I watched the Democrats’ first debate of this primary season at a packed Young Democrats viewing party in the East Village. Hundreds of young left-leaning New Yorkers turned away from the Mets and the Dodgers in the playoffs to listen to the five presidential candidates for the Democratic Party at the lectern. The beer swilling was as liberal as the progressive crowd when moderator Anderson Cooper, sporting Rick Perry glasses, took to the stage.
“What this campaign is about is whether we can mobilize our people to take back our government from a handful of billionaires,” Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders opened with. “And create the vibrant democracy we know we can and should have.” And the crowd of young Democrats cheered like someone just legged out a triple. Yes, initially the crowd was louder and more engaged for Sanders. They liked when he explained what socialism was. They applauded when he called for criminal justice reform and legalizing marijuana. They loved when he declared that the American people are sick of hearing about Clinton’s emails
As the night drew on, they became equally as impressed and raucous for Hillary. “I think that we have to look at the fact that we lose 90 people a day from gun violence. This has gone on too long and it’s time the entire country stood up against the NRA!” The crowd was so loud after that I had to look at the transcript later to catch what she said next. (It was about gun manufacturers having legal immunity.)
After two and a half hours, Clinton looked like a president and Sanders like a Senator.
It was like that moment in 2008 when John McCain suspended his campaign—calling to postpone the debate—all because of the “historic crisis in our financial system.” McCain was hysterical, running around like his hair was on fire. And then there was his opponent, then-Senator Barack Obama who went on TV and said, “It’s my belief that this is exactly the time that the American people need to hear from the person who in approximately 40 days will be responsible for dealing with this mess.” He continued, “It’s going to be part of the president’s job to deal with more than one thing at once.”
That was the statement which made Obama seem like the best choice to be the 44th President of the United States. No Drama Obama—the world was melting and there was someone who seemed reasonable and stable who could take over during a financial implosion.
The day after the first Democratic debate of 2016, the conversation among my liberal-leaning friends went like this: “Please don’t be mad at me…I like Bernie.”
Which is not uncommon; Sanders has over 15 million supporters currently. That’s more than the (still) GOP-frontrunner Trump. Actually, according to numbers crunched by the Washington Post, Sanders has more supporters than Carson, Huckabee, Christie and Paul combined!
To my democratic primary-voting friends: It’s OK to like Bernie Sanders. It doesn’t make you anti-woman, or anti-feminist, or even anti-Hillary. It makes you pro-liberal populist policy. Americans generally think socialism is communism (and communism is Nazism) but tell pollsters they’re in favor of the tenets of socialism like a social safety net, higher taxes on the wealthy and the government regulating banks. Bernie represents a huge swath of the American public who normally gets shushed and written off as annoying, kale-chip-munching hippies. He represents people who see the system as rigged. He also speaks for an astonishingly large number of young voters. He appeals to the marginalized. What’s not to like?
Also, by having a flaming liberal Democratic Socialist in the Democratic primary, it allows Hillary to appear as the centrist. Otherwise we’d get the Republican frame of anyone who refuses to berate poor people (like Pope Francis) being a pinko-Marxist to the left of Lenin. In that way, Bernie allows Hillary to be a truly progressive candidate who can appeal to independents in the general. (I’ll refrain from calling it broad appeal.)
It’s OK to like Bernie. He’s improving the primary and it’ll make Hillary a better president.