Should Sanders' Next Move Be 'Bernie TV'?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because Bernie's goodbye could just be hello to a new medium for his revolution.
By Nick Fouriezos
“Please stay in this fight with me. Let us go forward, together. The struggle continues.” So went the send-off Bernie Sanders gave his supporters over a live stream Wednesday announcing that he was suspending his campaign, capping off a remarkable four years for the Democratic socialist who significantly advanced previously untouchable topics in America into the mainstream political discussion, from Medicare for All to the $15 minimum wage.
But if that was his goodbye, why did it sound more like a beginning than an end … more the optimistic “good night and good tomorrow” of ABC’s John Daly than the cautious “good night and good luck” of CBS’s Edward R. Murrow?
It may seem strange to compare Sanders to famed legacy media broadcasters, particularly because Sanders has spent most of his career decrying the “corporate media” for propping up establishment, business-as-usual politics. But if the 78-year-old senator — whose presidential dreams are almost certainly extinguished for good — wants to see the changes he fought for his whole life become a reality, his next move is obvious: Create his own media network.
Since Sanders has revolutionized the way campaigns are organized online, and he is armed with an expansive email list after building the largest small-donor database in political history, it would hardly be difficult to turn that energy toward a media platform of his own making. “Being freed from the shackles of the campaign … he can make this about the ideas, and create and expand popular support for them,” says Arun Chaudhary, who served as the Sanders campaign’s digital creative director in 2016. “I was thinking something more policy-focused, like white papers, but you’re right: There are all the ingredients here for an effective media organization.”
Creating a news platform would solve the major problem Sanders faces now — staying relevant and influencing the public discourse.
“Bernie TV” wouldn’t lack for content: It’s easy to imagine Cooking Up a Revolution With AOC,” who has talked politics while making chili on Instagram, or Unfiltered History With Nina Turner, a stirring, rabble-rousing take on the past from Sanders’ toughest-talking warmup speaker on the campaign trail. Dirty Jobs With Bernie would be a great way to highlight the working class. Meanwhile, a nightly SNL-style “Weekend Update” where Sanders and his look-alike comedian Larry David sparred while mimicking each other would be must-watch TV, right? To create a lasting movement, it’s easy to imagine Sanders following a similar route to Bill Simmons — the sports media personality whose fame helped launch the Ringer yet who has used that platform to raise the voices of the next crop of talented podcasters and writers just as much as his own.
This all may seem far-fetched, and sure, it’s a hypothetical swing at the fences. But remember that, in 2016, many openly opined about the possibility that Donald Trump would launch his own self-serving media empire should he lose the election. And creating a news platform would solve the major problem Sanders faces now — staying relevant and influencing the public discourse going forward. Because now that he is out of the presidential discussion, it’s unclear Sanders has the goodwill with Joe Biden and Democratic Party power players to influence it going forward.
Uncle Joe has led with his heart, telling Sanders supporters in a Tuesday statement, “You are more than welcome. You are needed.” Yet it’s unclear whether they will get the progressive policies they want from the former vice president. Former Biden senior adviser Moe Vela says that, while the Biden campaign openly welcomes the Sanders team into the fold, it should “absolutely not” throw out the policy bag to do so.
“Forty percent of them probably won’t go with us, and that’s OK — if the Joe Rogans of the world won’t come, then OK, fine, go on. We still have a very clear path to victory,” says Vela, who believes the Biden campaign will need to convince moderate conservatives and independents to make up the gap without Sanders supporters in tow.
That nonchalance highlights the distance still between the two camps, which is why Chaudhary says he is skeptical the Biden team will hire many former Sanders staffers … a key point, since staffers often shape policy more directly than the candidate themselves. “Because Biden has dug in so strongly against Bernie’s signature policy, Medicare for All, it makes it hard for there to be a lot of cross-pollination,” Chaudhary says. “There is so much daylight in between what they believe.”
Sanders may be able to win some small concessions — weakening the influence of party superdelegates in the nominating process, or platform language around class and privilege. “You will see more and more language in the Democratic platform about providing more economic recovery, more economic stability, more economic opportunity,” Vela says.
But who actually reads — much less cares about — a party platform? Which is why Sanders’ best bet for continuing to push the country further to the left will be by agitating from the outside. The registered Independent always has … but it’s time to trade the halls of the Capitol and the gymnasiums of the campaign trail for a mass media megaphone. After all, the struggle must continue somehow.