An Open Letter to Barack Obama in Support of Endorsing Bernie Sanders in This Time of Crisis

Subject: An Open Letter to Barack Obama in Support of Endorsing Bernie Sanders in This Time of Crisis
From: Christopher Phelps
Date: 22 Mar 2020

Dear President Barack Obama,

I won't soon forget the chills I felt when I first heard your 2004 DNC keynote address. My husband and I watched it live, listening from a futon in our rented apartment in Somerville, Massachusetts, knowing that the convention was taking place just a handful of miles away. Your passionate denunciation of the shortsightedness and moral unseriousness of the two-party system hit home and embodied all the hope we had had for the candidacy of Howard Dean. After your speech, several television pundits said things to the tune of "Watch this guy—he's going places." By that time we had already said to one another aloud, "There's our president."

Through the ups and downs, hopes and heartaches of the years that followed, we cast our votes for you twice. We never regretted doing so and do not regret doing so now. Although we were disappointed that some of your progressive proposals seemed to get sidelined or reinterpreted by people most of whom seemed well-intentioned if maybe a little—how do I put this politely—lenient to the status quo, we never lost faith in your fundamental decency as a human being and friend of a humanist future. My husband and I gained the right to marry under your administration, two Supreme Court justices we quickly came to admire, and a refreshed sense of optimism that our country's seemingly interminable wars in the Middle East, begun under false pretenses, would in fact one day end. Although we would have preferred a more comprehensive overhaul of our nation's health insurance system, we nevertheless counted ourselves grateful to have health insurance for the first time since our college years, insurance we otherwise would not have been able to afford. This because my husband works in state government and draws a very modest salary, while my income as a poet and math tutor is even more modest.

But enough about the past and about us. I should explain the purpose of this letter as directly as I can, without flinching. It is to ask you to come out in support of Bernie Sanders, in this crucial and frightening time. Here's why I ask, in two main points:

First, Bernie's positions have been vindicated by events in ways that nobody could have predicted, not even moderate Democrats, a month ago. I have heard many a regret from Democratic primary voters, online and off, that they would have cast a vote for Sanders had they known then what they know now: that Bernie's proposed reforms don't look radical at all in the present circumstances. They look necessary if we're going to keep our democracy from flying apart at the seams in the midst of this crisis. The need for Medicare-for-All has been made shockingly apparent by the coronavirus, as some patients treated for the virus have already been billed more than our annual household income; and as so many and so many more soon to follow have and will be laid off from work, people who would be protected by health insurance detached from employment, so that the possibility of paying their medical bills in a time of crisis isn't one more worry added to the heap. Bernie's proposals for medical and college-loan debt forgiveness would also helps millions, now more than ever, as unforeseen expenses begin to accumulate, as well as keep our economy afloat. And his general stance against oligarchy and favoring especially the working class could help calm fraying nerves and reset priorities in this time during which calamity threatens to boil over into (if what my normally mild-mannered friends are saying is any indication) mass rebellion against both the corporate-controlled media and our aggressively incompetent, reality-television, horror-show federal government.

The second point in favor of a Bernie Sanders endorsement now, of all times, is more personal and emotional. I woke up afraid this morning, believing that no amount of damage control from the Biden campaign will be sufficient to overcome one particular Republican attack. Putting aside Biden's many rather conservative positions out of step with current priorities—I won't detail them, though there are many that concern me—and putting aside the murkiness surrounding Burisma and the corruption charge sure to complicate the Democrats' task of litigating Trump's (admittedly extensive) corruption, and putting aside the fact that so many Democrats and probably many Republicans under the age of 45 are cool or outright hostile to Biden (this last feels like an especially big ask: how many of these heartbroken, disaffected, some outright desperate young people will come around to Biden? the message I hear again and again from them is, "last time was the last time"—their urgency is palpable and I'm again being polite), there is a problem with Biden that I fear he can't recover from. And that problem is that he's not demonstrated leadership in the coronavirus crisis. His disappearance is nothing short of harrowing. Even if he reappears in a short number of days, with game plan in hand, I strongly suspect it will be too late. The Republican ads will be filmed and devastating. They will proudly, obnoxiously, and truthfully point out that in the first and most frightening days of this epidemic, the Democratic nominee for president went silent, whereas Trump stood at his podium and projected strength and leadership. (Actually what he projected is thinly veiled vanity, anger, epic and criminal negligence—but no matter. Those have been his MOs all along and now, somehow, his approval rating has risen to 55%, so I can only dread what it will be as things get considerably more terrifying in the weeks ahead, and then what it will be when the propagandistic television ads are made that whitewash all semblance of his petulance and emphasize only his simulation of heroism.) Maybe these ads will even be surprisingly candid: “Our wartime president isn’t perfect, but he was there. Biden wasn’t.” I don’t see any response, thoughtful, emotional or both, that can effectively answer this sort of message.

Barack, if you were to put aside your misgivings and embrace and openly endorse Bernie Sanders now, the mail-in primaries in the rest of the states yet to vote would swing to Bernie and he would win the nomination, and then, I think rather handily, he would win the general election and put us on a path to mitigate climate change in a serious way and salvage a democracy that the working and middle classes can actually live in, in relative peace and hard-fought prosperity, despite everything—despite this perfect storm at this moment pitched against us all.

With hope against hope,

Christopher Phelps