But perhaps the threshold question is what if he does not run? What policy issues would be off the table? What demands for transformation would be watered down? The answer is that most progressive initiatives Sanders and his supporters have championed will never see the light of day.
Many of us have waited a lifetime for a leader with so deep a commitment to fundamental change to come along and galvanize our existing movements. While there will be a large and diverse field of candidates, the opportunity to elect someone who has dedicated his life to economic and social justice also gives us the chance to bring forth a more perfect union – one genuinely of the people, by the people, and for the people.
Without Bernie in 2020, what follows is just a partial catalog of what disappears or is seriously compromised.
1. An Improved Medicare for All
After decades of advocating for and working towards a single-payer system in the United States, the 2016 presidential campaign Sanders ran effectively and positively shifted the national discussion by making the moral argument that healthcare should not just be a privilege of the few, but a right enjoyed by every single person. The shift was so profound that many Democrats who once ran away from such a policy have now embraced the growing—and overwhelmingly popular—idea of "Medicare for All."
But while anyone can parrot the rational and emotional arguments for such a solution, there is nobody on the national stage at this point with the depth of understanding—a result of his years debating and educating on the issue—that Sanders possesses. With the moneyed health insurance industry ready to "buy off" any politician who threatens its for-profit model, or dilute any proposal considered by Congress, such a transformational policy stands almost no chance without a truly dedicated champion leading that bruising fight. Without someone committed to the very core, a genuinely improved and expanded Medicare For All will be displaced by inadequate reforms and the profiteering off of human suffering will continue unabated.
2. A Just Education System and Student Loan Forgiveness
When Sanders first injected the idea of tuition-free college into the 2016 campaign, the corporate media and most pundits dismissed the policy as unrealistic and laughable. But with student loan debt now at a record $1.5 trillion, the U.S. has created a system in which there is no right to higher education unless you are a) wealthy; or b) agree to saddle yourself with debt for years, decades, or the entirety of your life. But like with the healthcare system, there are powerful forces who will stop at nothing to keep this system going.
Without Sanders' continued fight for student loan forgiveness and equal access to education through tuition-free college, financial institutions and the student loan industry (of which the federal government is a key player) will continue to use their power and influence to relegate this issue to the back of the room, something not to be discussed and no bold solutions allowed.
3. More Peaceful Tomorrows and a Less Militaristic Foreign Policy
Sanders has highlighted the calamitous consequences of the right-wing both at home and abroad while at the same time striving to expand the political and moral consciousness of a nation that in recent decades has known too much war and not enough peace. With an understanding that the United States does not exist in a bubble, Sanders has made clear his belief that we must be an integral part of the international community in order to displace right-wing fanaticism with democracy and cooperation.
In addition to his wider call to bring to a close our endless wars abroad and rein in the "out-of-control" Pentagon budget, Sanders was the co-sponsor of Senate Joint Resolution 54 last year calling for an end of U.S. military support for the Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen. While more than 50,000 have been killed and 12 million pushed to within a knife's edge of starvation in Yemen, the historic resolution, with Bernie's leadership, was the first time the Senate invoked the 1973 War Powers Act.
While a tireless advocate of U.S. veterans, Sanders has long spoken out against the injustices suffered by those in foreign lands and has offered a clear-eyed and rational vision for global cooperation that rejects authoritarianism and tyranny while supporting the dignity and self-determination of all people. This cooperative approach, one which favors diplomacy over armed conflict, is in stark contrast to the routine use of military force. Sanders' presence in the 2020 campaign would greatly expand the foreign policy discourse and promote much-needed dialogue about needless and brutal wars while also providing a framework to rebuild tattered relations with allies around the world. Taken as a whole, these possibilities serve as a moral and political mandate for Sanders to enter the 2020 election.
4. Real Regulation of Wall Street and the Robin Hood Tax
The threshold question most pundits ask when confronted with social programs for the good of the overall population is "how can the country pay for them?" Sanders introduced a Financial Transaction Tax, the Robin Hood Tax, in the 2016 campaign and has continued to fight for its enactment. This would levy a fee on the accumulated windfalls of stock, bond, and securities trades of the 1% to be justly invested in programs for the 99% and the betterment of the country as a whole. Nobody else likely running in 2020 has centered taking on the corrupt influence of corporate power and Wall Street with the same consistency and moral vigor than Sanders. Nobody.
Without his voice in the 2020 presidential election this policy proposal, which is designed to limit the enormous political and economic power of the finance sector and mitigate gross economic inequality, will be largely jettisoned. While Democrats like to portray everyone in America as part of the "middle class," Sanders will continue to clarify the fiction of a classless society. He calls out the obscene hubris and greed of the wealthy at the expense of everyday people in our nation and has stood unabashedly with the poor and working people of this country against the extreme and exploitative excesses of the billionaire class. That legacy cannot be faked, and it must not be ignored.
5. A Progressive Populist Campaign
Sanders has done the difficult and courageous work of building a base of support around ideas – not party identity, rhetorical gimmicks, or time-worn clichés. His base is solid (and expanding) because it is grounded in action-oriented policy prescriptionsaimed at solving real problems faced by tens of millions of real people each day. Even some of his more vitriolic critics have grudgingly acknowledged that Sanders fans are compelled by his authentic commitment to the issues he talks about. Imagine that?
As simple as it sounds, Sanders supporters are not enamored by the person, but the ideas he has committed to putting forth. While he has shown great skill and leadership, any potential Sanders campaign is "owned" by the base inspired by the issues, not Bernie. His supporters are dedicated to the ideals of democracy, which is why they are unwavering. That is why I am unwavering in my support. Because you cannot fake authentic commitment. Ultimately, this is what falls to the wayside in the absence of Sanders.
