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Video, Transcript: Bernie Sanders on “Identity Politics” and the Working Class

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I mostly agree with what Bernie Sanders has to say here (see video and transcript below of his talk at Berklee College of Music in Boston earlier this week), except that I think he oversimplifies (big time, actually) why Donald Trump won, and underemphasizes the role of WHITE identity politics and white supremacist backlash against a changing, more diverse America. Regardless, I’d argue that what Bernie Sanders raises here is an important debate for the Democratic Party to be having right now. Personally, I’m with Martin Luther King Jr., that the goal should be to judge everyone on the content of their character – meritocracy, in other words – and not the color of their skin, or their gender, ethnicity, religion (or absence of religion), sexual orientation, or height, weight, whatever. Instead, the question should ideally be: are these person’s ideas good ones, bad ones, or what? Of course, we are NOT there yet, or even close to being there yet, but that should be the goal as we attempt to move forward after the electoral disaster of 2016.

It goes without saying, that as we fight to end all forms of discrimination, as we fight to bring more and more women into the political process, Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans – all of that is ENORMOUSLY important, and count me in as somebody who wants to see that happen. But it is not good enough for somebody to say, ‘hey, I’m a Latina, vote for me.” That is not good enough. I have to know whether that Latina is going to stand up with the working class in this country and is going to take on big-money interests. And one of the struggles that we’re going to have…in the Democratic Party is it’s not good enough for me to say we have x number of African Americans over here, we have y number of Latinos, we have z number of women, we are a diverse party, a diverse nation. Not good enough! We need that diversity, that goes without saying…Right now we’ve made some progress in getting into politics. I think we’ve got 20 women in the Senate now, we need 50 women in the Senate. We need more African Americans. But here is my point – and this is where there’s going to be a division within the Democratic Party – it is not good enough for somebody to say, ‘I’m a woman, vote for me.’ No, that’s not good enough. What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel companies…In other words, one of the struggles that you’re going to be seeing in the Democratic Party is whether we go beyond identity politics. I think it’s a step forward in America if you have an African American CEO of some major corporation. But you know what? If that guy is going to be shipping jobs out of this country and exploiting his workers, it doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot if he’s black or white or Latino. I know some people might not agree with me, but that is the fight we’re gonna have right now within the Democratic Party. The working class of this country is being decimated. That’s why Donald Trump won. And what we need now are candidates who stand with those working people…We need candidates black and white and Latino and gay and male…we need all of that, but we need all of those candidates and public officials to have the guts to stand up to the oligarchy.

  • Quizzical

    To me it seems very simple. People need to have good jobs and need to see their children and grandchildren getting good jobs, and not having to live in their parents’ basements. So the problem is, there aren’t enough good jobs now, so where are they going to come from? That’s where the political battle is going to be. It’s fine to talk about electing people who will stand up for the working people, but the first priority is to get them working.