“Can Democrats win back Trump voters — without compromising their soul?”
That’s the question asked by the left-progressive weekly The Nation. But I have a better one: Can Bernie Sanders win Joe Rogan’s audience without losing his dignity?
As you might have heard by now, the presidential candidate and democratic socialist senator from Vermont has won the widely coveted — and also widely reviled — endorsement of Joe Rogan, the actor-comedian who also ranks No. 1 on Forbes’ inaugural list of the highest-earning podcasters.
Rogan, the former host of “Fear Factor” — a TV contest show in which he coaxed contestants to eat bugs, among other stunts, for money — made $30 million last year. Yes, there is life after television.
Rogan voiced support for Sanders during a Jan. 21 podcast episode featuring New York Times opinion columnist Bari Weiss after interviewing Sanders on an earlier episode: “I think I’ll probably vote for Bernie. ... I believe in him, I like him a lot.”
And the news of Rogan’s endorsement came just before a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released last week that, for the first time, found Sanders had inched ahead of the pack to be top choice of Democratic voters nationally. His 27% essentially tied Joe Biden, who scored 26% after weeks of having occupied the top spot by himself in previous Journal/NBC polls.
But after the Sanders campaign happily shared the video of Rogan’s comments on social media, the progressive-wing candidate was bombarded with, of all things, complaints from a high-class assortment of the left-progressive voices who did not approve.
MoveOn.org, for example, said Sanders should apologize for highlighting Rogan’s endorsement. The Human Rights Campaign, a major LGBTQ rights organization, said it was “disappointing” that Sanders had “accepted and promoted the endorsement.”
Writer Donna Minkowitz spoke for many, I’m sure, in an essay in The Nation headlined, “Bernie Broke My Heart When He Embraced Rogan’s Endorsement” and “I’ve been a lifelong socialist and a supporter of Sanders since the 1980s. I expected better from the senator.”
I understand. On his freewheeling talkathon, Rogan has used the N-word, if only to chastise someone else for using it. He infamously described how visiting a Black neighborhood to see “Planet of the Apes” made him feel like he, too, was visiting the “planet of the apes.”
He also occasionally has given a platform to far-out conspiracy theorists such as Alex Jones and provocateurs such as Milo Yiannopoulos. Although, as my son — who stays in tune with the morning-zoo sectors of the internet better than I do — pointed out, Rogan did the world a favor. He was the interviewer who drew out the pedophile-tolerant quotes of former Breitbart editor Yiannopoulos that sunk his invitation to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, among other lucrative speaking gigs.
Rogan was accused in 2013 of making transphobic comments about UFC fighter Fallon Fox, a trans woman, who was criticized for beating two women in matches before announcing that she used to be a man. Rogan was hardly the only voice to criticize the shaky ethics of Fox’s move.
But, before we roll out the tumbrels to cart Sanders off to cancel-culture jail, consider the provocative question raised later in The Nation by Chicago-based podcaster Edward Burmila: “Beating Trump is the goal. What if Joe Rogan fans will help?”
Burmila, described as working on a book about “why the Democrats are so bad at politics,” says much of value, but to me this line stuck out: “Elections and politics are about winning power, and it requires selective memory to pretend that winning the White House in 2008 and 2012, or the House in 2018, did not require swallowing hard on a lot of compromises aimed at courting conservatives.”
True that. I’m not the world’s biggest Sanders fan. His insistence on eliminating private insurance companies in his “Medicare for All” vision is too far left for me. But politics should be a game of addition, not subtraction. Before Donald Trump came along, it usually was.
By focusing so narrowly, Trump offers Democrats a gift: a vast multitude of swing voters and disaffected nonvoters who are looking to be persuaded by a reasonable alternative. At least, Sanders is trying to fill that gap. He shouldn’t be alone.