Image by Gage Skidmore

Bernie Betrayed the Populist Left.


Michael Bloomberg spent $1.2 billion on his four-month presidential campaign. Bloomberg suspended operations on March 4th, after which he promptly endorsed Joe Biden.

Some claimed this was his intention all along. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich characterized the endorsement as follows: “The fact that Bloomberg has thrown his support to Biden should remove any lingering doubts about where the big money is going and what the Democratic establishment wants. And what it doesn’t want – a wealth tax, Medicare for All, and a Green New Deal.”

Was Bloomberg’s campaign simply an effort to prevent Senator Bernie Sanders getting the nomination? Evidence for this lies in his media offensive against Sanders prior to Super Tuesday.

Sanders was the frontrunner at that time due to a “resounding victory” in the Nevada caucuses. Yet, following Bloomberg’s digital advertisement blitz, Sanders lost 10 of 14 states on Super Tuesday to Biden.

Cui Bono?

Clearly, Joe Biden stood to benefit the most from Bloomberg’s unprecedented spending. Who was most disenfranchised? Arguably, Sanders supporters.

There’s a deep irony to it, especially if we glance back to another populist-left event that lasted only several months yet had a lasting effect on the conversation inside the Democratic Party: Occupy Wall Street.

In September 2011, protesters began camping out in Zuccotti Park, a block away from Wall Street in Manhattan. Thousands took part in a series of marches in New York, eventually spreading around the world.

Four years later, Bernie Sanders’s candidacy gave the network a new way to address perceived economic grievances.

The Senator’s success in the 2015 election, despite being underfunded, was largely attributed to the groundwork that had been laid with Occupy.

Remarkably, the man who dispersed the encampment in Zuccotti Park was none other than Michael Bloomberg. The Washington Post presented a scathing description of what transpired at the time:

“The behavior of the NYPD and the mayor’s office, in ordering this brazen action while blocking the press and the public from reporting on the eviction, is a disgraceful display of unnecessary force on a protest that for the most part has behaved lawfully and respectfully throughout its two-month existence.”

To recapitulate, the man who silenced the Occupy movement in 2011 is the same man who ambushed Sanders’s 2020 campaign.

It didn’t stop there.

Biden has been described as the “establishment” candidate. It should come as no surprise that he would receive Bloomberg’s endorsement.

But Sanders endorsing Biden, too? For many this did not compute.

How could a self- described socialist justify backing the same man as did Bloomberg: a living, breathing archetype of the “one percent”?

Perhaps only Biden possesses the ability to merge these two opposing viewpoints into a cohesive unit. The only other logical conclusion, however, is that Sanders supporters were deceived.

It wouldn’t be the first time.

The collective attention span has not forgotten his behavior during the 2016 primaries. Sanders described former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the “establishment candidate”.

Yet when he ultimately endorsed her, it was fed to his supporters as a “unity moment” for the party. This came in spite of a federal judge acknowledging that the DNC did indeed rig the primaries against Sanders.

There have been plenty of signs that Sanders was nothing more than an ‘establishment’ wolf in sheep’s clothing. His family financially benefitting from his political career over the course of decades, for example.

Or his minimizing of Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State. Or, perhaps, failing to address Biden’s questionable behavior in the Ukraine.

These were red flags. But Sanders endorsing the same man as Bloomberg? Perhaps that is confirmation that they are one and the same: establishment.

If so, the most marginalized group of voters of the last decade are those aligned with the Occupy movement.

They were silenced by Bloomberg in 2011. They were silenced by the DNC establishment in 2016. And in 2020, it dovetailed: they were silenced by both Bloomberg and the DNC establishment.

Sanders’s actions have spoken much louder than his words in the last two election cycles. The significance of his endorsement of Biden is the same as his endorsement of Clinton: a betrayal of his support base.

The opportunity to “occupy” the Democratic Party ended with Sanders’s endorsement of Biden.

Craig Lindsey

Craig Lindsey is a 2020 National Pulse Writing Fellow

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