‘You don’t need to be a socialist to see it’: A self-described ‘neoliberal shill’ argues that Bernie Sanders is the Democrats’ best pick in 2020

‘You don’t need to be a socialist to see it’: A self-described ‘neoliberal shill’ argues that Bernie Sanders is the Democrats’ best pick in 2020
Gage Skidmore

On Tuesday, Vox launched a series of articles in which the writers were asked to make their “best case for the leading Democratic candidates” — best case as in: which presidential hopeful, if nominated, would stand the greatest chance of defeating President Donald Trump in the general election in November. The Vox writer chosen to kick off the series was Matthew Yglesias, who chose Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont as the most electable.

Promoting his article on Twitter, Yglesias posted, “I may be Chief Neoliberal Shill, but I also think Bernie Sanders is Democrats’ best choice for 2020.” And Yglesias listed some reasons in his tweet: “Least likely to start wars, strong full-employment plank, plausible electability argument, get the Young Left inside the tent.”

Some supporters of former Vice President Joe Biden have been arguing that Sanders is too far to the left to win the general election, pointing to 1972 Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern’s landslide loss against President Richard Nixon as an example of the type of fate Democrats might suffer in 2020 if they nominate Sanders. But McGovern is hardly the only ultra-liberal candidate Democrats have nominated for a presidential election: in fact, Democrats enjoyed landslide victories when they ran on unapologetically liberal platforms with Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932 and Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. FDR was reelected in 1936, 1940 and 1944 (back when U.S. presidents weren't limited to two terms).

Yglesias argues, “The Vermont senator is unique in combining an authentic, values-driven political philosophy with a surprisingly pragmatic, veteran-legislator approach to getting things done. This pairing makes him the enthusiastic favorite of non-Republicans who don’t necessarily love the Democratic Party, without genuinely threatening what’s important to partisan Democrats. If he can pull the party together, it would set him up to be the strongest of the frontrunners to challenge President Donald Trump.”

Yglesias asserts that some of Sanders’ critics don’t really have a problem with his platform so much as with some of his more “antagonistic” supporters. But keeping them on board in 2020 could be an asset for Democrats in the general election, he argues, and they don't reflect how Sanders would likely govern.

Yglesias says that Sanders’ “campaign rhetoric” can be overly “idealistic,” stressing that if the 78-year-old Vermont senator has a major flaw, it isn’t his ability to win the general election, but rather, his ability to make good on his campaign promises after entering the White House. Nonetheless, Yglesias writes, Sanders has demonstrated that he can be pragmatic — for exampling, working with the late Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona on bipartisan bills.

Yglesias also argues that of the top four candidates, Sanders, rather than Biden, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg or Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, actually has the best electoral record. So contrary to conventional wisdom, Sanders is arguably the candidate with the strongest "electability" argument.

With a Sanders presidency, Yglesias argues, one would get “a foreign policy that errs a bit more on the side of restraint” along with “monetary policy that errs a bit more on the side of full employment. That’s a pretty good deal, and you don’t need to be a socialist to see it.”


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