Micah Uetricht, co-author of “Bigger Than Bernie: How We Go from the Sanders Campaign to Democratic Socialism,” discusses the DSA’s refusal to endorse Joe Biden.
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
Bernie Sanders: So I’m asking every Democrat. I’m asking every independent. I’m asking a lot of Republicans to come together in this campaign to support your candidacy, which I endorse to make certain that we defeat somebody who I believe, and I’m just speaking just for myself now, is the most dangerous president in the modern history of this country.
Speaker 2: Welcome to the Real News. I’m [inaudible 00:00:29]. A week after suspending his presidential campaign, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders endorsed Vice-President Joe Biden. With former President Barack Obama doing the same the next day, and Senator Elizabeth Warren the day after that. Sanders ran two historic campaigns on policy ideas rooted in democratic socialism like taxing the wealthy, universal health care, free access to higher education, and housing access, revitalizing the American left in the process. Here’s a clip of Sanders.
Bernie Sanders: Please also appreciate that not only are we winning the struggle ideologically, we are also winning it generationally. The future of our country rests with young people and in state after state, whether we won or whether we lost, the Democratic primaries or caucuses, we received a significant majority of the votes. Sometimes the overwhelming majority from people not only 30 years of age or under, but 50 years of age or younger.
Speaker 2: The next question is whether the movement Sanders helped mobilize will determine the future of the Democratic Party and take it out of the clutches of the billionaire class. And more broadly, what comes next for the American socialist left? Well, now joining us to discuss this for a three-part interview is the coauthor of a new book that offers a powerful take on these pressing questions. It’s called Bigger Than Bernie: How Do We Go From the Sanders Campaign to Democratic Socialism? That book was coauthored by Meagan Day and we’re joined by Micah Uetricht. He’s the managing editor of Jacobin, host of the Jacobin radio podcast, The Vast Majority, and a member of the DSA, the Democratic Socialists of America. Thanks so much for joining us.
Micah Uetricht: Thanks for having me.
Speaker 2: So I wanted to start off by getting your response to Bernie’s endorsement of Biden and then in an interview with the AP, he said, “I believe that it’s irresponsible for anyone to say, well, I disagree with Joe Biden. I disagree with Joe Biden and therefore I am not going to be involved in the campaign to oppose, who he calls the most dangerous president in the history of the United States.” And that AP interview is interesting. We don’t know the full context of it. We just have these few quotes that the AP published, but Bernie is going further than he has before in at least that clip that the AP has published. Give us your response to this moment we’re in right now.
Micah Uetricht: First of all, nobody should be surprised that Bernie has endorsed Joe Biden. He said all along in this campaign that he would endorse whoever was the Democratic nominee for president. He endorsed Hillary Clinton of course in 2016, so this is to be expected. If you weren’t ready for this… If this is hitting you out of the blue, you weren’t paying attention to the campaign so far. And it makes sense that he would make that argument. He is somebody who is, as much as he’s been an independent his entire career, as much as he’s existed outside of the Democratic Party establishment and political establishment generally, he’s also somebody who is a pragmatist fundamentally. And he’s made this argument because he truly does believe that Trump represents a unique threat. And I like I think literally every single person who makes up the reborn socialist left in the United States agrees with wanting to see Trump defeated.
But I would disagree with Bernie in saying that we need to… That it’s somehow irresponsible to now drop everything and then throw yourself behind the campaign of Joe Biden, given that Joe Biden’s career record stands literally against every single major aspect of Bernie’s proposals that he has been putting forward in his two most recent presidential campaigns. And he stands against what a group like the DSA is arguing for, what our basic fundamental principles are. And I think that it’s important to maintain that level of independence. It’s important for a group like DSA to not just cave in to whichever centrist Democrat the Democratic Party decides to run. It’s important to maintain a level of independence from that party, especially when the party is making those kinds of decisions.
If you don’t, then you end up not standing for anything and you end up making moral compromises that will pull you further and further to the right to the point where the next thing you know you’re defending NAFTA or defending the welfare cuts that Bill Clinton made in the 90s were unfortunate but needed at the time.
I mean where does it end? So it’s important for a social movement group in particular, like the DSA, to plant the flag and maintain a level of independence from the Democratic Party and from figures like Joe Biden.
Speaker 2: And so an endorsement of a group like DSA is different than saying that our members are not going to vote for him in swing States where our votes could make a difference in the election.
Micah Uetricht: Yeah, exactly. I mean personally, just speaking for myself, if I lived in a swing state, I would probably vote for Joe Biden. I don’t think that there needs to be a huge level of hand-wringing about this. It’s true that Trump is pretty uniquely awful. And the world would be a better place if he were to hit the road. But yeah, the endorsement of an organization means something qualitatively different. And that is what DSA has done. DSA has not said that none of our members will vote for Joe Biden, and not even say we discourage our members from voting for Joe Biden, but saying that the organization as a whole will not be endorsing Joe Biden, but the values of the organization were uniquely represented in the Sanders campaign and that they were not seen in any other presidential campaigns.
Speaker 2: So President Obama endorsed Joe Biden on Tuesday, and in that video message, he praised the Sanders movement and the Sanders campaign. Here’s a clip.
Barack Obama: Bernie’s an American original, a man who has devoted his life to giving voice to working people’s hopes, dreams, and frustrations. He and I haven’t always agreed on everything, but we’ve always shared a conviction that we have to make America a fairer, more just, more equitable society. We both know that nothing is more powerful than millions of voices calling for change. And the ideas he’s championed, the energy and enthusiasm he inspired, especially in young people, will be critical in moving America in a direction of progress and hope.
