Bernie Sanders recently announced he will take part in a town hall hosted by Fox News in late April. Supporters cheered the decision, especially considering it is very much in line with his history and previous appearances on the network. Some critics took it as an opportunity to call Sanders out for “legitimizing” Fox News, as if this doesn’t ignore the fact Fox News is the most popular network in the United States watched by millions of people each day.
Fox News certainly plays a key role in the calamity of the Trump era and the neofascist turn therein. However, they’re an incredibly powerful and important institution in modern American politics. For millions of Americans, they are the only source of news and political discourse. Bernie Sanders knows this, which is why he’s going on Fox News in the first place, to bring his message to people who might not hear it otherwise. In fact, this is why he’s always brought his message to the people, because they might not hear it otherwise.
In 2016 Bernie Sanders traveled to Liberty University, a conservative evangelical school well known for its political ties and clout in the Christian Right and pro-life movements, in a concerted effort to spread his message to people who might otherwise never hear it from the man himself. Bernie Sanders said that was his goal during the speech, highlighting the vast difference in worldview between himself and many in the audience. However he also acknowledged that there are many ideas they share and many goals they have in common. The “golden rule” and the idea that people should treat others how they would like to be treated is the foundation of almost all significant religions and Bernie’s own worldview he claimed, as he went on to tie his substantive vision to this broader principle. An argument which at least philosophically and morally speaking, is very powerful.
It’s a powerful argument, but more importantly it was brought to an audience that might never hear it had he not appeared in very hostile territory to deliver it. This goes deeper than just one appearance at Liberty University. Reaching out to those who disagree with him is a fundamental part of Bernie’s theory of politics. Which is exactly why, in a time where rural America is increasingly consolidated under the Republican Party, the Democrats have made little effort to bridge the cultural and political divide keeping them from rural America. Bernie Sanders has done the exact opposite, held mid term rallies in “red states” and has vowed to make sure his campaign is one that focuses on all 50 states.
It’d be easy to ignore red states, but Bernie made a habit of prolific campaigning in 2016 and there’s no reason to think that won’t be the case in 2020. In fact his schedule has been rally heavy as per usual, and while so far he hasn’t ventured too far out of the early primary states like Iowa and California, visits to states like Missouri, Oklahoma, and others were the bread and butter of the Sanders campaign just a few years ago. Even though these are ostensibly “red states” they’re still full of people whose lives are materially impacted by the policy their elected officials push and who can be convinced to support a policy vision that materially benefits them. A policy vision similar to the one offered by Bernie Sanders.
The proof is in the pudding. In “red state” after “red state” progressive policy initiatives succeed via ballot initiative. For example, in both Utah and Idaho, lawmakers have long intentionally sabotaged the Affordable Care Act by bottlenecking exchanges and refusing funds for medicaid expansion. Activists circumvented these lawmakers by petitioning for ballot initiatives, which despite strong opposition from sitting officials, passed with 60.58% and 53.32% in Idaho and Utah respectively. Minimum wage hikes and marijuana legalization have proved policy initiatives where similar success is possible. Because at the end of the day, no matter the locale, these policies are popular and people support them. Which is why Bernie Sanders is so willing to travel to rural America or appear on Fox News, because he knows, even there, the majority of people agree with his vision.
It’s not just these ballot initiatives, polls show ideas such as Medicare for All and taxing the wealthy, are broadly supportive, even among conservatives. For example, according to recent polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation, up to 71% of Americans support Medicare for All and broadly support the idea of “healthcare as a right.” The same poll showed that 67% of Americans support the policy when the goal is framed as “eliminating out of pocket costs and insurance premiums.”
A significant majority of Americans, 70% to be exact, support hiking income tax rates on income over $10 million. Even 54% of Republicans propose such a proposal. Looking at Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax (2% tax on all wealth over $1 billion) and Bernie Sanders estate tax proposal (reinstates the estate tax), popularity sits at 61% and 55% respectively. These are popular proposals for a number of reasons, just to list a few, people instinctively feel they are just, or they see the need to reel in the excesses of the rich in this moment, or they themselves would benefit from the revenue and expanded social spending. Regardless, these policies have support that rivals that of Medicaid expansion or minimum wage hikes, because it helps people in a real and meaningful way.
Barack Obama famously said “there’s no red America, there’s no blue America,” but the Sanders conception of a 50 state focus is far more meaningful. Largely because his conception of politics ensures it is. For Obama and politicians of the technocratic Obama mold, they have vision, and it’s their job as a skilled policymaker/technician to get the policy passed. In Bernie Sanders world, it’s about people, millions of them, coming together and letting their politicians know they have a vision for the world and they will not let up until their leaders enact that vision. Or at the very least make it clear they did all they could do in the service of that vision.
That’s Bernie’s vision of a 50 state vision, and it’s one that everyone can get behind. Personable technocrats can’t break through the partisanship and gross divide in our political culture. People’s movement based politics can and will, that’s the fundamental divide between a politician like Bernie and a politician like Obama. It’s also why Bernie doesn’t shy away from Liberty University, rural America, or Fox News. His entire worldview is based on getting more people involved and Bernie brings his message to the people, wherever they are.