Can Biden/Bernie Wings of the Democrats Come Together To Defeat Trump?
Friday, April 10, 2020
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
Bernie Sanders: I know that there may be some in our movement who disagree with this decision, who would like us to fight on to the last valid test at the Democratic Convention. I understand that position, but as I see the crisis gripping the nation, exacerbated by a president unwilling or unable to provide any kind of credible leadership and the work that needs to be done to protect people in this most desperate hour, I cannot in good conscience, continue to Mount a campaign that cannot win and which would interfere with the important work required of all of us in this difficult hour.
Marc Steiner: Welcome to the Real News. I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you with us. Of course, that was Bernie Sanders suspending his race for the Democratic nomination for president. He hasn’t dropped out. He’ll still be on the ballots on the primaries to come. He wants to amass delegates and continue the movement that he’s been building and building the force of his campaign. What will that mean? Now, Biden wrote an 800-word statement of how important Bernie and the Promise of Movement was to him and the Democratic Party. But many of the young people around the movement are demanding more than just words. They want action and commitment. It’s clear that most Democrats want a centrist candidate. He says what the ballot seem to be saying. How will this affect the election in November? Can these camps unite? We’ll talk with people today who’ve been part of the Bernie campaign in the past to give us an analysis of where we are.
We have with this Charles Lenchner, who is now our Digital Director at the Real News and founder of People for Bernie, which has supported Sanders since 2015. Charles, good to have you on the air.
Charles Lenchner: Thank you.
Marc Steiner: Then, we’ll also talk again with Marcus Ferrell, who is Director of African-American Outreach for the Sanders campaign and helped run the campaign for Stacey Abrams in Georgia as well and was a candidate himself once with the state legislature and Marcus, welcome.
Marcus Ferrell: Hey, thanks for having me.
Marc Steiner: Let’s begin. I want to start with where we find the situation now with Bernie suspending his campaign and Biden making these statements. His outreach, this 800-word piece that he wrote, that he put out yesterday or somebody wrote it for him. However, that happened and he said, let’s just look what he said here.
“Bernie’s done something rare in politics, He hasn’t just run a political campaign. He’s created a movement. Make no mistake about it. I believe it’s a movement that’s as powerful today as it was yesterday. That’s a good thing for our nation and our future.” Then he talks to Sanders supporters saying, “I make the same commitment. I see you. I hear you. I understand the urgency of what it is we have to get done in this country. I hope you’ll join us. You are more than welcome. You’re needed.” Let’s take Marcus, let me start with you and we’ll go over to Charles. How did you read this place where the Democrats are at this moment in the Biden, Bernie camps and what happens from here on in?
Marcus Ferrell: I mean, the sentiment feels well. It looks good, but I don’t really think he wrote that. I’ll just be very honest. It sounds like a speech writer was with some and he might’ve glossed over it because here’s the thing that I got from my timeline and the people that are around me on social media. Biden saying that he sees Bernie Sanders supporters right now, when he spent pretty much the whole primary acting as if Bernie’s policies didn’t exist and were non-existent and as soon as Bernie drops out, he’s, … and of course it’s smart to send out an olive branch, right. But Bernie supporters right now, they’re not feeling any of it. As a matter of fact, if you were to go to my page, you would actually see a lot of folks just basically saying, “Hell no. You had 40 years to talk about it.”
A lot of African- Americans who supported Bernie Sanders and yes, they were African-Americans who supported Bernie Sanders and a lot of African-Americans in general, are like, “Look, you haven’t apologized for the crime bill yet. So, how do you expect us to just step over? I’m going to say this right here. It was a sweet gesture. It doesn’t sound like a Biden whatsoever. To be quite honest with you, Biden’s going to have a lot of work to do.
Marc Steiner: Charles. I hear what you’re saying, Marcus. Let me just throw this in though. I mean, clearly this was, as you said, an olive branch that Biden knows that he cannot win. The Democrats cannot win without Bernie supporters and people coming out. As I’ve said before, there were 16 million people who voted for Barack Obama because he had thought he was a progressive and voted for him in 2008. Did not vote in 2016 at all. Some even went over to voting for Trump. Even though he might not have written this, this is critical for them and their campaign if the Democrats are going to win. I mean, how does that play out then? Democrats, have a lost cause?
