Bernie Sanders Has Always Sacrificed Pragmatism For Idealism, But Now It’s Hurting Democrats

Political Beginnings

Photo credit: Bill Clark (Getty Images)

Over the past couple of years, Bernie Sanders has become something of a folk hero to a large portion of the country.

The senator from Vermont is one of only two independents currently serving in the senate. Sanders frequently calls out Wall Street, pharmaceutical companies, and the big banks. He opposes war, foreign intervention, and trade deals he feels negatively effect American workers.

His presidential campaign, though unsuccessful, proved a candidate can earn large sums of campaign cash without the help of large, corporate donors. As a result, Sanders consistently ranks as one of the most popular political figures in the country.

However, while Sanders dreams big and talks a good game, scratching past the surface reveals a man full of bark with very little bite.

Bernie’s introduction to public office came in 1980, when he successfully ran for mayor of Burlington, Vermont. The successful campaign came after four consecutive failed bids for both the House of Representatives and Governor of Vermont as a member of the Liberty Union party, a left-wing party found only in Vermont.

Before that, Sanders considered himself a “political activist” and remembered his introduction to politics as being extremely important.

“A guy named Adolf Hitler won an election in 1932,” he told the Christian Science Monitor. “He won an election, and 50 million people died as a result of that election in World War II, including 6 million Jews. So what I learned as a little kid is that politics is, in fact, very important.”

Here is perhaps the first case of Sanders’ idealistic speech not matching up to his pragmatic actions. While claiming politics was very important to him at an early age, he has also admitted to not voting until nearly 40 years old.

Quote source: <a href=

“Actually, I didn’t (vote when turning 21). Politics interested me in the sense of basic social issues such as social justice, poverty, the condition of black people or war and peace issues, but I would say, I certainly did not gravitate towards electoral politics. I think probably, I won’t swear to it, that the first time I voted was in the state of Vermont, probably for myself.”

It’s great that Bernie was aware of the plight of others. Social justice is perhaps the most worthy cause anyone can champion. However, it’s foolishly idealistic to believe that things will change simply by griping about them. Even protesting has its limits in creating social change if the protesters are unwilling to back up their beliefs at the polls.

Apparently this would have been the only way to get him to the polls.

Go back and read the quote again. Not the one about not voting, the one about how he discovered elections are important.

Alright, now read the one about not voting.

Only a wide-eyed idealist could say these things and not think they conflict with one another. If you believe elections are important because one gave rise to Hitler and therefore the Holocaust, why don’t you believe in them enough to vote in your own state’s or country’s until you’re the one on the ballot?

It seems like an obvious question to those of us who have been hitting the polls since our 18th birthday, but Bernie and his supporters seem to lack this basic sense of pragmatism. There is a desire for revolution and an up-ending of the entire system, but it comes from a belief that simply wanting it hard enough will be sufficient.

An “Impotent” Legislator

Perhaps that’s why in approximately 25 years in the House and Senate, Sanders doesn’t have a ton he can point to as an example of change he has championed and seen accomplished. In fact, those who work with him are even hard-pressed to think of any.

According to Politico, when asked to name specific instances of Bernie’s influence, Senator Tammy Baldwin was stumped.

“Um,” she said, pausing for a full eight seconds while thinking, “I’m sure I could. In terms of the things that he talks the most about, is when he was chair of the Veterans Affairs committee. But he actually compromised on a whole heck of a lot. Back in … it’s not coming to my mind right now.”

While it’s true Sanders did help veterans attain better and quicker health care, that is only one of three bills he sponsored that has become law. The other two were renaming USPS locations in Vermont.

While Baldwin tried to help out a colleague, one of Sanders’ former colleagues in the House of Representatives, Barney Frank, was not so forgiving.

“His legislative record was to state the ideological position he took on the left, but with the exception of a few small things, he never got anything done,” said Frank. “Senators are not impotent.”

Sanders likes to point to different things he did not support and fought against, such as the war in Iraq, DOMA, the TARP bailouts, the PATRIOT Act, and other bills that later would prove unpopular as examples of his impact as a legislator. However, he conveniently leaves out votes against the Brady Bill, which mandated a waiting period when purchasing a firearm, and in favor of the now-infamous Clinton Crime Bill of 1994, among others.

