‘Bernie or Bust’: Yes, Electing Sanders Is More Important Than Just Defeating Trump

Like a lot of supporters of Bernie Sanders, I do not especially care for the man. I’ve said otherwise, joked in my writing and to my friends that he reminds me of me: a thoroughly secular East Coast Jew who raises his voice and has too many strong opinions. And there are certainly someidolaters out there who love the guy, who see him as a loveable, avuncular figure. 

He does have his moments: when he movingly elicits stories of medical and financial hardship from supporters, for example, or when, confronted with his reputation for unlikability, he quips with the quickness of an old Catskills comedian: "On a good day, my wife likes me." 

But for the most part, I – and many of even his most die-hard backers -find him exactly as his most dedicated opponents find him: strident, too irascible by half, grouchy, and hoarse. This perhaps accounts for the unique attraction of his campaign slogan: Not me, us.

This is true, too, for his strong core of young Jewish supporters. Sanders has never hidden his Jewish heritage – how could he! – but he has more recently made a point of campaigning explicitly as a Jew. While I can’t deny the appeal of electing the first Jewish president of the United States on its own merits, here, too, the appeal must extend beyond the crass politics of mere representation.

– Sanders proud to be Jewish

I'm very proud to be Jewish and I look forward to becoming the first Jewish president in the history of this country. pic.twitter.com/UOPvEomHNE

— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) February 17, 2020

I would not vote for a Michael Bloomberg, also Jewish, under any circumstances, nor does it give me any vicarious pride to see the likes of Jared Kushner or Stephen Miller, both Jews, casting shame around the White House right now. 

Bloomberg holds a certain appeal for the technocratic urban professionals who have increasingly come to dominate Democratic electoral strategies, but his record as a law-and-order authoritarian and his record of naked racial animus toward communities of color while mayor of New York cannot be expunged by a convenient eleventh-hour conversion to wokeness. They make him a non-starter for anyone on the progressive left.

Sanders attracts young Jewish voters (if polls are to be believed, he still leaves our parents and grandparents cold) because he represents our views: often secular, sympathetic to Palestinian causes, deeply skeptical of the Israeli state, and equally skeptical of the legacy Jewish institutions, from the Anti-Defamation League to the Union of Reform Judaism, which at their best seem paralyzed by indecision regarding modern Zionism and at their worst seem to forget that American Judaism even exists in their zeal to police the boundaries of public discourse about Israel.