If you care about the working class, Bernie Sanders is the only choice that makes any sense in the 2024 presidential cycle. Former President Donald Trump sometimes made pro-worker noises, but the mismatch between rhetoric and reality was dramatic. His National Labor Relations Board waged a relentless war against organized labor. President Biden has been an improvement—but the man Trump once aptly dubbed “Sleepy Joe” is simply never going to take serious action to tackle runaway economic inequality and its corrosive effects.
We live in a country where corporations and wealthy individuals more or less openly purchase politicians, where diabetics have to start GoFundMes to buy life-saving insulin. Thirty-two million people still earn less than $15 an hour—and $15 buys a lot less than it did when fast-food workers launched their “Fight for $15” campaign in 2012. Unionized taxi drivers have seen their industry “disrupted” into oblivion by gig-economy apps. Even college professors are likely to drive around between multiple campuses teaching adjunct classes without health insurance or any sense of security for the future.
The Trump administration was one long orgy of deregulation and tax cuts for the wealthy. Biden promised voters a few positive reforms in 2020, even as he told donors that “nothing would fundamentally change” under his presidency. So far, his record in office has been much more Sleepy Joe than Dark Brandon.
Little wonder Bernie Sanders “clocked in with the highest favorability rating among a list of 23 potential 2024 contenders” in a new USA Today-Ipsos poll—beating out not just profound mediocrities like Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, and Mike Pence, but also Biden and Trump.
The objections to the Vermont socialist are as familiar as they are unconvincing. Sanders, who seems to be in better mental and physical health than either Biden or Trump, is supposed to be too old for the office. His losses in 2016 and 2020 are supposed to show that he can’t win in 2024—never mind that he won the first three states in a row in 2020, scoring a particularly impressive win in the Nevada caucus. Even after his setback in South Carolina, whose Democratic primary electorate is among the most moderate in the nation, his campaign would have lived to fight another day if not for the unprecedented 11th-hour consolidation of still-viable centrist candidates behind Joe Biden.
Sometimes I will even see a particularly desperate Bernie detractor trot out the claim that a self-described “democratic socialist” couldn’t beat Trump or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Those recently released approval numbers tell a different story.
At bottom, these are thin excuses for focusing on horse-race considerations instead of arguing about politics. The real question isn’t whether Bernie Sanders could run, win, or serve. It’s whether his vision of our collective future should triumph over that of the feckless centrist who stopped talking about a public option for health insurance soon after the 2020 campaign and a GOP whose “populist” wing recently joined forces with the rest of the party to stop Democrats from capping the price of insulin.
If Sanders decides to run in 2024, he is going to run on a platform of Medicare for All, raising the minimum wage, making it easier for workers to organize unions, and doing everything in his power to reduce the economic and political power of the “billionaire class.” I know this not because I have some special access to the internal deliberations of his advisers, but because he hasn’t shut up about anything on that list since the 1970s.
He has an unambiguously progressive stance on issues like abortion, gay and transgender rights, and the separation of church and state. As far as I’m concerned, this is among Bernie’s virtues. The view I’ve argued for elsewhere is that progressive social policies and democratic-socialist economic policies fit together within a single vision of a society in which ordinary people have more control over their lives—both on and off the job.
But even socially conservative voters who share Bernie’s concerns about economic inequality should consider backing him if he runs in 2024. The fact is that anyone hoping to convince a majority of the American public to support sweeping abortion bans or reverse the country’s acceptance of same-sex marriage has a long road ahead of them. An anti-abortion ballot referendum was recently rejected by a whopping 58.9 percent of voters in Kansas—a state no Democrat has carried since LBJ. Public opinion is, though certainly not perfectly aligned with Bernie's consistently progressive views, at least quite a bit to the left of what social conservatives want.
Meanwhile, conservatives who say they worry about being “canceled” and fired for their beliefs might want to think hard about supporting a candidate like Trump or DeSantis, who would once again stuff the NLRB with hardcore union-busters. Trump’s board was so hostile to any attempt to curb the power of employers to fire people that it sided with Google—you know, “woke capital”—against James Damore, the Google engineer fired by the search giant for writing a memo suggesting among other things that biological differences between men and women explain the gender imbalance in the tech industry. I happen to disagree with the substance of Damore’s memo. But I sure think he could have used a union.
Workers desperately need a voice on the job—a subject on which Bernie Sanders is extremely passionate. He is equally passionate about undercutting the corporate domination of our politics and ending the grotesque injustice of letting tens of millions of people go without the basic security of health insurance in the wealthiest nation on the planet. No other credible candidate for the presidency in 2024 comes close to his zeal on these issues.
Our culture wars will rage on regardless of who takes office in January 2025 and which policies he or she manages to push through Congress. But if Bernie Sanders takes one last run, we would have a precious chance to elect a president who would pursue a less hawkish foreign policy, who would aggressively promote unionization, and would use the bully pulpit to push for renegotiating the social contract in ways vastly more favorable to ordinary people. Let’s not waste it.