The Corner

Bernie Sanders Isn’t Ignoring Race, He’s Playing His Role Perfectly

At the Washington Examiner, Byron York notices what was missing from Senator Sanders’s detailed, “densely-packed,” and “sweeping” announcement speech yesterday:

The startling omission was the issue of race and policing that has roiled the political debate in recent months. Ferguson, Baltimore, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray — none were in Sanders’ speech. Allegations of police brutality and black victimization were all absent. Sanders made one brief mention of African-American unemployment and at the end of his speech offered a catch-all sentence in which he envisioned an America “where every person, no matter their race, their religion, their disability or their sexual orientation realizes the full promise of equality that is our birthright as Americans.” But the racial issues that have dominated the news at various times in the past year were nowhere to be found.


Sanders also ignored the question of immigration, even though Hispanic voters make up a large and growing segment of the Democratic coalition and were a key part of Barack Obama’s defeat of Mitt Romney in 2012.

I’ve been racking my brains to try to work out why this could be. As far as I can see it, presidential candidates emphasize or de-emphasize issues for three reasons: 1) They think it will help them in the primary; 2) They think it will help them in the general; 3) They are running not to win but to raise awareness, and they therefore keep their message tailored to those topics that interest them. On the face of it, none of these explain Sanders’s omission. Did he just . . . forget?

Per York, some influential progressives think that he did:

The oversight surprised some progressive listeners. “There really was no mention … of over-policing, mass incarceration, these issues,” said MSNBC’s Chris Hayes in reporting the speech. “It struck me as a missed opportunity.”

John Nichols, a writer for The Nation appearing with Hayes, noted that the 73 year-old Sanders “attended the March on Washington in 1963.” But Nichols, a Sanders fan, did not try to gloss over the omission. Sanders will have to “give a speech where he goes hard core into these issues,” Nichols said. “They cannot be unaddressed.”

That Hayes and Nichols would be surprised and annoyed is understandable. But I think they’re maybe misunderstanding the role that Sanders sees himself playing. As far as I can tell, Sanders believes that the Democratic party is strong — or at least tolerable – on the questions of race and immigration and police excesses, but unacceptably weak on the question of economics. That being so — and presuming that he knows he can’t win – he is making a smart calculation here. Why would he bother talking about immigration when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have already staked out a hard-line position? Why would he use his candidacy to discuss race when the first black president is still in office? Why would he expend his energy critiquing the excesses of American policing when Barack Obama is in the White House and Hillary Clinton is busy condemning her own husband for the tough-on-crime policies he advocated when in office?

Answer: He wouldn’t. His role in this game is to make Hillary more fiscally socialistic. Somewhere deep down, he knows that.


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