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Back in April, George Takei went viral with a tweet suggesting Democrats not speak negatively of any of the party’s primary candidates. Resistance figures like Alyssa Milano quickly agreed, launching the hashtag #IPledge in support of Takei’s proposal.
To this we say: Nah.
The Democratic debates begin this week, where the glut of candidates will make their case for the nomination. To be frank, every candidate the Democrats have to offer should be canceled. All of them have something in their history that at least a portion of the electorate would find disqualifying, and the internet has already flagged a lot of it.
From a moral perspective, the past misdeeds of candidates matter as they reflect potential blind spots. From a strategic perspective, refusing to speak negatively in the primary could leave the eventual candidate open and unprepared for general election attacks from the right.
But also it’s just fun to cancel everyone. Let’s get rid of them all.
Canceled For: Mistreating her staff
Supporters have tried to dismiss Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s (D-Minn.) treatment of her staff as just being a tough boss or the result of having a Leslie Knope-like dedication to her job. Some have even said that a man would not be placed under the same scrutiny. But, for anyone who has ever worked as an assistant or intern, there is only one acceptable description of her behavior toward her subordinates: abusive.
The Huffington Post reported that Klobuchar’s demands as an employer often crossed a line from the professional to the personal. It was her expectation that her “body person” (personal assistant) clean and arrange her laundry and wash her dishes.
In 2006, a Minnesota AFSCME local declined to endorse her, citing her poor treatment of staff and her failure to raise their pay.
Canceled For: Selling out his constituents to professional golfers
Canceled For: Sweetheart family self-dealing
While O’Rourke has faced criticism for some of his more conservative votes in Congress, the truly troubling aspects of his record involve Texas local politics and family favors.
In 2006, a wealthy investor pitched El Paso’s city council on a massive downtown revitalization project when O’Rourke sat on the city council. Sounds pretty normal, except that this investor was O’Rourke’s father-in-law, William D. Sanders.
The proposed project would affect the historic Mexican-American neighborhood O’Rourke represented; religious leaders, barrio community organizers, and small business owners lined up against it. Rather than recuse himself from the development process (though he did abstain from a handful of votes), O’Rourke worked to push the project forward. It wasn’t until public pressure mounted, and a group called “Land Grab Opponents” formed, that O’Rourke finally removed himself from the process.
As 75-year-old El Paso resident Guadalupe Ochoa succinctly told the New York Times, “We had voted for Mr. Beto, and now that he got to the top, and close to the power, he turned things around on us.” Though eminent domain was never exercised in the process, O’Rourke initially supports the controversial practice, support that haunts him in Texas to this day.
Canceled For: Her tough-on-crime record
There was a time when working as a hard-nosed prosecutor was seen as the path to future Democratic Party political success. In the era of Black Lives Matter and criminal justice reform, that has changed. Sen. Kamala Harris’ (D-Calif.) record on crime has become a significant liability.
Harris has a long history on the prosecutorial side of the law, and this history comes with a number of blemishes. Harris became San Francisco DA by ousting a progressive reformer as she cast herself as the tougher, more conservative option. She has been criticized for defending a corrupt police lab technician. Activists have also dinged her for her support of an aggressive truancy program that disproportionately affected poor and minority communities. Harris appealed a ruling that the death penalty was unconstitutional when she was California state attorney general. She herself has a spotty record in wrongful conviction cases.
In terms of policy, she often found herself on the wrong side of progressive history. She failed to support legislation that would reduce some low-level felonies to misdemeanors and she laughed at the idea of marijuana legalization just a few years ago. Harris also resisted moves to investigate police shootings and pushed back against body camera requirements, and she fought for California to release fewer prisoners on the grounds that it would decrease the prison labor pool.
Canceled For: Pandering as hard as possible during Pride
Canceled For: Being boring
Canceled For: A host of issues around gender and race
The more journalists dig into Joe Biden’s past, the more a clear picture emerges. At best, Biden has blind spots when it comes to race and gender. At worst, he has a history of selling out the priorities of marginalized groups for his own political advancement.
In the 1970s, Biden opposed the desegregation of public school busing in Delaware. This opposition was not passive: He became a national leader on the issue, aligning with Southern segregationist politicians. During this period he formed a close friendship with the late unrepentant racist, Strom Thurmond. Biden’s palling about with segregationists has already come up again.
