There is a school of thought which posits that a Bernie Sanders presidential nomination could undermine down-ballot Democratic candidates come Election Day. This notion was on full display over the weekend as Pete Buttigieg attacked Sanders after the Vermont senator won eight times as many delegates as he did in the Nevada caucuses, while cementing his position as the undisputed Democratic front-runner.
“I believe the only way to truly deliver any of the progressive changes we care about is to be a nominee who actually gives a damn about the effect you are having, from the top of the ticket, on those crucial, front-line House and Senate Democrats running to win, who we need to win, to make sure our agenda is more than just words on a page,” Buttigieg said in his Nevada concession speech. The former South Bend, Indiana mayor then accused Sanders of “ignoring, dismissing, or even attacking the very Democrats we absolutely must send to Capitol Hill in order to keep Nancy Pelosi as speaker, in order to support judges who respect privacy and democracy, and in order to send Mitch McConnell into retirement.”
One prominent Sanders supporter was quick to opine that there are some Democrats who should be sent packing, not back to Capitol Hill. Academy Award-winning actress and progressive firebrand Susan Sarandon hit back at Buttigieg, saying she would be glad to see House Speaker Nancy Pelosi forced into retirement. “We’re not looking to keep Pelosi because there’s a progressive running against her who supports Medicare for All and the Green New Deal among other things,” she tweeted, urging her followers to check out Shahid Buttar’s upstart campaign.
Sarandon had previously endorsed Buttar, tweeting last month that “he is the leader that we need right now to take on the influence of money in politics, the environment, criminal justice reform and labor rights, which will not survive or tolerate any more centrist inaction.”
Buttar’s recognition and support are growing in the San Francisco district he hopes to represent and beyond as Californians, who moved the date of their primary from June to Super Tuesday, mail in their ballots or prepare to head to the polls on March 3. However, he faces an uphill battle against Pelosi, who has represented California’s 12th congressional district since 1987 and enjoys all the financial and other benefits that 33 years of incumbency and the house speakership confer. Buttar is nevertheless well-placed to make the November ballot due to California’s unique system in which the two top candidates in the primary advance regardless of party affiliation. No other current candidates come close to Buttar’s level of name recognition or support.
Much of that support comes from the usual corners. Buttar has been endorsed by SF Berniecrats, which is the local Our Revolution group, as well as by the local chapters of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) and others. Buttar also boasts endorsements from prominent national figures including Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King, Women’s March co-chair Linda Sarsour and Harvard professors Cornel West and Lawrence Lessig.
Buttar, a Stanford law graduate and constitutional lawyer who in 2004 filed the first marriage equality lawsuit in the state of New York, was most recently director of grassroots advocacy for the San Francisco-based digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). He launched his 2020 campaign by decrying the “essential threats” of corporate control and government surveillance.
“Watching Nancy Pelosi vote against proposed surveillance reforms made me want to quit my job and run against her,” Buttar said. And he did. On the campaign trail, he takes every opportunity to paint himself in stark contrast to Pelosi. He repeatedly links the homelessness and health care crises, noting that the leading cause of the former is the crippling cost of the latter.
“How barbaric is it that in the country that is supposed to be the richest in the world there are people without shelter because they got sick?” he asked at his campaign launch, before asserting that Pelosi “is committed to the interests of for-profit health insurance companies before the health of patients.”
Addressing what is arguably the greatest crisis facing humanity, Buttar, who backs the Green New Deal, lamented that “our species is in crisis because we are more committed to fossil fuel extraction than we our to the lives of your children and your grandkids.”
“Climate change is not just a threat to future generations,” he said. “People are dying today from the effects of climate change.” Buttar then blasted Pelosi for “deriding the only visionary solution that’s been proposed to the climate crisis as a dream.”
Many in the political establishment have dismissed Buttar’s lofty aspiration as a dream. However, Buttar and his growing group of supporters are confident that victory is possible through the strength of a people-powered campaign that lays out a stark choice between business as usual—the business of greed, violence and ecological destruction—and the better world that so many residents of a city of dreamers believe is possible.