Charles Lenchner: Well, I want to bring up the words written in January by Ibram X. Kendi, who is the Director of Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center at American University. He was writing in January about exactly what you’re talking about. He was defending the African- Americans and Rust Belt states, who stayed at home in 2016 and chose not to vote. Sometimes that was just leaving the top of the ticket blank and sometimes it was not showing up. He basically was saying, if we envision participation as including everything from who you vote for to whether or not you vote, then when we look at people who are abstaining, we have to understand that they represent a constituency that’s taking an active role in establishing their priorities. We need to shift from shaming or arguing over who people should vote for based on what we think and towards an understanding that many sectors in this country exercise their political agency through abstention rather than participation.
If we fail to understand this, we won’t have a clue for how to turn out those Bernie folks as well as other constituencies when it’s time to vote for Biden. I think this is something that is fundamentally incomprehensible to the Democratic establishment and nothing Biden said changes my opinion of that.
Marc Steiner: Well, both of you leave a huge question Mark here then. I mean, if it was black voters who didn’t come out in the rust belt. It was working white working class voters, many of them who went over to Trump, who had voted for Bernie. Then there were the people who we just talked about who abstained completely. There are a broad spectrum of people in this country who did not vote. Bernie Sanders is key to bringing that vote out. So what if that vote doesn’t come out?
Charles Lenchner: Well, hold on, hold on. Hold on, Marc. Actually Mark, you’re repeating something that we should avoid. Not only were those people not key, but we have to remember that there was a promise on the Bernie campaign side that there would be unprecedented levels of voter mobilization among this abstainer crowd who needed something to show up for. What we saw instead, in places like Virginia was a doubling of the vote, not by that crowd, but by college educated, middle-class Democrats who want to keep things, kind of on an even keel. We can’t give in to the unfounded sentiment that Bernie was key to unlocking a mass vote.
Marc Steiner: Well, I’m not sure I agree. I mean, I think that I think all those things can be true. I mean, I think maybe all those things are true in terms of, go ahead Marcus.
Marcus Ferrell: I agree with Charles on this one. Who turned out and these numbers matter. Right now, we have a sentiment across the board, that happened in 2016 and let’s look at what happened in 2020 with both of our nominees. They’re not exciting campaigns. They’re not invigorating campaigns. The brothers on the street who you need in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and the Midwest are turned on by the lack of platitudes and the lack of things that actually are motivating folks to vote. You see such adverse reaction from Bernie Sanders supporters, who just want to see something be done differently as towards healthcare, especially in the moments that we’re in right now, as towards free college and education, as towards the living wage and maybe even UBI. You see some of these things from Bernie supporters that you don’t see from the Biden campaign at all, and you haven’t heard anything from them and you’ve actually seen more corporate interests take place to take root.
Sanders supporters see that. Now, if you talk about the general public and your general turnout population that you need, that the Obama coalition, I highly doubt that Joe Biden’s going to be able to attract the Obama coalition by saying, “I am not Donald Trump.” I do believe that if he came out with some platitudes and some and some statements and some real quality conversations about what Medicare for all of means, what criminal justice reform means, apologizing for the Crime Bill and some of the basic things that he still has in his closet, and also address maybe even addressing the allegations that are against him. I don’t want to bring that up negatively, but guess who will? Donald Trump. Guess who will start talking about a little bit more progressive if Joe Biden is seen as an old capitalist, not ready to move moderate. Donald Trump is crazy. He’s willing to say anything and lie about everything. So we’re going to have to make sure that Joe Biden actually has some things that he could take advantage of right now in this moment before it becomes too late for him to live.
Marc Steiner: Both of you gentlemen have been involved in practical politics over the last decade. Let’s talk about where this goes then. I mean, Common Dreams put up a piece today about where the youth movement is going, where the political movements going. They talked about the Alliance for Youth Action, and March For Our Lives Action and the Sunrise Movements who were very clear in that article that they, as young people, they grew up with the endless war and skyrocketing inequality. They wrote, student debt, deportations, police [inaudible 00:10:09] of Black Americans, mass incarceration, schools that have gotten nowhere and they’re demanding that a Green New Deal Legislation be part of this campaign. That there’s a commitment to clean energy by 2030 ,that dealing with DACA and closing of the, as they put it, “the vast and cool web of detention camps.
