Bernie Sanders’ Radicalism is Tomorrow’s Common Sense
When Bernie Sanders announced that he was going to run for president the last election, his candidacy was viewed by most as a relic of the past. His role was a simple one: energize the large but relatively powerless left-wing part of the Democratic Party and, most importantly, clear the way for Hillary Clinton’s path to the White House.
How things have changed. Sanders, an obscure New England democratic socialist, who triumphed in 20 states with millions of votes as the outsider, is — according to a survey conducted by the Harvard-Harris Poll — the most popular politician in the US, and figures from 2017 showed he “would defeat Trump by 13 percentage points if a general presidential election was held at that time.”
That’s because, on many issues, Sanders’ thinking actually aligns with an evolving, unspoken consensus among the public. Take a deeper look; you’ll notice his 2016 candidacy has already redefined the economic and political conversation in this country. You might even call it “the new common sense” of American politics.
Take the country’s health care system. Today, casting Medicare for All as an economic impossibility is widely rejected within the Democratic Party base. And for a good reason: a slew of studies — including one released late last year — are confirming that, yes, the wealthiest country in the world can indeed afford universal healthcare. The real stumbling block is not that a single-payer system is too costly or “aspirational”, as Sen. Amy Klobuchar puts it; it’s that the American politics are dominated by the rich.
The trademark of centrism is that it does “what works,” regardless of political ideology. That Sanders detractors refuse to even consider it, despite all the impartial evidence, shows they are more tied down to an uncompromising ideology than the independent senator from the state of Vermont.
Perhaps more than any other policy, Medicare for All would represent an easy win for Democrats, as this would bring down costs for the majority of Americans and reduce the deficit in the process. It’s the center of gravity of public opinion, and yet no other candidate has been pushing for single-payer health care on the framework that “health care should be a right of all Americans regardless of their income.” Only Sanders has staked a claim on it.
As well as making economic sense, eliminating college tuition fees is also popular. Eight in ten Americans are in favor of it, according to PSB Research for the Campaign for Free College Tuition, along with 41 percent of Republicans.
In a similar vein, Sanders also supports Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal. And who could disagree with him, when private oil companies have been subsidized by the taxpayer, to the tune of billions, while the uncertainties associated with climate change — extreme weather events, mass global migration, and economic and political instability — will impact every aspect of human life. It’s no surprise then that more than 80 percent of Americans already support all the key elements of the idea.
It’s the same story with the country’s foreign policy — one of the defining areas of weakness for the Democratic establishment, which Donald Trump has exploited effectively.
After a series of disastrous wars overseas, Sanders has drawn clear distinctions with the Democratic status quo on foreign policy. “Foreign policy is not just tied into military affairs; it is directly connected to economics,” he said. “Foreign policy must take into account the outrageous income and wealth inequality that exists globally and in our own country.” It’s a sentiment in tune with public opinion, which, for the most part, views American interventionism as a giant waste of money.
Like Medicare for All and a $15 minimum wage, opposition to American military adventures around the world represents the unspoken center-ground of American politics, with poll after poll showing a clear majority against interventionist policies. The results of a 2018 survey conducted for the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Foreign Policy showed that “86.4 percent of those surveyed feel the American military should be used only as a last resort, while 57 percent feel that US military aid to foreign countries is counterproductive.”
The truth is that on many of Sanders’ policies, while he is presented as a half-buried fossil stuck in the ways of the 80s, he is less ideological than his opponents. The likes of Harris, Booker, and the rest of mainstream Democrats aren’t “pragmatists” who prefer whatever works now; their vision of the future is the Democratic Party of 20 years ago. It is they, not Sanders, who are constrained by the ideas of yesterday.
What’s more, Sanders has shown a consistent track record to advance a progressive agenda, and his authentic disposition is a potent weapon against Trump’s fake brand of “populism.”
Unlike the early 1980s, it is the left, not the right, which is framing the emerging political landscape. The electorate of the 2020s is increasingly coming into view. They’re angry and frustrated, and they understand that a repackaged version of politics from the 1990s will not deliver in the 21st century. Now, a majority of young Americans prefer socialism to capitalism, and this week The Economist featured the rise of ‘millennial socialism’ as its cover story. Under this political mood, yesterday’s radicalism can quickly become tomorrow’s common sense.
While there are areas where much of the public disagrees with Sanders, more and more people are realizing that this democratic socialist is the only presidential candidate offering solutions to the biggest challenges of our time: the alarming rise in authoritarianism tendencies, rampant xenophobia, stagnant wages, low-quality jobs, and a bleak future for young people. Whether or not Bernie Sanders wins the Democratic nomination in 2020, his message has already transformed American politics.