Bernie Isn’t Destroying the Democratic Party- He’s Trying to Save It
Instead of vilifying the political revolution, the Democratic Party should embrace it
When a 75-year-old senator loses a long and contentious battle for the Democratic presidential nomination in one of the most controversial elections the country has ever seen, you might expect them to go into hiding the minute the convention is over. For Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, however, that is far from the case. In the months up to and following Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election, Senator Sanders has continued to speak out against injustice and inequality, from introducing bills pushing for single-payer healthcare and a $15 minimum wage to founding an organization aimed at spreading progressive values and promoting grassroots candidates all across the nation.
While the momentum of his campaign has led to increased support among Democrats both in the general public and in Congress, Bernie nevertheless remains a political independent who has repeatedly criticized the Democratic Party for its inability to adapt and organize in a grassroots manner. This criticism, which comes at a time of extreme vulnerability for Democrats nationwide in the wake of a devastating 2016 election cycle, has led to many in the Democratic establishment condemning Bernie and his supporters as “tearing the Democratic Party apart”. Many have argued that Bernie has always been out to hinder Democratic success, and that if he really cared about the party, he would have dropped out and endorsed Clinton earlier in the race rather than push his campaign all the way to a divisive and vitriolic convention. Some have even gone so far as to blame Bernie’s purported divisiveness for the crushing defeat of the Democrats in November.
This assertion, however, is a fundamental misrepresentation of why the Democrats lost. Bernie Sanders did not push his campaign through to the end, nor has he continued to criticize the Democrats, because he is stuck in his own mental bubble of a socialist utopia where any politician who does not conform to his standards of ideological purity is corrupt and evil. Rather, Bernie and his supporters took these actions as a way to hold accountable a party which has, over the years, grown more and more distant from the needs of the American people. The Democrats did not lose the election because of an army of disgruntled “Bernie Bros” led by a sore loser. The Democrats lost because two-thirds of Americans, and nearly half of Democrats themselves, believe that the party has lost touch with the American public. This is a party that in the past prided itself on being the friend of labor and the party of the average citizen, but now is less relatable to the American people than the corporatist Republicans and their multibillionaire Commander-in-chief. This movement sparked by Bernie Sanders and his political revolution was, and still is, one aimed at saving the Democratic Party from itself.
It may be true that had Bernie dropped out sooner, or had he been less vocal in his criticism of the Democrats, the party would be more unified and old wounds wouldn’t feel as fresh. This, however, would be an empty victory. Party unity means nothing if the party has nothing to unify around. Thankfully, we have seen Bernie and his army of progressives beginning to succeed in restoring the Democratic party to the party of the working man. During the general election campaign, pressure from the “Berniecrat” wing of the party pushed Hillary Clinton further to the left than when she started, and policies that were once considered radical, such as a $15 minimum wage, have found growing support among establishment Democrats.
The truth is that without continued pressure from the party’s leftmost wing, the Democrats will only drift further and further from the needs of the American people, continuing the neoliberal transformation from a legitimate political party into a glorified special-interest group. The two-thirds of people who feel the Democrats have lost touch with them will turn into three-quarters, then four-fifths. Meanwhile, the Republicans will take advantage of the situation and gradually shift their mainstream party doctrine from traditional conservatism to right-wing populism. If we thought Donald Trump was bad, wait until we have President Alex Jones. This unthinkable future will only be prevented if the Democrats stop vilifying the very people who are trying to save them from themselves.
The party establishment’s refusal to ban corporate PAC money and its vicious smear campaign against a progressive contender for its top position are indicative of what Bernie has been trying to tell us all along: that change, particularly within the Democratic party, is never going to come from the top down. The only way that the necessary reforms will be implemented within the party structure is through grassroots, progressive pressure and action that comes from the bottom up. We can no longer rely on party leaders to turn the Democrats into a grassroots party of the people — that initiative will have to come from us. It will be imperative, in the months and years ahead, that we the people lead the charge to take the necessary steps and make the Democratic Party a winning force in American politics.
If we don’t, I shudder to think of 2020.