Bernie Sanders and Michelle Obama rally the troops
Sen. Bernie Sanders and former First Lady Michelle Obama told viewers of the Democratic National Convention last night that Donald Trump was unfit for the office of president and that maximum voter turnout is needed to save not just the country, but the planet. | Photos: AP / Montage: People's World

Delivering stark warnings about disasters that would befall the nation and the planet under four more years of Donald Trump, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., urged his sometimes-recalcitrant supporters to vote for and campaign for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden this fall.

“The future of our democracy is at stake. The future of our economy is at stake. The future of our planet is at stake” in this year’s election, the veteran Socialist lawmaker declared in his August 17 Democratic National Convention address.

“Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Trump golfs.”

Michelle Obama, in an impassioned speech, called on Americans to pull out all the stops to join an outpouring that will turn Trump out of office. “Bring lunch and dinners with you” and “prepare to wait in line for hours if you have to,” she implored the nation’s voters.

Sanders and Obama were two of a parade of speakers on the first night of the virtual 2020 convention who took turns censuring the current GOP White House occupant. Others included Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and, as the capper after Sanders, former First Lady Michelle Obama.

In no-nonsense terms, Sanders, Biden’s last standing foe in the 2020 Democratic primaries, laid out the case for the man who bested him.

Sanders extolled Biden’s positive stands for making it easier to unionize, for raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and to legislatively lower both prescription drug prices and the age of eligibility for Medicare The senator admitted the two differ on some key issues, notably Medicare For All and the Green New Deal, at least in name.

They don’t differ, he said on the chief imperative, nor should his supporters, of ousting Trump who Sanders called an authoritarian danger to the U.S.

“Our great nation is now living in an unpredictable moment,” he began. “In the midst of this, we have a president who is not only incapable of understanding these crises” of the coronavirus pandemic, economic collapse, and the continued demand for eradicating structural racism, “but who is taking us down the road of authoritarianism.”

Authoritarianism “has taken root in our democracy” and that won’t happen under Biden, Sanders declared, “And he’ll stop the coddling of racists, the dog-whistling, the bigotry and the xenophobia” of Trump.

Sanders coupled his appeal to his backers with thanks to them for creating the movement behind him “which has taken this country in a new direction” towards progressive policies. Ideas such as Medicare For All, tuition-free public college education and the Green New Deal, once dismissed as arcane, pie-in-the-sky or too leftist, are now part of the political dialogue, he pointed out.

“And Joe will pass the $15 minimum wage, make it easier to join unions and make health care affordable” by the legislation Sanders cited.

“But all of us yearn for a nation based on the principles of justice and compassion,” Sanders added, saying to his backers in so many words, that’s not Trump. Instead, the Republicans “put our lives and our health in jeopardy” with his grossly mismanaged response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Sanders’s appeal is necessary. Post-election polls in 2016, when Sanders finished second to eventual nominee Hillary Clinton, after a bitter race between them and a party establishment thumb on the convention scales for her, showed 12% of Sanders supporters defected to Trump that fall.

That exodus may have helped Trump gain the slim winning margins he needed in key swing states such as Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, and Florida.

Polls of Sanders supporters this time around showed far higher backing for Biden. The latest, in the New York Times in early July, gave Biden an 87%-4% lead among them against Trump. And Sanders, this time around, drew fewer votes than he did against Clinton, so any exodus may mean less.

Still, the question remains whether the Sanders backers would sit out November, just dutifully vote for Biden this year or, given they are among the party’s leading activists, really go out and campaign—however they can, given the coronavirus pandemic—for the former VP.

Sanders set out to convince them to do so, by emphasizing the threat of Trump. Left unsaid: Biden and Sanders enjoyed a good relationship during their lengthy careers together in the Senate.

“My friends, the price of failure is just too great to imagine,” he told his committed crusaders.

That price of failure and re-election of Trump includes deliberate destruction of the U.S. Postal Service to ensure the GOPer wins re-election and a threat to the funding of Social Security and Medicare through a Trump executive order suspending payroll tax collection. All three have been top Sanders causes both in Congress and on the campaign trail.

In her keynote address, Michelle Obama painted a dark picture of four more years under Trump. Speaking from the experience of her eight years in the White House, when she saw up close the responsibilities, duties, and problems a president—her husband—tackled, she called his successor completely unqualified.

“The job is hard,” she said of the presidency. “It requires clear-headed judgment, a moral compass, an ability to listen, and a desire to ensure that each one of the 330 million of us lives of worth.” Four years ago, she added, enough people in key states chose Trump, “and we’ve been living with the consequences.”

Obama added a quote from the late civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.: “When you see something that is not right, you must not just say something, but do something.”

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CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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