Medicare for all. So, if these demands are part of that, and also if you’re seeing that much of the polling that we have is saying that the majority of Americans actually support these ideas when they’re not couched in socialism. Where do you think this takes the next months leading up to November? I’m curious strategically, where do you think this goes?
Marcus Ferrell: Ah, you kids, you kids with all your demands and stuff. [inaudible 00:10:54] And you guys want, listen. All right, let’s go back to the basics. This is the Real News network. If you’re tied to capitalist interests, capitalism will go ahead and let you know and shape where your policies are going to go. Capitalism is more than willing to keep Donald Trump into office, right? Joe Biden’s going to have to realize, and also just with the current moment of America, that there will have to be socialist ideas, democratic socialist ideas. We can couch them and wrap them up no matter what kind of way that you want to put it and you can put any kind of label, any kind of tag on them, but we’re going to have to do some, across America for all ideas to get ourselves out of this economic crunch that we’re just starting to see the beginning of. 6 million people unemployed.
Realistically, we’re looking at around 15 million people who are already really unemployed, in general. How do we get out of this economic crunch? You can’t Wall Street your way out of it. Capitalism is not going to save us. These kids are right. These organizations are right, and big businesses as usual is going to have to stop. The last thing I’ll say on this, including the private prison industry. You can’t have a budding coronavirus hotbed in jails and expect to be open to having the prisons overcrowded. Something has to get .
Charles Lenchner: I would also add that there’s a really interesting lesson we learned from the Warren campaign, that she was referred to, sometimes in a pejorative way as a representative of the nonprofit industrial complex, in that a lot of her visible support, especially on social media and the regular media was made up of this layer of activist, organizer groups, C4s and whatnot, who would say all the right things, all the right plans, all the right phrases, all the right efforts to actively posture and listened to various constituencies. But it didn’t matter at the ballot box. It just didn’t matter. This is a candidate who couldn’t even win. She couldn’t even win her own state or get to second place in her own state. I just want to say, when I see efforts by organizations, by lists of people, by public figures, the one thing I’m thinking about is, you haven’t proved that you have the votes. You’re good at doing the media, at getting attention.
But, since you don’t represent a solid voting constituency, you got to be like, ah, I’m not sure that’s what needs to be centered right now. I want folks to recognize that there is this constituency that is not as active at the level of doing things, voting, being active, registering, donating, but is actively participating in the conversation on social media, in the neighborhood, at the barbershop. There is a gap between these two groups. We thought that one of them was a leading indicator for the other and it’s just not true.
Marcus Ferrell: We don’t seen you in our neighborhoods. We do not see you. I don’t see these campaigns. I don’t see these organizations in the neighborhoods. Now, I don’t see them actively doing the work. I hear the conversation, but I agree with Charles. The work that needs to be done in these communities, when you start seeing t-shirts on Boulevard, when you start seeing t-shirts on MLK, knocking on businesses doors. That might not even be safe right now, but when you start seeing the t-shirts from these organizations actively engaging in the places where you know the votes are, then that’s when you’ll start seeing some change and you can actually pull people from their homes to actually go vote.
Charles Lenchner: Right, and here’s where we go to some important critique of the Bernie Sanders campaign. See, in 2016 because the campaign initially didn’t expect to win and because they were not anticipating the vast response that they would get from tens of millions of people desperate for those ideas, those policies, there was a wave of grassroots, self-directed mobilization across the country. It was an amazing thing to watch. But this time around, the campaign came in as the front-runner with the best fundraising program with a really good staff, with a tight leadership. They basically went around the country saying, “Hey, we know what we’re doing and we know what we want you to do. Download the app, do text banking, get ready to canvas.” But that layer of self-directed organizing taking place across the country, it was much reduced, reduced on the internet and reduced in real life, reduced in the neighborhoods.