6. The Promise of a Green New Deal That Centers Both the Planet and Workers
Sanders—an early proponent of the newly popularized Green New Deal—has been fighting to protect the natural world from polluters and damaging industries since his initial tenure as mayor of Burlington, Vermont decades ago, long before the true threat of the climate crisis was fully understood by most. Being a warrior for climate justice requires directly engaging the root problems of human-caused global warming, including the fossil fuel industry which has waged a war of misinformation and obstruction to protect their profits. Sanders has named names and gone after the perpetrators of climate destruction, because he understands that humanity is at a tipping point.
When asked during a 2016 debate what was the most serious national security issue facing our country, Sanders answered with two words: "climate change." During his first presidential campaign and since, Sanders has forced the topic into the national conversation, refused to entertain false solutions, and championed those clamoring for a far-reaching transformation of the nation's energy system while also lifting up workers and the economy. With the scientific community unified in its warnings that urgent action must be taken, the stakes are simply too high to put faith in a candidate who has not internalized the threat, embraced the challenge, and articulated a bold vision forward. With a message that argues we don't have to choose between saving the planet and working people, Bernie is that candidate.
7. A Candidate With a History of Defending Civil Rights
Senator Sanders was deeply engaged in the civil rights movement as a young man in the 1960s and has never ceased fighting alongside civil rights leaders throughout his career. He believes that civil rights are the rights of all persons in a civilized society irrespective of their national origins, heritage, religion, or immigration status. A committed advocate for racial justice, he does not pander at election time only to set aside the issue once elected and has long recognized the interplay between racial discrimination and an economy rigged against the poor and marginalized communities.
Absent Sanders' fight for a deep, genuine program to fundamentally address the obscene imbalance of wealth inequality, attain greater power for workers, and address the political economy of structural racism, there will be much discussion without a systemic solution.
8. A Feminist Candidate With a Deep Commitment to Gender Equality and Dignity for All
Senator Sanders has been a feminist in the best sense of the term for decades. In fact, I first noticed Sanders running for mayor of Burlington when I was in college in California and was taken by his embrace of women's equality and his demand for pay equity, choice, and opportunity. Most political candidates now will signal—at least rhetorical, if not substantive—support for women's issues, but Sanders has always gone further. Sanders battles for material real life changes for women by challenging at the basic structural level our politics of privilege and economic apartheid that demand the disenfranchisement of women and other vulnerable populations.
He does not posture about enhancing "equal access" or "fairness of access" to a deeply flawed and corrupt political and economic system. To do so confuses mere access or "fair access" to an unjust system with equality of access to a just political, economic and social order via a reinvigorated vision of democracy. For Sanders, democracy must be both fair and just. He fights for social justice for all women, including but not limited to the expansion of Social Security; a just wage system; better job opportunities with pay parity; improved protections against domestic violence at home and sexual harassment in the workplace; excellent and affordable healthcare; expanded protections for worker organizing; retirement security; paid time off for family leave; and other programs specifically directed to the wellbeing of women, such as: safe and affordable housing, reproductive care, early childhood education, and elder care.
9. A Warrior for Voting Rights and Democratic Reform
Senator Sanders stands solidly for voting rights and while this will be a grand talking point among all Democrats, Sanders seeks to eradicate the political, economic, and social factors that disenfranchise large segments of our population. Doing so will entail a direct challenge to the bad faith politics of gerrymandering electoral districts and voter suppression by the political class as well as ripping the mask off all structures that seek to make it harder, not easier, to cast a ballot and otherwise participate in open and transparent elections.
As he works to build a mass movement to educate voters, Sanders will continue to put forth a pro-democracy platform by fighting aggressively to get big money out of politics by eschewing corporate money; promoting far-reaching campaign finance reform efforts; battling to reverse the Citizens United decision; and ending the malignant and racist voter suppression that remains pervasive across the country.
10. A Candidate Focused on Jobs as Well as the Workers and Unions That Will Build a Better Future
Bernie has always been the most pro-worker candidate in Congress. He understands the fundamental role that unions play in economic equality. Most recently, he propelled the Fight for 15 by forcing the giant Amazon to cede to raises for all workers. He was on the lines at Disney which resulted in winning raises. He understands the benefits of technology but also some of its dangers and is concerned that worker skill-enhancing technologies may be in danger of being displaced by skill-corrosive technologies in an ill-advised attempt to enhance corporate profits and assert greater control over the U.S. workforce.
Sanders stands with and for working people. He recognizes class differences and the need for the working class to organize and fight for themselves and the common good. Sanders seeks national policies and massive investments to rebuild our country's infrastructure such as roads, bridges, water systems, and railways as well as affordable housing—all built by America's workers.
And Lastly. A Chance to Reclaim Our National Dreams
Ultimately, and importantly, if Sanders decides not to run it will be about our missed opportunity, not his.
The chance to elect someone with such moral courage and clarity of vision is a chance for the people—and I mean all the people—to reclaim national dreams lost as well as hopes and promises betrayed.
In other words, because of his experience and commitment to the common good, he is the most qualified candidate. Just imagine what it looks like if Bernie wins. A warrior backing such fine and necessary policies would be a seismic shift for our lives, this nation, and the world.
As Sanders weighs what must certainly be the hardest decision of his life, those of us who believe in him know what we are asking.
We also know this: the stakes could not be higher.