoverished African-American communities most.

“Because you see, here’s the thing about Blacks in the South: They live in the South. They know the history of the South. They know that Republicans dominate the South, and they know that unlike liberals on the Upper East Side of Manhattan or in Cambridge, Massachusetts, they can’t take chances on esoteric theories.” — Joe Scarborough

If some of the ideas hypothetical president Bernie Sanders wants to try don’t exactly work out as well as he promises they will- which anyone must admit is a strong probability based on long precedent and basic common sense- it won’t hurt Bernie Sanders all that much.

He might not be re-elected, his legacy would be a failure to implement the “true socialism” he insists has never yet been tried, but he will still be a millionaire with three houses. If his policies fail, it won’t hurt his family, his friends, his peers in office, or probably anyone he knows that much.

But his policy failures could kill people in poor communities.

As so many policy failures have already killed people in poor African-American communities.

Failed policies and broken pie-in-the-sky promises have cost African-Americans most dearly in this country. In stolen lives, in broken homes, in communities plagued by violence, in generational poverty.

The misguided but well-intentioned policies of Democrats have directly resulted in millions of African-Americans serving life-sentences for non-violent drug crimes.

Three strikes you’re out: It sounded like such a good idea at the time. Had a nice ring to it, didn’t it?

Bill Clinton was responsible for visiting that evil on the Black community in America. And he had plenty of help; from Republicans and from Democrats.

Who do white liberals think was most affected by NAFTA- which sent well-paying U.S. manufacturing jobs on a permanent vacation to cheaper labor markets? NAFTA was also Democratic President Bill Clinton.

Is it any wonder African-American voters are deeply skeptical of Bernie Sanders and his too-good-to-be-true promises of free health care, free college, free borders, free everything?

“I don’t know that black voters going in on Super Tuesday were asking themselves about Dick Morris and triangulation or the crime bill or stop and frisk.”

“I think they were asking the same question that a lot of other Democrats are asking, ‘Wait a second, OK. Who has a better chance of beating Donald Trump? The guy who’s still running around defending Fidel Castro’s programs in Cuba, his literacy programs in Cuba, still defending Sandinistas, still defending the Soviets talking about their glittering subways?’” — Joe Scarborough

Democrats are hanging on to the Black vote by a thread. That thread cannot be stretched to embrace the purely theoretical policies of Bernie Sanders.

It isn’t just that African-American voters don’t think Bernie Sanders can win against Trump. It is also that they just don’t believe his promises. They don’t trust him; why should they?

The bigger question may be why white liberals and young people of color do. African-American voters are deeply skeptical of Bernie Sanders, and they have every reason to be.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)

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