He was all too happy, however, to attack Hillary Clinton on such past issues while ignoring his own. This is the impulse of Bernie Sanders: everyone must past the purity test.

Except Bernie Sanders, of course.

Becoming a Democrat?

After years of presenting himself as a maverick totally independent of the two parties — to the point of even refusing to caucus with Democrats while he was in the House because they couldn’t pass his purity test — Sanders saw an opportunity in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election.

Suddenly, with an opportunity to bolster his national recognition, Bernard Sanders found a bit of pragmatism in an old coat jacket and decided now was the right time to become a Democrat.

After nearly 25 years, Sanders switched party affiliations and ran against Clinton in the Democratic primary. The move was seen as largely inconsequential at the time, but would prove to be a big part of the Democrats’ undoing.

While he held off in the beginning, trying to still brand himself an independent with a “D” next to his name, Sanders couldn’t help but revert to his old ways. The debates with Clinton, civil at first, got nasty and more personal the longer the primary went. The more states Sanders won, the more savage he became.

Sanders attacked Clinton for her past voting record, though it largely holds up to his own. He even at one point called the former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State unqualified for the presidency. Then he began to claim the DNC had rigged the election against him.

Sanders, unknowingly or otherwise, was laying the foundation for what would later become central themes of Donald Trump’s campaign.

We all know how the story of the primary ended: Clinton wound up building an insurmountable lead that included a raw vote advantage of approximately 4 million and more delegates than Sanders could have hoped to gain with the few states remaining.

However, Sanders refused to drop out. At one point he even vowed to take it all the way to the convention, a move that would have torn Democrats more than his campaign already had.

Even once he finally did drop out, his endorsement of Clinton and the Democrats as a whole was lukewarm at best.

“I also look forward to working with Secretary Clinton to transform the Democratic Party so that it becomes a party of working people and young people, and not just wealthy campaign contributors: a party that has the courage to take on Wall Street, the pharmaceutical industry, the fossil fuel industry and the other powerful special interests that dominate our political and economic life.”

Sanders could not have released a more passive-aggressive statement if he read it out loud while rolling his eyes and doing the “blah blah blah” motion with his hand. In that statement he told all of his supporters that Democrats were not working for them and officially cast them as “the lesser of two evils,” a theme that would push many Sanders supporters away from Clinton and Democrats.

After officially dropping out, his support would become more steady as he campaigned with and for Hillary. Perhaps seeing the threat of a Trump presidency scared him enough to bring his wits about him for a while, but to the chagrin of the majority of the country, it wasn’t enough.

Well, Maybe Not

During the primary, Sanders was attacked by some for not truly becoming a Democrat. He signed the paperwork and used the DNC when convenient, but still seemed to be pushing his own agenda and keeping other Democrats at arms-length. When asked about his status as a Democrat during the primary at a New Hampshire town hall, Sanders said:

“Of course I am a Democrat and running for the Democratic nomination.”

A couple months later, Sanders’ campaign manager Jeff Weaver unequivocally stated Sanders was not just a Democrat now, but would be a Democrat forever and ever.

“Well, he is a Democrat, he said he’s a Democrat and he’s gonna be supporting the Democratic nominee, whoever that is,” Weaver responded in a Bloomberg interview with Mark Halperin.

“But he’s a member of the Democratic Party now for life?” Halperin pressed.

“Yes, he is,” Weaver said.

And so he did, right up until the election was over.

After the election, Democrats attempted to regroup, recognizing they could grow and expand by bringing Sanders into a leadership role with the party, hoping to attract the young progressives who so fervently supported him the primary. With that idea in mind, Democrats created a leadership position specifically for Sanders, appointing him the head of Democratic Outreach.

However, even with a shiny new appointment at the head of the Democratic party, Sanders once again backtracked.

“I was elected as an Independent and I will finish this term as an Independent,” Sanders said.

Sanders seemingly left the door open for a party switch after this current term was complete, but has all but slammed shut even that possibility. Instead, Sanders has decided to keep his independent status while using the Democrats as a way of expanding his national profile.

A Saboteur From the Inside

Since Trump’s inauguration in January, Sanders has consistently attacked Democrats and undercut them from the inside. Even knowing the Democrats face an uphill battle in fighting anything Trump and a GOP-controlled congress wants to do, Sanders can’t seem to quit stroking his own ego.