The consequence of not figuring out how to develop organic verticals of voters and people at the community level who are not being used by a campaign but who see themselves as using the campaign, that is something that really hurt them this time around. That energy can’t be directed entirely from above. It has to be allowed to flourish from below because that’s where people actually get sucked in to a new movement, in a way that we saw last time, but not this time.
Marc Steiner: Let’s conclude with this. I mean, and we have to conclude here, but I mean I think that … I want to take it to again, go back to what’s your analysis of what just happened takes us into the future. I mean, I think we can all agree that capitalism will not be overthrown by November. But we also, I think, I don’t know if we agree or not that people who are among the elite are as divided as the rest of America. Now you have these white nationalist movements and neoconservative elite in control of Washington, D C. People are confronted by Trump and a potential authoritarian-like future. It’s an abyss we’re confronting and COVID complicates that. The response to it, complicates that. The question is, if you take the things you’ve just said analytically, what does that portend for what comes between now and August and November, August being the DNC? And November? How does this coalition come together?
How does it coalesce? Is there a possibility this kind of front can be built so they can take on Donald Trump or the way you’re talking now it almost feels like, Oh, woe is me. This stuff is up. We’re done.
Marcus Ferrell: It can be. You just mentioned that we have the Neo-conservative elitists, then the moderate and the Republican moderate elitist. We’re all elitist, all Democratic elitists. Our super- left elitists need to go ahead and start having real conversations about what’s going to motivate us to vote. The question is, does capitalism stop us from having the real conversations in communities that need to turn out about what a Medicare for all looks like? Is our side of the house too tied to the pharmacy, the pharmaceutical industry, the private insurance industry. Is our side of the house too tied to these industries where they can’t make sound just and fair decisions that will bring onboard a coalition of people who need change right now.
Let me tell you something. I live in Atlanta, Georgia. I live in Fulton County. Our County is literally one of the highest, has the highest amount of COVID-19 and also happens to have the highest amount of African-Americans, one of the half counties that has most African Americans in the country. I’m pretty sure that if you talk to the normal, uninsured family here in Fulton County, Atlanta, Georgia, and you say to them, “This is what single-payer healthcare means. This will single-payer health care looks like, and Joe Biden’s, the guy that if he pushes it so you can make sure you are insured, they will support Joe Biden. That would be a natural turnout vote. If they do not, if you have no conversation like that with these communities, then you can say bye-bye to your victory.
Marc Steiner: Charles, a quick closing thought from you before we have to go, on the same subject.
Charles Lenchner: Well, just that I’m seeing a small but significant chunk of people whose conclusion from the primary is that they’re thinking about third parties, to thinking about abstention. They’re angry. They think that an electorate that actually wanted Biden is an electorate that doesn’t deserve their loyalty or support. I disagree. I think that’s shortsighted and I would like to see Trump defeated in 2020. But I think these folks are raising a really important challenge, and I’m looking on the horizon. Is there any response to it other than shaming or finger-wagging that would make sense to the small but significant numbers of people who could cause the Democrats to lose again in Rust Belt States and elsewhere. Frankly, I’m not seeing anything even remotely like an answer right now. That makes me pretty pessimistic about our ability to defeat Trump in 2020.
Marc Steiner: well, I think many of us share the same pessimism, but I’m not completely done with it. I don’t think that we’ve lost and I think there’s a great deal of room for struggle and I think here at Real News, what we’re going to try to do is create these conversations, bring you these stories. We want to hear what you have to say about this 2020 election. Let us know. Go to realnews.com. Let us know what you think. We want to really expand this conversation. It has to be had because we’re facing something really important together and I want to see what you all think. We all want to see what you think. I want to thank our guest, Charles Lenchner, who it is always great to work with every day. Good to have you here, Charles as a guest, and Marcus Ferrell, I really am glad that Charles brought you to the Real News. It’s great to have you with us. We look forward to many more conversations in the coming months. So thank you gentlemen both for being with us.
Charles Lenchner: Thank you.
Marc Steiner: I’m Marc Steiner, here with the Real News Network. Thank you all for joining and I’m serious. Let us know what you think and please be safe. Take care. Wash your hands. Stay home. Take care. I’m Marc Steiner, the real news network.
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