Some view this moment in Biden’s political life as a long-ago misstep, but it is really just one note in a history of political opportunism. At a time when it was politically expedient to appear “tough on crime,” he co-authored the 1994 crime bill, which devastated minority and low-income communities and exacerbated mass incarceration.
In this era, when a wave of anti-immigration sentiment grew politically popular, Biden spearheaded attempts to limit migration. His efforts included backing a bill preventing HIV-positive immigrants from coming to the U.S. and restricting immigrant access to welfare.
This lack of political courage is evident in Biden’s decisions regarding women and women’s issues as well. As the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he allowed the mocking and denigration of Anita Hill to pass unremarked during the Clarence Thomas hearings, and he contributed untoward questions himself. In the early ’80s, Biden supported a bill that would allow individual states to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Biden’s disregard for those he doesn’t stand to immediately politically benefit from extends to his personal behavior. He has a history of inappropriately touching women.
Canceled for: Once comparing same-sex marriage to bestiality
Canceled For: A history of conflict with South Bend’s Black community
In 2015, Mayor Pete Buttigieg said, “All lives matter.” He has since distanced himself from the remark, but his actions have aligned with these words. In South Bend, Indiana, he has gained a reputation for overlooking the needs of the city’s Black community in favor of supporting real estate developers and the police.
That has reared its head just last week, after a police killing in South Bend. Buttigieg suspended his campaign for all of a day to address tensions in the community, before hitting the trail again.
When BuzzFeed News investigated Buttigieg’s much-touted revitalization of South Bend, they found that it was accomplished by Mayor Pete ordering the demolition of 1,000 homes over the objections of people of color. Some homeowners found their houses on the “demo list” when they had made plans to repair the home to meet building codes. Buttigieg also levied aggressive fines for code violations that proved onerous for low-income citizens as a way to push his demolition plans along.
Mayor Pete has also been criticized for his oversight of the South Bend police department. In 2012, Buttigieg demoted South Bend’s first Black police chief following allegations that he recorded conversations with fellow officers. The officer, Daryl Boykins, recorded the conversations because of previous racist statements he alleged officers made. It has been reported that Boykins’ tapes include the racist comments he hoped to record as well as discussion of officers breaking laws. Buttigieg will not release the tapes, so their content remains unknown, much to the chagrin of local activists.
Boykin’s complaint is only one of a number of lawsuits and grievances that have been brought regarding racial issues and the South Bend PD. The city’s population is 26% African American and 14% Hispanic; the police force is only 5% black and 5% Hispanic.
Some residents of South Bend see Buttigieg’s racial blindspot as one the extends beyond policing and development. Residents who spoke to the Root cited his lack of action on school segregation and the lack of diversity on his own staff as further evidence that when it comes to race, he has work to do.
Canceled for: Drinking fracking water like a weirdo
Canceled For: Trying to debate AOC even though no one knows who he is
Canceled For: Being in the pocket of big pharma, Wall Street, and charter schools
Why would Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), self-proclaimed progressive champion, vote against a bill that would allow for lower prescription drug prices? Follow the money.
Booker has never met a lobbyist he didn’t like. In the past, Booker has taken the most money from the pharmaceutical industry of any lawmaker, though as the political winds have turned, he has tried to shed the designation. But it’s not just pharmaceutical companies.
In a 2012 cable news hit that was ostensibly about President Barack Obama’s re-election, Booker said, “Stop attacking private equity.” Why would a Democrat say that? Because this particular Democrat receives more money from Wall Street than any member of Congress.
Charter schools are also Cory Booker’s oldest supporters. They have donated millions to Booker’s various electoral efforts over the years, and he has never forgotten who pays the bills.
He has repeatedly praised the Betsy DeVos-backed organization American Federation for Children. He has taken Newark from 10% charters to 33%. He has backed “merit pay” for teachers and set about weakening teachers unions to pave the way greater influence of private equity on public education.
Canceled for: Announcing an anti-vax stance on the eve of the debates
Canceled For: Proposing more handouts to big banks
Canceled For: Courting the alt-right
Andrew Yang’s longshot presidential campaign is based on a dangerous proposition: that he can convert recovering MAGA meme lords to a libertarian-meets-liberalism Silicon Valley campaign. Already, this strategy is proving dangerous enough not to ignore.
Yang’s central issue is universal basic income. While this issue has some support on the left, it is also a concept beloved among libertarians and right-wingers, because they see it as a way to eliminate more nuanced and need-based social programs. His campaign has stated that Yang would offer a choice between the existing welfare state and his UBI plan. It also allows for a distinction between citizens and non-citizen, which appeals to the anti-immigration right. This is where Yang started getting support from the likes of 4chan and even won the approval of infamous neo-Nazi Richard Spencer.
