Americans everywhere are starting to “feel the Bern,” and the evidence is all around us. Iowa saw a historically close race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Clinton won by a razor-thin margin of .25 percent. Then came the New Hampshire primary, where Sanders trounced Clinton by garnering more votes than any candidate in state history.
Although we’re long overdue for the corporate media to take Sanders’ chances seriously, he’s only part of the larger conversation about the current trajectory of American politics. We’ll have to travel to the other side of the aisle to get a sense of how the current train wreck of the GOP race is influencing the Democrats.
Populism Has Come to America
One of the questions before us is whether or not Bernie Sanders’ campaign is getting a boost from the wider “populist” or “anti-establishment” feelings sweeping the U.S. If so, does Trump deserve some of the credit?
To begin with: Yes, it’s clear that America has been moving in a populist direction for some time now, as evidenced by the fact that more and more Americans are shifting their attitudes in a liberal direction, and are doing so more quickly than we’ve seen at any point in history. A Sanders candidacy, then, could not have come at a better time. His gigantic crowds and record-breaking fundraising numbers are further evidence that his message is taking off.
Still, let’s not give Trump more credit than he deserves. Trump is tapping into the anti-establishment sentiments of working Americans, but don’t for a second confuse Trump’s platform with “populism.” Populists are folks who want to give a voice to the disenchanted and the disenfranchised, and who prioritize the needs of the poor over the needs of the wealthy few. In case you haven’t noticed, Trump wants to do exactly the opposite. In just one example, Sanders would commit to raising the minimum wage to $15 over several years, Trump believes that wages are already too high.
Sanders’ brand of anti-establishment politics is deserving of the name “populist.” Meanwhile, in the context of the Republican Party, populism more often looks like anarchy.
Should Democrats Be Cautious of Supporting Sanders?
Trump’s commanding lead among GOP candidates is sending the party into what could kindly be referred to as an “identity crisis” but would more accurately be described as a “death spiral.” The usual Republican benefactors — Sheldon Adelson and Koch Industries, just to name two — have been fruitlessly throwing money at the field of Republican candidates, hoping desperately that something sticks.
The trouble is, as divided as the GOP is, Democrats have yet to coalesce around either Clinton or Sanders. Democratic voters were clearly expected to coronate Hillary Clinton without any serious competition from elsewhere in the party. Have you heard of Lawrence Lessig? You probably have not — the DNC saw to that quite handily.
The DNC wants their constituents to believe that Sanders’ so-called “far-left” policy agenda makes him unelectable, but as we’ve already established, Sanders is not a “fringe candidate” or a “radical” in even the loosest definitions. Any objective look at “mainstream America’s” stances on the major issues reveals that Sanders is in line with Middle America on virtually all of them. How the media have managed to spin his campaign into something alien or “unelectable” says more about the state of the media than it does about Sanders himself.
Nevertheless, Democratic Leadership doesn’t see Sanders for what he is, either — for some reason, they’ve doubled and tripled down on electing Hillary Clinton, who’s considered by a majority of Americans to be “untrustworthy.” Sure, this adjective might be a sideshow cooked up by the Republican Party to cast doubts on her character, but motivations don’t count for much if their plan is working. And it certainly looks like it’s working.
All of this adds up to what looks like a perfect storm for the “Bernie Surge.” Major polling outfits have found that in a general election, he would do better against most of the GOP frontrunners than would Hillary Clinton. Sanders has a long way to go, but primary season has only just begun.
Here’s the question voters need to ask themselves: Does Sanders represent the future of the Democratic Party? Again, remember that the country as a whole is moving in a decisively populist (or anti-establishment, or progressive, or liberal, if you prefer) direction, and has been doing so for decades.
President Obama won handily in two elections because he helped moved the conversation to the left. Democrats need to decide — and quickly — which candidate is the better heir to that kind of momentum.
Image by Gage Skidmore.
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