CLIVE, IOWA—On Friday, Bernie Sanders was having a pretty good day. Of course, he was stuck in Washington, watching the Republicans fit James Madison for clown shoes, but his campaign was truly rolling. For the first time, a polling consensus existed that put Sanders as the current frontrunner in the competition for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. In addition, the Democratic establishment couldn’t stop giving the Sanders campaign late Christmas presents.
A piece in Politico alleged that elements of the Democratic National Committee were plotting to derail the Sanders campaign through reviving the policy of “superdelegates,” which, for longtime Sanders devotees, is tantamount to summoning the dark forces of Gehenna. (To be honest, the piece was little more than an exercise in political gossip; it is hung on conversations among six of the 400-odd members of the DNC.) More significant, especially to the message that Sanders has been pushing since 2015, was the DNC’s announcement that it was going to fudge its own debate rules to make sure that Mike Bloomberg makes the stage.
It is hard to count the ways in which this is stupid. The old rules are most of the reason why Kamala Harris, Julian Castro, and Cory Booker are not running anymore, and they are most of the reason why the surviving field is whiter than the 1956 Masters. Supporters of all three of those candidates are still fairly outraged by what those old rules did to their respective favorites. (The Harris forces are the loudest in their anger.) Now, the DNC goes out of its way to rejigger the rules because they want an actual gozillionnaire on the stage.
If I’m Sanders, and I’ve been running against the money power for the past decade, I’m drinking a quiet toast to Tom Perez. If I’m Senator Professor Warren, and I’ve been fighting the money power inside and outside government over that same stretch of time, I’m buying the next round. So when the Sanders campaign gathered here on Friday night to drink deeply from several bars and listen to the rootsy music of Bon Iver, everything seemed to be going its way, even with the candidate stuck in D.C. for the night.
Things were at full boil when three prime Sanders surrogates—Congresswomen Pramila Jayapal, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tialib—took the stage. Omar began her spot talking about her work in safe and affordable housing, but then slid into a moving account of her family’s arrival in the United States from a refugee camp in Kenya.
When I first came to the United States, I remember one of the first things that I saw was homeless people sleeping on the sides of Manhattan when we arrived in New York. And I remember turning to my father and saying, “This is not look like the America you promised. ” and my father said, “Hush, child, we are going to get to our America.” Because the America we were shown in the orientation states when we were coming here from the refugee camps in Kenya had beautiful homes with white picket fences, happy families eating a full meal in their beautiful living rooms, it had happy children getting on the bus to go to their beautiful schools, it had pictures of amazing malls, megamalls, and had pictures of beautifully built bridges and highways. It was a picture of abundance. That is the ideal. That is the America we all know we deserve.
But our reality is full of homeless people, our reality is full of families who have moms and debts—and dads who are going without breakfast or dinner to provide for their children. The reality is children showing up to schools that are full of mold and leaking roof tops. Our reality is children who are facing drills every single day to learn about how they can escape being shot in our schools. Now as an immigrant, someone who has only been here a little over two decades, the America that we—the American exceptionalism we exported to the outside world is very much still alive in my and I want us to live that exceptional U.S.
That’s as eloquent a statement of the value and promise of immigrant America as I’ve ever heard, and it’s a story that all of the children and grandchildren of the various American immigrant diasporas can feel in their bones. (It was also educational: I’d never heard about those orientation films shown to people planning to come here.) It was a fine moment for the Sanders campaign.
But then 2016 showed up like the Bad Fairy and ruined the whole thing. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s name was mentioned and people in the crowd booed. Dionna Langford, a member of the Des Moines school board who was acting as moderator for the panel, appealed to the crowd for civility. Then, alas, Tlaib jumped in.
I’ll boo. Booo! You all know I can’t be quiet. The haters will shut up on Monday when we win.
Which, of course, became the only story out of the event.
Put simply, until I sat in on the president*’s impeachment trial over the past couple of weeks, the 2016 Democratic presidential primary campaign was the most dispiriting political event it had been my misfortune to cover and now, it seems, it never really ended. HRC has a new documentary to pitch, and she seems insistent on doing so by taking every bit of her resentment of the previous Sanders campaign out for a walk. And the 2020 Sanders campaign can’t seem to resist the temptation to rise to that tasty bait.
For me, I wish the 2016 would die the obscure and quiet death it so richly deserves. And I think the responsibility for the interment belongs to the 2020 Sanders campaign. After all, he’s still running for president and she’s not, and the one great flaw in his campaign continues to be its inability to keep its surrogates and staff and acolytes from going off the deep end. The word should go out, today, from the Sanders headquarters that HRC is yesterday’s news. The targets this time around are the people who are moving heaven and earth to put Michael Bloomberg on a stage that didn’t have room for any people of color.