Editorial: Bernie’s revolution: Is the magic there a second time?
Sen. Bernie Sanders launched his second run for president this past Tuesday with an appeal to continue the revolution he started in 2016 when he had the audacity to challenge the presumed Democratic designee Hillary Clinton. He was the rebel then, the long-shot candidate with the white-tasseled hair, still heavy Brooklyn accent, and a penchant for shouting out his political talking points as if he were leading the masses to overthrow the government.
It was the perfect political theater to challenge the staid and judiciously calm Clinton, who struggled to stir her supporters’ pulse rates even though she was the most experienced, educated and knowledgeable candidate among the lot running for the presidency for either party.
Much has changed since Bernie challenged Hillary and Trump captured a slight majority of the electoral college votes to become, unbelievably, the nation’s president — even as we are learning how the Russians interfered in the election to help Trump win, and even as we learn how the Russians turned the public against Clinton with false tropes, and stolen email documents to plague her campaign.
What has changed is critical to Sander’s second presidential run. Most importantly, many of Bernie’s ideas — the basic premise of his revolution — have become mainstream among many Democrats. To wit:
• His call for a Medicare-for-all plan is a variation of the universal health care conversation initiated by President Barack Obama and partially enacted as Obama-Care, and Republicans have seen how politically risky it is to try to cut those benefits. Bernie would push it health care further along, but so would several of the other leading Democratic contenders.
• His calls to tax the wealthy are acceptable to the majority of Americans, particular as the gap between the richest and everyone else widens.
• Phasing in the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024 used to be a radical call; today many states are putting their own plans into action and most Democrats are in favor.
• Bernie used to be one of the few politicians to warn of the impending disasters ahead if mankind didn’t reduce its carbon footprint. His calls to action placed him among the most activists of presidential candidates. To that end, he was endorsed early on by environmental champion and Vermonter Bill McKibben in 2016, and by that posse of environmental activists. Sanders no longer has a lock on the issue. Indeed, a Democrat’s stance on climate change is now a litmus test to being considered as a viable candidate.
• Bernie may be unique in his style of ranting against Wall Street, the fossil fuel industry, drug companies, multi-national corporations and the wealthiest top percent, but the policies he would likely enact would fall in line with many other of the Democratic candidates — all to a matter of degree and what’s possible to get passed into legislation.
In sum, Bernie’s revolution is well underway. To some extent, he has been successful in changing the face of the Democratic Party to a much more egalitarian and progressive set of policies. His 35-year battle in which he has championed the little guy and fought against the power of the mega-rich will be a mainstream issue in 2020 largely because Trump has poured trillions of dollars of the nation’s wealth into the pockets of the ultra-rich. The timing suits Bernie’s political story perfectly.
But Sanders faces long odds. As a colorful political personality, he is no longer a novelty. He’s 77 now and would be the oldest president ever elected to office at almost 80, if he were elected in 2020. He’s recently had trouble in his campaign with women allegedly unfair treatment, and he has never resonated among the nation’s black and Latino populations. And he won’t have the advantage of being the surprise underdog going into the early primaries. On the contrary, the bar of expectations is high and if he falters early on, it could spell an early end to his campaign.
Still, political pundits should know by now not to underestimate his political savvy. He has defied the odds before and he’s a tireless campaigner.
What Sanders brings to the Democratic Party that few other candidates have is his revolutionary zeal and a rhetoric that excites audiences. He fervently believes in basic human rights, and his populist approach to politics — fair pay for fair work, health care as a right not a privilege, affordable housing, free college, family leave, subsidized child care and early childhood education — are the core issues that matter to most Americans.
Plus, Bernie has campaign money in the bank; he has an email list a million-plus strong, and he has a core group of supporters that might stick with him if other candidates don’t articulate the issues in a way that stirs their hopes and aspirations. Bernie made it work in 2016. The question this time around is will his appeal affect voters in the same way, or will they look to another star?
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