Speaker 2: It’s interesting that here’s this praise of Obama. He acknowledged in that speech that he’s differed. He’s had his differences with Bernie in the past and those have been well documented, are actually very interesting and important to talk about. But it’s been widely reported that Obama was a force behind the consolidation of all the centrist candidates behind Joe Biden before Super Tuesday in this historic way that really helped Biden secure this election.
Micah Uetricht: Right. And again, that’s something that nobody should really be surprised at either. I mean Obama has played this role repeatedly as somebody trying to tamp down these kinds of left-wing surges in the party and saying that he doesn’t think that American voters want what he called a revolution, that he thinks that the American voters are a bit more centrist than what… Because they’re so centrist, they wouldn’t go for what Bernie was putting forward.
I mean to me what’s more interesting about this than the fact that Obama played this role, which is to be expected and that he got behind Biden, which is of course to be expected, is the difference between now and in 2016. In 2016, Hillary Clinton and the party apparatus around her maintained this level of intransigence and a hostility towards Sanders and towards the Sanders movement. I mean, if you remember in the book that she wrote What Happened after 2016 race, she talked about Bernie promising people ponies and how absurd that was and has up until this day maintained a very strong level of hostility towards Bernie and his movement.
And Obama at least is smart enough to not denigrate that movement. To recognize that there’s something that is useful and energetic about the movement that Sanders has cohered. But we shouldn’t take that to be lulled into some sense of, oh, the party is listening to the demands of Bernie, that the party is ready to change. That the party is going to somehow full-heartedly endorse the platform that Bernie was putting forward. I mean Obama recognizes that this insurgent energy is here and he wants to absorb it into the Democratic Party.
But what made Bernie such a unique candidate for president two times is the fact that he had managed to maintain an independence from that party apparatus, that he kept the Democratic Party at arms length. He was able to change the political dialogue sometimes throughout American politics, but he never seemed to mistake what he was doing for some kind of permanent reshaping of the Democratic Party.
The Democratic Party is going, from its top levels, is going to continue to be a centrist party that represents big business interests and is not fighting for working class people. And so I think that going forward, it’s important for Sanders supporters to not be lulled into a state of complacency by figures like Biden or like Obama saying, “We see you and we think that your passion is important.” Or anything like that. There needs to be an understanding that this party is going to keep trying to tamp down working class expectations of bigger and bolder left-wing politics.
Speaker 2: One of the interesting things that came out of Bernie’s endorsement of Biden are these working groups to address key issues ahead of the convention, but I guess the issue raised by progressives throughout this whole election about Biden are the forces funding his campaign, writing his policy, running his campaign, and who he would place in the cabinet. Do you think that Biden needs to make big concessions on these issues? It was weeks ago that he talked about vetoing Medicare For All, if it came to his desk under certain conditions. Do you think if he wants the support of the left in this election, Biden is going to have to make these concessions. And is that something that you think realistically will happen?
Micah Uetricht: Well, just before I even answer that question, I do think it’s funny that we’re at this point in the election cycle where we heard throughout Bernie’s run that Bernie supporters were fringe and represented some… We didn’t have a whole lot of power, couldn’t deliver voters. We wanted things that were irresponsible or the average voter wouldn’t go for. And so the emphasis was always on how fringed his campaign was. And now all of a sudden we’re at a point where people are demanding that our so called fringe marginal groups like the DSA should get behind a candidate like Biden. It’s just funny being whipsawed back and forth on those two things. I’m not sure which one is true because they both can’t be true at the same time.
But yeah, I think that for me personally, knowing Joe Biden’s political history and how his political instincts in his entire career have always been to move rightward, especially when there are challenges from the right, like when he actually goes up against the Republican Party and the Republican Party attacks him from the right. His whole political career is one of responding to such attacks and moving far to the right sometimes to the right of the Republicans themselves. So I don’t have a whole lot of hope for him actually delivering the goods on the kind of left-wing policies that the Sanders voters were fighting for in this election cycle. And I think that in order for us to get anything out of Biden, we’ll have to maintain that level of intransigence with him. We’ll have to continue calling him out when he inevitably does move rightward in the direction of these corporate interests.
I think that let’s say that Biden puts some progressive policy planks into the Democratic Party platform at the DNC. That will probably be trumpeted as look at what the Bernie campaign has gotten out of the Biden campaign. But those policy planks really don’t mean much. There’s no enforcement mechanisms of any of them. So I think that those kinds of moves from Biden and from the party will be designed to try to tamp down the leftist energy and the oppositional spirits against Biden and his center right politics. And people who have come to the left as part of the movement around Bernie Sanders shouldn’t be fooled by just a couple of rhetorical bones that are tossed to them.
Speaker 2: And that’s a point that AOC made in that recent interview with the New York Times as well. So we know that the people in the government, elected officials are also pushing for more from the Democratic Party and from Joe Biden itself. Well, that wraps up part one of our conversation. In part two, we’ll talk about the lessons from grassroots struggles in places like Brooklyn, Chicago, and the East Bay. Micah Uetricht, thank you so much for joining us.
Micah Uetricht: Thanks for having me.
Speaker 2: And thank you for joining us at the Real News Network.
Micah Uetricht is an associate editor of Jacobin magazine. He is the author of Strike for America: Chicago Teachers Against Austerity.