Though Yang has personally rejected the far-right, he has taken on some other issues that are clearly meant to appeal to this portion of his very online coalition.
For example, he has taken a stand against circumcision and he has proposed a conspiracist-friendly “White House psychologist” to monitor the mental health of West Wing employees. His suggestion that the federal workforce be reduced by 15-20% is straight out of the Tea Party playbook.
Yang has also appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show, Joe Rogan’s podcast, and has been linked to some right-wing Twitch streamers.
At points, Yang’s ideas flirt with outright fascism, as is the case with his proposed “Legion of Builders and Destroyers” which “would have the ability to overrule local regulations and ordinances to ensure that projects are started and completed promptly and effectively.”
Canceled For: Once claiming he wants to win the “yoga vote”
Canceled For: Misrepresenting her Native American heritage
It was long expected that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) would run for the 2020 nomination, and in the run-up to her announcement, she tried to clear up one of the biggest issues surrounding her identity.
Warren, as part of her Oklahoma roots, has always claimed she was part Native American, a descendant of the Cherokee Nation. She claimed it on admissions forms and other official records, but the veracity of that heritage has always been in question.
To clear it up, Warren released a DNA test.
Unfortunately, the rollout was as botched as it possibly could be. Not only did the results only show a trace amount of Native American DNA (as little as 1/1024 according to one estimate), Warren did nothing to speak with the indigenous people she was identifying with beforehand.
In a statement, the Cherokee Nation gave a blistering rebuke: “A DNA test is useless to determine tribal citizenship. Current DNA tests do not even distinguish whether a person’s ancestors were indigenous to North or South America … Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong. It makes a mockery out of DNA tests and its legitimate uses while also dishonoring legitimate tribal governments and their citizens, whose ancestors are well documented and whose heritage is proven. Senator Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage.”
Although Warren apologized to Cherokee Nation for her rollout, it is an identity she carried with her for most of her career in public service, and will not soon be forgotten.
Canceled For: Branding himself a “country music Democrat”
Canceled For: Sexism and blindness on identity issues
2016 will be remembered for the coarsening of American discourse, and while President Donald Trump and his supporters rightfully receive the lion’s share of the blame, another toxic fandom developed on the opposite side of the spectrum: Bernie Bros.
And while Sanders isn’t responsible for his vitriol spewed online by his loudest fans, it did often feel like it was a microcosm of the kind of candidate Sanders was.
When asked why he was running in 2020, when women and candidates of color were beginning their campaigns, Sanders’ myopia on the matter was laid bare.
“We have got to look at candidates, you know, not by the color of their skin, not by their sexual orientation or their gender and not by their age. I mean, I think we have got to try to move us toward a non-discriminatory society which looks at people based on their abilities, based on what they stand for,” he told reporters.
While on its face, that sounds OK, it ignores the myriad ways people have been discriminated against, and the monumental efforts women, people of color, and LGBTQ people have had to make just to get to the point where they could even be considered by the electorate.
And Sanders’ quote doesn’t exist in a vacuum. His 2016 campaign was beset by accusations of sexual harassment, an issue Sanders was immediately dismissive of, saying: “I was a little bit busy running around the country.”
He was also criticized for his response to the Black Lives Matter movement and while his focus on economic injustice is laudable, it glosses over just how much matters of economic strife revolve around race, and how they cannot be extricated from racial justice.
His record on women’s rights isn’t as progressive as people say as well, He has argued against abortion being a litmus test for Democratic candidates, caving on a major issue that is a signature of the Democratic platform.
Bill de Blasio
Canceled For: Being Bill de Blasio
Did not receive enough support to be publicly canceled: Seth Moulton, Wayne Messam, Steve Bullock
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- 2020 Dems call for impeachment over Trump’s election comments
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Brenden Gallagher is a politics reporter and cultural commentator. His work has been published by Motherboard, Complex, and VH1. He’s the co-founder of Beer Money Films, an indie production company. Based in Los Angeles, he works in television drama as a writers assistant.
David Covucci is the Layer 8 editor at the Daily Dot, covering the intersection of politics and the web. His work has appeared in Vice, the Huffington Post, Jezebel, Gothamist, and other publications. He is particularly interested in hearing any tips you have. Reach out at [email protected]