The Beginning of a New Journey for Bernie?

by Matt Turner

9 June 2016

Despite a defiant Bernie Sanders maintaining he will take the fight for the Democratic nomination to July’s National Convention in Philadelphia, it is clear that after the latest set of primary results Hillary Clinton is more than likely going to be the Democratic nominee to face off against Donald Trump.

Although the astonishing rise of Trump dominated news cycles across the world, it is important to reflect that without Trump, Sanders would have been the top story of this primary season. A self-proclaimed, formerly-independent democratic socialist crashing what was assumed to be a coronation for Clinton is no mean feat.

He has inspired a movement that undoubtedly has the potential to give US politics a much needed leftwards push. Whatever he chooses to do next, the ball is in his court and the journey that Sanders and his movement are going on is only just beginning.

Forcing the Democrats left?

The most likely outcome for Sanders after this primary season, barring any huge fallout at the National Convention, is that he will remain a Democrat. Not only does this present a huge opportunity to force a progressive deviation from neoliberalism, but it also makes complete sense. The rise of Bernie Sanders has largely been off the back of discontented millennials who are tired of the ‘lesser of two evil’-ism that has plagued politics in the US for as long as they can remember. Regularly taking over 80% of the millennial vote in primaries and caucuses, this surpasses the wave of young support that won Barack Obama the nomination in 2008.

There is a huge potential for millennials to shape a new political consensus around radical, progressive policies in both the US and the UK. In the next decade, millennials will be the backbone of the US electorate. Moreover, young people are increasingly interested in alternatives to the free market consensus that has failed them. It is not surprising that the most economically stressed generation in the country views socialism more positively than capitalism.

It is becoming all too clear that if Sanders can recruit the vast majority of the support network he has mobilised over this primary season into the Democratic party, then his ideas are the future of a party that – among other things – has been truly lacklustre in response to climate change, increasing conflict around the world and the systemic problems facing global capitalism. This represents nothing short of a political breakthrough.

Sanders is already hard at work trying to change the Democrats from within. When given five nominations to the ‘platform committee’ which shapes the party’s official policy positions, he made sure to nominate allies from outside of the Democratic establishment who will have no problems with whacking the proverbial hornet’s nest in an attempt to bring about genuine policy change instead of half-baked incremental reform. Similarly, he has recently come out in support of Tim Canova, a progressive challenger to Democratic National Committee chair and known Clinton ally Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Whilst getting rid of the centrist, free market rot in the Democratic party will be the biggest challenge of Sanders’ political career, it is one that he is incredibly well equipped for. A new breed of politicised activists thirsty for genuine change, alongside the old guard who never stopped fighting during the Reagan consensus, could propel the ideas that Sanders espouses into the mainstream.

Bernie or bust?

However, what cannot be denied is that there is a growing desire from many sections of the progressive movement for Sanders to run as an independent candidate against Clinton and Trump. The so-called ‘Bernie or bust’ doctrine does have a convincing case – after all, Clinton and Trump are consistently deemed the least trustworthy, least favourable candidates in polls. Surely, if there was ever a time for a serious third-party effort to dismantle the US political system as we know it today, it is now – against arguably the two weakest presidential candidates in electoral history.

Swathes of Sanders’ new supporters simply find Clinton unpalatable, and who can blame them? Her foreign policy history is nothing short of hawkish, defined by a questionable friendship with war criminal Henry Kissinger and endorsement after endorsement of disastrous US interventions. Furthermore, she champions the corporatist, New Right economic orthodoxy that Sanders has rallied against his entire political career. Why should the left feel obliged to vote for Clinton and her vague, meaningless platitudes about being a ‘progressive who gets things done’ when the entire movement Sanders has created is specifically aiming to reject narrow policy realignment within the same corrupt political paradigm? Whilst this is an unlikely outcome now Sanders has all but admitted he will remain a Democrat, it raises the question of whether he should have made that commitment so soon when the both the Republican and Democratic primaries have been characterised by a backlash against the establishment.

Maintaining momentum.

Whichever path Sanders chooses, it is vital that he also spearheads the popular movement he has created outside of electoral politics. His campaign’s sophisticated digital media strategy has created a stunning social media reach that has the potential to organise activists around the country at a moment’s notice. Not only will this keep an easily disillusioned generation politically engaged and hungry for real change during a drab Clinton or Trump presidency, but it will continue to recruit more support, thus creating and fostering new activist networks ready for when the next big electoral challenge comes. It will serve to keep the big issues we face as a society today in the spotlight, and only then will the political revolution Sanders dreams of become a reality.

Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

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