“Bernie Sanders has spent his life working to find a party to advance his cause, rather than finding a cause that can advance his party.”


I support Bernie Sanders as a presidential candidate because his positions jibe with my own. There are other Democratic presidential candidates who have positions similar to the ones Sanders professes; for my money, he was there first, but if one of them becomes the nominee and not Sanders, there’s a fairly good chance I’ll be supportive. Until then, I stick with the purest expression of my own set of values. I can’t see this having much of anything to do with a candidate’s gender, race, orientation. It’s about platform, policies and core values.

The Long Shot, by Matthew Karp (The Nation)

How Bernie became Bernie

If you want to appreciate the return of the left as a significant force in American politics, treat yourself to a quiet evening with the 2012 Democratic Party platform. This vast accumulation of words, over 26,000 in all, contains no fewer than 42 invocations of “the middle class,” 28 calls for “innovation,” and 18 promises of “tax credits.” Its first policy section places “Middle Class Tax Cuts” atop the list of Barack Obama’s achievements as president. And amid this great desert of focus-grouped language, boundless and bare, there rises not a single demand for a major universal public program.

How much has changed in the last few years. At the grass roots, the evidence for some kind of left-wing resurgence is too overwhelming for all but the most jaundiced or mechanical skeptic to deny: the wave of victorious labor strikes from West Virginia to Los Angeles, the advent of new activist movements like Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March, the rise of left political organizations (the Democratic Socialists of America grew from 6,500 members in 2014 to about 60,000 today), and the election of avowedly radical candidates to city governments, state legislatures, and Congress itself. Amid this hive of activity, national opinion has pitched sharply to the left …

Leftward trends.

… What explains this swift ideological transformation? Over the longer term, no doubt, it owes its origins to the political and economic upheaval that has gripped much of the industrialized world in the last decade. Forty years of globalizing markets, deregulating states, declining unions, flattening wages, expanding debt, and skyrocketing inequality—administered by governments of the right and center-left alike—established the conditions for general political revolt, the reverberations of which could be seen from Wisconsin to Greece. Yet this broader crisis, by itself, hardly ensured a renaissance of social democracy in the United States. Across the Atlantic, the anti-establishment upheaval has boosted right-wing nationalists more often than movements of the left; its most immediate impact on American politics, after all, was the election of Donald Trump. And so one must look for more acute reasons for social democracy’s revival, and no better one can be found than Sanders’s 2016 campaign for president. So many of the ideas, tactics, and even key players of the current moment—including Ocasio-Cortez, a former Sanders-campaign volunteer—emerged in the context of that remarkable primary run. As new books by Sanders and his 2016 campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, help demonstrate, the Vermont socialist’s long-shot bid for the Democratic nomination did not just succeed in “pushing Clinton to the left”; it helped transform the shape and content of progressive politics in the United States.

Outside the duopoly.

Such deep roots in third-party struggle make Sanders a black swan not only among today’s Democratic elite but across American political history. To find an influential national figure with such an extensive background outside the two-party system, you have to return to Debs and the Socialists in the early 20th century or, perhaps, Salmon Chase and the antislavery radicals who helped found the Republican Party before the Civil War. Like the political abolitionists of that era, Sanders has spent his life working to find a party to advance his cause, rather than finding a cause that can advance his party. Nor has that cause wavered very much in half a century. Interviewed by United Press International at the start of his first Liberty Union Party campaign in 1972, he produced a paragraph that could be pasted into a tweet today: “If we wanted to, we could have decent housing and free medical care and jobs for everyone…. It won’t happen because the wealth and money lies in the hands of a few people who are not concerned with the welfare of others.”


It would be wrong to say that the Democratic Party, in its current institutional form, is anything like the party of Bernie Sanders. Business-friendly moderates still make up its largest congressional caucus, billionaire donors (and billionaire politicians) remain close to its leadership, and even many Washington progressives appear willing to dump Medicare for All for some plausible-sounding substitute. Nevertheless, the larger pattern is clear. On issue after issue, from wealth taxes to climate change to corporate PAC money, the national debate has moved away from the cautious incrementalism of the Clinton campaign and toward the bold social-democratic agenda laid out by Sanders in 2016.

Foreign policy.

Much about a possible Sanders foreign policy remains uncertain, including its approach to trade relations with China, its attitude toward Israel and Palestine, and its outlook on the 800-some military bases that the United States maintains around the world. Denouncing the “military-industrial complex” is one thing; dismantling it, quite another. Nevertheless, a view of international politics that rejects the premise of US global hegemony, as Sanders does, is already worlds apart from anything dreamed up within official Democratic circles, where enthusiasm for a new Cold War against Russian and Chinese “neo-authoritarianism” is brewing.

Big money.

Sanders, by contrast, understands that the rise of the 1 percent is a bipartisan phenomenon. “Our economy, our political life, and the media,” he writes, “are largely controlled by a handful of billionaires and large corporations…. I believe that the Democratic Party bears an enormous amount of responsibility for this sad state of affairs.” And unlike the party’s leadership, he recognizes that the power of the ownership class extends far beyond the nebulous special interests that every politician denounces. While no other national Democrat, Warren included, even uses the phrase “corporate media,” Sanders rightly makes it a recurring theme in his critique of billionaire rule.

Civil rights.

Contrary to much disingenuous criticism, this does not mean that Sanders refuses to recognize historically specific inequalities of gender and race. On questions of discrimination, pay equity, mass incarceration, and civil rights, his rhetoric and record have been far in advance of the Democratic Party’s mainstream for quite some time. (Many surveys have shown that Sanders’s strongest national support comes from women and people of color; the vast majority of black voters, regardless of their 2016 primary choice, continue to view him favorably.) The difference is not what Sanders does not say but what he does say: that every American, including those who voted for Trump, is entitled to the universal protections of social democracy.

FDR … and Lincoln.

From Weaver to Ocasio-Cortez, nearly every progressive figure today is urging the Democrats to reclaim the bold mantle of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Yet Sanders rounds out the introduction to Where We Go From Here with a quotation from another president who led an even bolder movement and whose election spurred an even greater transformation. The hoariest words in American history—Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg vow to defend “government of the people, by the people, and for the people”—are also, Sanders reminds us, some of the most radical. To overthrow an entrenched oligarchy and claim a “new birth of freedom” based on democratic equality for all: That would be a political revolution worth fighting for.