The Official List of Bernie's Successors
The varying paths for life after Sanders for the American left
To my fellow former Bernie Sanders supporters, I’m going to say something that may be controversial. I never really liked “Not Me. Us.” as a campaign slogan.
Now, I know some people have some strong feelings about this. To be clear, I still think it was a solid tagline. Intellectually, I get it. It was a short, succinct way for him to sum up his campaign philosophy and brand himself as an independent, movement-backed politician. But it just never clicked with me, and not just because I always found “A Future To Believe In” to an extraordinarily strong tagline and was bitter to see it sidelined in his 2020 run. At its core, it missed something important about Bernie as a candidate—the very thing that made his run that year feel so damn urgent and high-pressure. For as often as the Senator tried to downplay his own importance on the campaign trail, the reason we were there for him and not any of the other candidates with similar policies was because of, well, him. That he said the things he said was unique enough, especially in 2016, but what made him truly special was his unmatched credibility. There are no other figures on the left in modern history with a record as extensive and consistent as his. For the tens of millions of Americans who felt ignored, marginalized, and hoodwinked by mainstream Democrats over the past many decades, Sanders was a huge, revitalizing breath of fresh air. He was a leader, captaining a mass, national-scale movement on the left wing of American politics for the first time since…well, I don’t really know. Maybe Robert Kennedy? Maybe even before that?
The point is, it was a while. And it’s what made him different than both his imitators and even his supporters. But he lost, and he’s too old to run again, and given that he still hasn’t announced his plans for the 2024 Vermont Senate race, there’s a real chance he might not be in Washington for that much longer. But besides the status of his committee chairmanship (which actually is pretty important—Bernie, if you’re reading this, please don’t retire), that decision won’t really change much. Bernie has already run his last campaign at the national level. To the extent that we once had a single figure to all organize, rally, message, and campaign around, we no longer have it.
So, our fears came true. The worst came to pass. But there’s been a lot of time and quite a few elections since then. While it was once hard to even imagine what a post-Bernie progressive movement could have looked like, we now have a bit of a clearer picture. Discrete political archetypes are now visible, each representing their own styles, priorities, constituencies, risks, and potential rewards. While it’s still too early to say which individual figures stand to take Bernie’s mantle, I do think we’re far along enough now to list the factions that could, and what they are.
That’s where this piece comes in. I’ve never really seen this sort of thing articulated before, and I think we’re in a place where we can do it. Above everything else, though, one thing is clear: compared to the centrist liberals and far-rightists we covered earlier, the left is far more politically diverse across the board. Because Bernie has never been even close to as ideologically demanding towards his followers as either the White House or Mar-A-Lago have been towards theirs, his acolytes have been given ample room to experiment. As a result, this list is the most dynamic and varied out of all the ones we’ve done together so far, which is something I believe gives his wing a major advantage. Some of the figures and approaches you may very well recognize. Others you may not. They’re all equally intriguing and equally important to the future of the one wing that, to this day, seems to still have a monopoly on all the good ideas in American politics.
Urban Left-Wing Activists (‘The Squad’)
Examples: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Ilhan Omar, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Rep. Cori Bush