Can Bernie Sanders Survive the Modern Left?

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Bernie Sanders catalyzed the Democratic Party’s post-Obama move to the left. He nearly beat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primaries, and may have even been a stronger candidate against Donald Trump in the general. Now he’s back, and the party’s surging left wing is conflicted.

At one level, it’s thrilling for the left: If the self-proclaimed democratic socialist were elected president in 2020, it would represent a truly historic swing in the country’s political orientation. No one would be as committed to the party’s new, socialist-inflected policy agenda than the guy who came up with much of it in the first place.

But among the flaws on Sanders’ résumé for many progressives is one that he can do nothing about—he is a white male, and an old one. In the language of the modern left, the straight, cisgendered Sanders is burdened by his utter lack of intersectionality.

It’s a symptom of the delicacy of the situation that in attempting to talk his way around this gross status offense, he has caused even more offense.

In his announcement interview on Vermont Public Radio, he was pushed on how he can lead a diverse Democratic Party. Sanders cited the famous Martin Luther King Jr. quote about judging people by the content of their character and replied, “We have got to look at candidates, you know, not by the color of their skin, not by their sexual orientation or their gender and not by their age. I mean, I think we have got to try to move us toward a nondiscriminatory society, which looks at people based on their abilities, based on what they stand for.”

For expressing this support for a nondiscriminatory society, a sentiment that would have been considered jejune just a few years ago, Sanders was roundly denounced.

Neera Tanden of the Center for American Progress thundered on Twitter, “At a time where folks feel under attack because of who they are, saying race or gender or sexual orientation or identity doesn’t matter is not off, it’s simply wrong.”

Former Clinton aide Jess McIntosh chimed in, “This is usually an argument made by people who don’t enjoy outsized respect and credibility because of their race, gender, age and sexual orientation.”

Stephen Colbert snarked, “Yes, like Dr. King, I have a dream—a dream where this diverse nation can come together and be led by an old white guy.”

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