Thursday, April 28, 2016

Bernie Sanders' Legacy

With the math more or less insurmountably against him, Bernie Sander's campaign is struggling to go on after yesterdays drubbing in four out of five states. Indeed, there are reports that he is cutting staff as he tries to find a path forward. So where does that leave Sanders and his supporters?  A piece in te New York Times makes the case that Sanders has set a large part of the agenda for Democrat party going forward. Sanders may have lost the nomination fight, but his ideas and the issues he championed will likely live on.  Here are column highlights: 

At this point, Bernie Sanders is the figurehead of a living idea and a zombie campaign. The issues his campaign has raised are likely to resonate with the progressive left for decades, if not forever, but his path to becoming the Democratic nominee is now narrower than a cat’s hair.
It’s over. He knows it and we know it. The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Sanders “is planning to lay off ‘hundreds’ of campaign staffers across the country and focus much of his remaining effort on winning California.”
And yet he continues to carry the torch and keep the flame alive so that his supporters — or more appropriately, the supporters of the causes he has advanced — have an opportunity to cast protest votes in the few remaining contests. He has gone from leading a revolution to leading a wake.
I think people have mischaracterized the choice being made between Sanders and Clinton. It is not necessarily a clean choice between idealism and pragmatism, between principle and politics, between dynamism and incrementalism — though all those things are at play to some degree. But to me, it is more about where we peg the horizon and how we get from here to there.
The ideals are not in dispute. What’s in dispute is whether our ideals can be reasonably accomplished by a single administration or a generation. Sometimes you have to cut deals to reach ideals. That’s politics.
Now, you could argue that our politics are broken, as Sanders has, and you would be right. Moneyed interests — that of industries and individuals — have far too much influence. Our two-party system is heavily skewed to favor establishment candidates, although Sanders’s success and Donald Trump’s offer strong evidence that the party apparatuses are not inviolable.
What requires less debate is the often-repeated refrain that Sanders’s supporters are the future of the Democratic Party. In state after state, often whether he won it or not, he carried youth vote by wide margins. [
P]art of it is what Harry Enten pointed out on Friday: The Democratic electorate turning out in 2016 has been a lot more liberal than it was in the last competitive Democratic primary, in 2008.”
Enten explained:
It wouldn’t be surprising to see the moderate/conservative portion of the Democratic primary electorate become a minority in the next 10 years. It’s the youngest Democrats who are more to identify as “very liberal.” It could very well be that someone matching Sanders’s ideological outlook will be more successful down the road.
First we have to see what comes of the general election, in a contest that at this point seems to pit Clinton against Trump. Although current polling shows Clinton with an overwhelming edge, making political predictions seven months in advance is a fool’s errand.
[W]hile current polling favors Clinton, history does not. The last time a Democratic president succeeded a multi-term Democratic president was when Harry Truman succeeded Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945.
However the election breaks in November, the Sanders coalition — largely young, liberal and white — will not likely be satisfied. Either Clinton will win, and it will simply feel like a lesser of two evils, a subsuming of a righteous cause into a waffling contrivance; or Clinton will lose, and the Sanders coalition will feel vindicated that the wrong Democratic candidate won the nomination.
Either way, the cause lives. Universal health care becomes no less attractive. Neither does free public college, or campaign finance reform, or a more pacifist foreign policy.
The Democratic Party, for better or worse, is likely to move further toward progressive purity in Sanders’s wake. This may backfire, and encourage a nominating process that pushes otherwise moderate and widely attractive candidates to adopt increasingly extreme policies that make them nearly un-electable, as has happened with the Republican Party.
That, to me, seems to be at least part of the Democratic Party’s future. Whether that is a utopian or dystopian future, only time will tell, but the reckoning is coming. This, I believe, will be a fixture of the Sanders legacy: Drag a center-left party further left — whether one calls that True Left or Extreme Left.

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