Bernie Sanders Was Right to Accept Joe Rogan’s Endorsement
All stops must be pulled to win against Trump.
If it seems like so much of what’s happening to the Bernie Sanders campaign is a repeat of 2016, it’s because it very much is. After taking on an endorsement from popular podcast host Joe Rogan, the Sanders campaign has been under a constant barrage of criticism from the liberal wing of the Democratic party for refusing to disavow a bigot–simply put, the fact that Joe Rogan said some not-so-savory things about minorities in the past, automatically disqualifies him as a political consideration regardless of how much influence he has. The socialist cohort of the American left clearly sees this differently–Bernie Sanders has been outspoken about the necessity to build a broad coalition that encompasses all Americans, regardless of ideological discrepancies, and an extension of that was reaching out to Joe Rogan despite it being deemed sacrilege by the identitarian lane of the Democratic party.
Under any other circumstances, the Joe Rogan endorsement would not have caused much ruckus. If Trump was the recipient of his endorsement, think pieces would be flying off opinion sections of several high-profile liberal outlets about how Rogan is materializing his controversial choice of guests into conservative political praxis, but because Sanders was on the other end, the discourse somehow was spun into a slight against his campaign, and the subsequent claim that you’d need to woo your way some ideological dissenters in order to win the upcoming presidential elections.
In a democracy, it is the simple fact of the matter that your leaders don’t perfectly represent your views on every social or economic issue. This was evidenced by Trump’s win in the last cycle, where most of it can be accredited to value-minded support by swing voters who’ve taken a liking to xenophobic fearmongering and anti-multiculturalism–that’s a compromise many had to put up with in order to elect a president who purports the return to a pan-western judeo-christendom as core to his platform. Similarly, Bernie Sanders hopes that whatever disagreements some of Trump’s base may have with him, he’ll be able to turn into enough of a motivation for them to ditch the Republican party and get on-board with his radical agenda–the means with which to gain that marginal support has been a point of contention in the Democratic primary, but none have quite reached the level of dissent to Joe Rogan’s endorsement of Sanders over say, Elizabeth Warren.
This is where pragmatism starts to sharply decouple from a stern commitment to values. Bernie Sanders made it core to his campaign that a good portion of his base will disagree with what he says, such that it is much harder to abstract from his endorsements any particular ideological inclination. Elizabeth Warren — and arguably Juliàn Castro before her — is reiterating the script of Hillary Clinton’s campaign where she’s hoping that saying enough of the identity ticks that the Democratic base is mesmerized by, will be enough to garner widespread support–seeing at how she’s struggling to keep up with Sanders and Joe Biden in the polls, it is difficult to make the case that this is at all what the American people are responding to at this current stage.
Of course, implying that Joe Rogan is a way to reach from across the aisle to disaffected Republicans is an admission that without winning key support from swing states, the electoral map in America is bound to remain bluest along the coastline, and reddest the further away from it. If there’s a lesson that Democrats should have taken from Clinton’s loss in 2016, it’s that you can’t rely on your core base to be the sole instrument to your triumph–Sanders’ remedy to this will undoubtedly leave many disappointed, but if it’s what’s necessary to stop a wild card such as Donald Trump from remaining the most powerful man in the world for another four years, he has to take it. As New York Times columnist Elizabeth Bruenig put it, “the critical distinction between Bernie Sanders and the donor-driven, suborned, anti-democratic politics he hopes to overthrow is his greatest virtue, and his strongest appeal.” If Sanders isn’t the bender of all things conventional in the American political system, then who is he? He’s flipped the political discourse on its ear in the last five years, and it’s poised to be his defining legacy even if he ends up losing the Democratic bid for 2020.
It’s only in today’s polarized political apparatus that an endorsement from a run-of-the-mill celebrity would result in as much fuss. It certainly didn’t seem to be much of a deterrent when war criminal Henry Kissinger cast his hat for Clinton in the last election, but given that the online contingent of the left plays a more prominent role in the political discourse surrounding 2020, a podcast host is exactly the figure whose involvement would trump that of an Iraq hawk. It’s a sad reality of modern politics that the harshness of scrutiny applied scales linearly with receptiveness, rather any rational consideration for the material harm done by the subject of scrutiny.
This won’t likely be the last time the Sanders campaign will have to contend with such issues, but it’s still important to note that Sanders’ theory of the American electorate is fundamentally different from any other candidate’s. It is folly to try and transpose notions of old on what is a completely novel form of coalition-building that Democrats — and the left at large — are unaccustomed to. You can loathe the racist, homophobic, and transphobic vote all you want, but it is the most powerful predictor of political outcome in an age where bigotry animates voters more effectively than class disparities. Bernie Sanders is merely recognizing that, and is trying to reconcile his desire to beat Trump with others’ reluctance to adopt his all-encompassing tactics, dirty as they may be–that’s a philosophical disagreement that is ultimately hard to square off, and Sanders is clearly not interested in doing so just for mainstream approval.