The Pandemic Makes the Bernie 2020 Campaign More Vital Than Ever

United States Capitol Building, Washington, D.C.

Pressure on Bernie Sanders to quit the presidential race is intensifying. Over the weekend, the Washington Post splashed a major story under the headline “Some Top Sanders Advisers Urge Him to Consider Withdrawing.” While sheltering at home, comedian Larry David couldn’t curb his enthusiasm for an end to the campaign, telling a New York Times columnist: “I feel he should drop out. Because he’s too far behind. He can’t get the nomination.”

OK, at this point it’s highly unlikely — though still possible — that Sanders can gain enough delegates to become the Democratic nominee. But the Bernie 2020 campaign has never been only about winning. It has always also been about strengthening vital progressive movements while widening public discourse and political space.

Like the movements fueling — and being fueled by — both of the Sanders campaigns for president, those campaigns have organized to challenge the dominant narrow, corporate-power concepts of what is possible or desirable. That has meant continually throwing down gauntlets against systemic injustices that routinely cause preventable catastrophes — individual, social and environmental.

By now, corporate media outlets often acknowledge that the Sanders campaigns brought into the political mainstream many proposals that were commonly labeled as “fringe” or “radical” just a few years ago. Positions like a $15-an-hour minimum wage, free public-college tuition and Medicare for All have reached center stage for the Democratic Party and the country as a whole.

Yet now, to hear mass media and the party establishment tell it, Sanders should immediately cease expanding the public discourse during this election cycle. Demands that Sanders quit the race are getting louder by the day — insisting that he function like a traditional politician rather than a movement candidate.

But those calls for normal political behavior are coming at a time when conditions are anything but normal. The coronavirus pandemic is a truly unprecedented life-and-death emergency on a scale so vast that it’s difficult to comprehend. The conditions — and timeworn assumptions — that have made it so deadly in the United States go far beyond the criminal negligence of top officials in the Trump administration.

For decades, assaults on the public sector, led by Republicans and often abetted by Democrats in Washington, have crippled government capacities to protect public health. While defending for-profit insurance, Democratic leaders have refused to support comprehensive healthcare coverage for all.

At a time when the structural failures of a corporatized society have never been more glaring and deadly, we desperately need Sanders’ voice to be heard far and wide. That can and should happen between now and June — a month when more than a dozen states are scheduled to hold presidential primaries.

The status of “frontrunner” does not change the reality that Joe Biden has failed to step up to the challenge of responding to the pandemic. Biden’s severely limited capacities to speak clearly — or to offer proposals commensurate with the extreme crisis — continue to be on display.

Meanwhile, consistent with his approach over several decades, the Sanders campaign has provided a flood of position statements, online messaging, virtual roundtables, vibrant interviews and proposals that amount to the “boldest legislation in history.”

Solid reasons for Sanders to stay in the presidential primaries are hardly appreciated by party power brokers and big media outlets that have been hostile toward the Bernie 2020 campaign from the beginning.

There’s no doubt that Bernie Sanders will do all he can to help defeat Donald Trump. That imperative would not be served by stifling a campaign that continually enhances public understanding of what will be necessary to finally guarantee healthcare as a human right — and create a truly humane society.