Populism in America has slept dormant for many decades but is presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist, awakening our inner populist passions? And even more importantly, can Sanders overtake Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic Presidential nomination?
Socialism may still suggest an evil or un-American ideology for many Americans, defaced by a century of anti-communist and anti-democrat rhetoric from the conservative movement, but Sanders’ socialistic inspiration is northern Europe: hardly the communist dystopia for which conservatives have always fear-mongered. However, with Sanders surging in both polls and general recognition, the independent senator from Vermont has become a legitimately competitive candidate for the Presidency.
This has stemmed largely from Sanders’ social media prowess. Following the first GOP debate last week, the most retweeted presidential candidate tweet on Twitter was published by Bernie Sanders: “It’s over. Not one word about economic inequality, climate change, Citizen’s United or student debt. That’s why the R’s are so out of touch.” He’s got a point.
Republicans do not appear to be concerned about the major issues facing our country, or rather the economically hurting majority of people in this country, and the debate’s memorable propositions were decidedly anti-people: repeal Obamacare, fear rapist Mexicans, defund women’s health centers and risk war with Iran.
Democratic Candidate Hillary Clinton’s response was the second most retweeted tweet, with one-fourth the number of retweets, and it shows why Bernie Sanders is setting attendance records for his campaign events and she is not: “Watch the #GOPdebate? Bet you feel like donating to a Democrat right about now.” Clinton does not appear to be concerned about the major issues either, and like Republicans seems most concerned with money and how much of it she can raise.
One of the chief populist concerns in America right now is the obviously corrupting influence of money in our government, and there can be no populism behind a campaign that attempts to win according to the rules that the populist undercurrents of this election want to overthrow.
But that is the problem with contemporary American politics, and why America needs a Democratic Socialist revolution: our politics are all about the money. And without Sanders the 2016 election would be no different. The idea that the Koch Brothers will spend one billion dollars for a Republican president is both alarming as well as an obvious warning of America’s political-ethical decline, and it is a perfect example of why Sanders’ message is resonating with the tens of thousands of people assembling to hear him speak out against stagnant wages, corporate welfare, corrupt campaign finances and a crumbling American dream.
Sanders’ socialistic campaign, let alone his preceding senatorial existence, has proven surprisingly relevant in post-Great Recession America because the middle class is dying. His catching presidential vision is contagiously inspiring for the Ninety-Nine-Percent not satisfied with a political system that allows their ninety-nine-percent share of the nation’s wealth to go to the One-Percent, even after the One-Percent got bailed out with the Ninety-Nine’s money for crashing the entire world economy taking advantage of a deregulated economy. It has been very profitable to ruin people’s lives and retirements. Our current Laissez-faire economic policies can be translated into “lots-unfair” economic politics, and Sanders’ growing success is the populist reaction against capitalism’s unprecedented economic plundering.
However, despite the controversial label of “socialist”, Bernie Sanders is not all that much of a radical. He is simply a believer in the Preamble to the Constitution.
Our preamble’s political system of the people, by the people and for the people has shot itself in the foot (or maybe the head, it’s too early to tell) since legalizing blatantly quid pro quo corruption in the Citizens United ruling, and Sanders wants to amend the Constitution permanently to take the for-the-people part more seriously. Despite the free speech doublespeak of political capitalists, corporate interests should not be allowed to participate, and certainly not dominate, in humanistic governing entities, and one super-rich Nebraskan family should not be able to buy up the majority of an election’s free speech. These types of things never used to be allowed, but our corruption protections have been slowly eroded for decades by monied interests.
The most admirable aspect of Bernie Sanders’ campaign is his rejection of monied interests and his consequent refusal of superPAC money. Even with this morally-imposed disadvantage he has still raised more money than the majority of the candidates, many of whom are propped up by choice super-rich patrons, and Sanders is becoming the next celebrity-esque presidential candidate. Not bad for a seventy-three-year-old with iconically unkempt hair. In the press, Sanders’ assurance that he would not be running if he did not think he could win is no longer blithely ridiculed, and neither is his hair.
Since the beginning of Sanders’ campaign the commentary has been focused on the supposed fact that he cannot win, but that he might do the Democratic Party’s populist wing a service by forcing Hillary Clinton toward the left on the issues. However, with Sanders’ popularity both in-person and especially on social media, his ideas are certainly garnering more populist attention than Clinton, and in terms of passionately articulated solutions to America’s problems Bernie Sanders stands out from the entire crowd of presidential aspirants of both parties.
Clinton may be said to be inching toward the left end of the political spectrum in response to Sanders’ populism, but it looks more like she is chasing after him in a game of catch-up, especially now that Sanders has taken the lead in New Hampshire in the latest polling. His surge in the polls is slowing from its initial takeoff, but undeniably Sanders has become the heart of the increasingly populist left. He will have to expand his influence with key demographics still favoring Clinton, but his willingness to meaningfully engage on controversial political issues such as Black Lives Matter, even as they disrupt his campaign, is a sign of his genuine politics. Clinton may still be ahead in national polls, but her campaign has done little to earn the Democratic base’s support beyond announcing her candidacy.
In terms of the general election next fall, the electoral map is not looking good for Republicans, and even in the miracle event that the GOP can flip both Florida and Ohio back to red (perhaps with a geographically-focused Bush/Kasich ticket) the Republican presidential campaign still loses. However, Clinton is not going to have an easy campaign against Republicans with the eternal controversies of Benghazi-gate and email-gate– no matter how unhinged from reality they are– and Republicans will surely consider a Hillary Clinton presidency as illegitimate as they have considered President Obama’s presidency to have been. The conventional wisdom that Clinton would more easily win a general election than Sanders desperately needs to be reexamined, and it is certain that President Hillary Clinton would do little to convince the Republican Party of No to start saying “yes.”
Would a President Bernie Sanders fare better with obstructionist Congressional Republicans? With the GOP’s anti-Clinton fervor, it is hard to imagine that they could be opposed to a President Sanders more than they are already opposed to candidate Clinton. However, as far as electoral mandates go, it is obvious that Sanders has a stronger personality and a much more apolitical moral compass than Clinton, so if Sanders were to win Republicans would likely be more receptive to the independent senator than the second president of a Democratic dynasty. You can say what you want about Sanders, but you cannot deny that his lone refusal to take superPAC money supports the idea that America needs Sanders to become the next President: his political conscience is pure.
Is America ready for Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders? Clearly the nation is listening receptively to what Sanders is saying. Populism in America has historically been a drowsy giant, moving slowly until the nation’s economic inequality turns supernova, but when populist movements do wake up, they are big. Perhaps Bernie Sanders is the Millennial Generation’s populist alarm clock like Franklin Delano Roosevelt was for the Greatest Generation. Without a doubt, though, the current level of economic inequality calls for a drastic new socialist deal for which only Sanders is arguing, and arguing fiercely.
It very well may be that come November 2016 our American oligarchy of money, by money and for money will feel the Bern.
Image via AP