The DNC, on the other hand, has done everything they can think of to appease him and his supporters.

There was a contentious vote for a new DNC leader to replace the interim chair, Donna Brazile. Tom Perez, former Labor Secretary under President Obama, and Keith Ellison, a representative from Minnesota and devoted Berniecrat, sent the election into a second round. To the chagrin of the Berniecrats, Perez won.

However, in a move to unify the party, Perez immediately named Ellison his №2 and began attempting to reform the party’s image. So far, Ellison has been helpful in attempting to reunite the party, despite some ridiculous comments about President Obama.

Sanders, however, wrench in hand, has been nothing but harmful.

In the first special election since Trump’s inauguration, James Thompson, a Berniecrat, ran for the House seat vacated when Mike Pompeo became CIA Director. Thompson performed especially well, losing by only seven points in a district that voted +27 for Trump in 2016.

Sanders did not support Thompson in person, vocally, or in writing. He ignored the campaign almost completely, yet saw fit to lecture Democrats on doing the exact same thing he did.

“It is true that the Democratic Party should have put more resources into that election,” Sanders said on CNN’s “State of the Union” of the Thompson campaign.

On its face, it’s easy to buy in to the sentiment. The DNC and DCCC should have absolutely done more to help Thompson. But Bernie seems to forget he’s a party leader now and the failures of Democrats are his as well, despite his unwillingness to call himself a Democrat.

Speaking of which, Sanders also remained conspicuously silent regarding Jon Ossoff and his campaign to take Georgia’s 6th District, vacated by current HHS Secretary Tom Price.

In fact, before the jungle primary in which Ossoff nearly won outright, Sanders had not spoken about the election. Not until after the primary was over did he even mention Ossoff, and even then it was only to undercut him.

“I don’t know,” Sanders replied when asked if Ossoff is a progressive.

“If you run as a Democrat, you’re a Democrat. … Some Democrats are progressive and some Democrats are not,” he said.

Sanders released a much stronger endorsement of Ossoff a few days later, but it still shows his unwillingness to simply help the Democrats in resisting the Trump agenda. Most recently, Sanders decided it would be a great idea to come out and attack the entire foundation of the party.

“I think what is clear to anyone who looks at where the Democratic Party today is, that the model of the Democratic Party is failing,” Sanders said on CBS’s Face the Nation.

Democrats must become “a grassroots party, a party which makes decisions from the bottom on up, a party which is more dependent on small donations than large donations.”

Again, the sentiment isn’t necessarily wrong. However, in a time when Democrats are doing all they can to resist a budding facist, it appears as though the effort to resist Trump really only counts if it’s his idea.

Even if that idea means supporting a candidate who opposes abortion, despite the Democratic party’s official stance to the contrary.

Again, that’s the purity politics of Bernie Sanders.

Moving On From Here…

Sanders is an extremely popular politician, and for good reason. Many of his ideas are rooted in common sense and the way a government should be run. For example, his call for parties to operate from the bottom-up, fighting big banks and Wall Street, demanding health care for everyone, and making sure everyone pays their fair share.

On these issues, Bernie Sanders is right. The message itself is great, but the delivery is horrendous. Attacking the only party attempting to fight for the middle class, the environment, health care, and many of Sanders’ other pet projects defies reason.

Yes, Democrats need some introspection, but do that without leading people to the “lesser of two evils” conclusion.


This fight is simple. Democrats are attempting to do the right thing for the country. Republicans are not. That should be the main theme behind every speech Bernie gives.

If changing the party really is what drives him, perhaps he could start by joining it. Talk of change comes off less harsh and more sincere when it’s coming from the inside rather than an outsider who just lobs critiques with no practical solutions.

Sanders’ job is supposed to be about bringing people into the Democratic party, but how can he do that when he won’t join himself? If someone tries to get you to enter a restaurant but only tells you repeatedly they need to change their entire menu and all their ingredients and, by the way, that person refuses to eat there or even walk in the building themselves, are you going in?

No. It defies all logic.

Democrats have hitched their wagon to Bernie. There is no going back now, unfortunately. The only thing left to do is hopefully convince Bernie that he is harming the party, and the cause, whether he realizes it or not.

And only when Bernie realizes that strong idealism must be partnered with an even stronger sense of pragmatism will there be any hope of Democrats truly taking the next step in re-taking congress and the White House.

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