In Defense of Bernie Sanders

Nicholas Toyne, March 8th 2016

[Author’s note: this piece is in part a correction of and a response to an essay I wrote some months ago (24 Aug.2015) on Bernie Sanders, in which I critiqued his motives and socialist credentials. Since then I have corrected my position somewhat to account for the change in circumstances surrounding Sanders’s presidential campaign.]

There has been an awakening, and the Democratic Party has not yet felt it. Instead, the party leadership remains smugly convinced that it is only a matter of time before Hillary Clinton has collected the delegates she needs on order to secure the party’s nomination for the presidency. What they did not foresee is the astonishing success of Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, and the support he has garnered across the nation. Sanders’s success has been attributed to such banal factors as his public candor, septuagenarian vigor, or his quaint association with “socialism.” What has not been accounted for is the single most important factor: Democratic voters are sick and tired of the status quo.

What Clinton and the DNC have failed to realize, blinded as they are by their single-minded obsession with getting her into the White House, is that a Clinton “victory” in the primaries risks provoking a split within the Democratic voting base. The divide between Clinton’s and Sanders’s supporters has become so pronounced that even if Sanders follows through with his promise to endorse the DNC’s presidential nominee (i.e. Clinton), few of his supporters will take heed and vote for her. Progressives by and large may just sit out the election, robbing the Democratic Party of a crucial voting bloc and essentially guaranteeing the election for the Republican candidate, which will likely Trump, (insert your preferred gag reflex here).

A Clinton candidacy means a Trump presidency, something that the DNC has either failed to realize or is willing to settle for as long as they get to run Clinton as their candidate. It will be 2010 all over again, but with even far graver consequences for the victims of neoliberal policies. 2010 saw low voter turnout on the democratic side during a rather important midterm election, the results of which we are still suffering from, and may never fully recover from. With that in mind, the implications for the 2016 election are huge.

It’s been six years and the DNC still hasn’t learned their lesson. They have consistently failed to even attempt to address the very issues that progressive voters elected them to address. They continue to run and endorse neoliberal candidates who present a kinder gentler version of the Republicans’ overtly corporatist platform. They have failed to address corporate greed, inequality, poverty, systemic racism in our police and prison systems, adventurist militarism in the Middle East, the wholesale environmental destruction by the private sector, and the insidious corporate takeover of our government. What they have given us in return for our misapprehensions is stagnation, corruption, cronyism, malign neglect, and incompetence.

Bernie Sanders represents something different. His so-called “political revolution,” though truly modest and conservative in scope, threatens the neoliberal agenda of the Democratic Party. His genuine appeal to populism, his attention to the grinding stagnation and inequality in American society, and his sincere commitment to the struggle for civil rights for all, have triggered an awakening, a renaissance of sorts, within the party. His unapologetic (and technically troublesome) commitment to democratic socialism has torn away the shroud surrounding the public perception of socialism and inspired a new curiosity for the ideology. I believe that Sanders represents the beginning of a new wave of Democratic Progressives, one which will force the party to reconcile with its progressive past and begin to take a stand against the neoliberal agenda.

Clinton promises none of that. Clinton represents stagnation, corruption, and neoliberalism. She is owned by the banks and represents their interests. Her brand of corporate feminism is both divisive and backwards, and her past statements and current behavior in re the black community are disgraceful. Clinton represents the status quo. Sanders represents progress. Come April 5th, my fellow Wisconsinites will vote for one or the other. I implore you to vote for Sanders, to deny Clinton the delegates she needs, and to push the Democratic Party towards the left. It has regressed for too long, but we can alter the course. Vote for good progress, for the good of the country.


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