Bernie Sanders is both a walking cliche and a revolutionary figure. A walking cliche in that it would be hard to find anyone who more resembles the Woody Allen Brooklyn-Jewish stereotype than Bernie “tame the mane” Sanders, but at the same time, Sanders seems to hold the sort of purportedly counterculture views that would have, for the most part, made it absurd to even consider his candidacy eight years ago.
The point, whatever your own political views, is this: Sanders is being taken seriously. Whether this is a product of a global shift towards the more radical left or simply a political anomaly within the Democratic party remains to be seen, but one thing is certain — there are tremors coursing through the Democratic party and Mr. Sanders seems to be at its epicenter.
There are five Democratic presidential candidates for the upcoming election who have appeared in five or more major political polls in the U.S. These are Jim Webb, Lincoln Chafee, Martin O’Malley, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
The first two, Webb and Chafee, can be immediately discarded as lacking the charisma to truly mount a legitimate campaign for president. Polling figures back that statement up, where both are close to zero percent according to data compiled by Real Clear Politics from the top five pollers in the country. O’Malley was at one percent in the polls, but his widely praised work as governor of Maryland (excluding his handling of the Baltimore riots) as well as his relative charisma make him a potential late bloomer in the Democratic primary, even if this remains highly unlikely.
Ultimately, the Democratic primary can be narrowed to the two main candidates: Hillary Clinton, polling at 42 percent, and Bernie Sanders (26 percent), with Joe Biden (19 percent) looking increasingly unlikely to throw his hat into the ring despite high polling figures for someone who has not even campaigned for president.
Before we take a look at these three main Democratic candidates, with two hopefuls and one doubtful (Biden), it is important to note why the other three candidates have not garnered any serious support among Democratic voters.
Webb, a former senator for Virginia, and Chafee, a former senator for Rhode Island, can be dismissed on the grounds that they lack even the remotest ounce of charisma required of a presidential candidate, and will in all likelihood pull out of the race once their funding dries up.
Martin O’Malley, however, provides a much more interesting case study. O’Malley has had an excellent record governing his state. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, Maryland’s crime index dropped by almost 20 percent between 2007 and 2013, with O’Malley entering office in 2007 and remaining there until 2015, when he announced his candidacy for president. O’Malley’s success has not been restricted purely to crime rates. According to a report published by the Department of Planning, the median household income has grown by 10 percent during O’Malley’s tenure as governor of Maryland and is 37 percent higher than the national average.
So then, why isn’t O’Malley, with his excellent track record and relatively moderate platform, not a frontrunner for the presidential nomination?
For some voters, it is O’Malley’s socially conservative stance that repels voters.
“A big issue for me is his stance on drug reform and the war on drugs, because that’s an issue that not only affects Mexico and countries like that, but it also affects us,” Eoin O’Farrell, a senior and Bernie Sanders supporter, said. “Martin O’Malley appears to be totally against even the legalization of marijuana, which is a victimless crime.”
According to O’Farrell, O’Malley “[is] not the face that will reinvigorate the party.”
Not only this, but O’Malley simply has a set of policies that might be too conventional for the American populous. This might seem like a strange proposition, but it is possible that candidates in the current Democratic primaries might be more in line with voters’ beliefs the more radical they get. If anything, in the current presidential race, Hillary Clinton, with her moderate views and heavily curated image, might actually be the anomaly. Ultimately, Clinton has taken much of her momentum from the powerful financial support behind her as well as her close ties to current president Barack Obama and his Democratic predecessor Bill Clinton, even if these might also work against her.
However important all of this might be, the main talking point of Clinton’s campaign so far seems to actually have come in the form of the anybody-but-Hillary camp, who are eager to point out that she has largely funded her campaign with corporate donations. For example, according to the Federal Election Commission, 13 of Clinton’s top 20 donors are all either part of the banking or law sectors. All of this has led to the perception of Clinton amongst a growing number of voters as a corporate stooge.
For many voters in 2016, Hillary Clinton’s heavy flip-flopping is her ultimate liability.
“[Clinton is] really very political and she has a lot of special interest groups that are weighing her down. Whereas Bernie Sanders seems very independent from that,” Cameron Huard, a senior and a conservative, said.
However, Clinton remains far ahead in most national polls with what appears to be a solid base of supporters that would be hard to lose.
Clinton’s popularity might stem in part from her gender. As a female, Clinton can portray herself as an outsider in the heavily male-dominated U.S. political climate despite her close involvement with the White House in the last 20 years or so. Furthermore, Clinton has essentially been campaigning, in some form or another, for president since her hard-fought loss to Obama in 2008. This, coupled with her husband Bill’s tenure as president, has given Hillary an edge over any of her Democratic rivals, who essentially have to cultivate name recognition from scratch, barring perhaps Joe Biden, who would have some by nature of his vice-presidency if he were to run.
If Clinton were to be considered an anomaly, the question then becomes, who provides the standard? The answer, as surprising as it might be, is Bernie Sanders, the self-described socialist. As extreme as this statement might seem, it might have at least a grain of truth to it.
Perhaps this might be more easily explained if one looked to the Republican Party as an example. Candidates for the Republican nomination have adopted increasingly far-right rhetoric as the race progresses.
Although Donald Trump might be the first radical candidate who comes to mind, others like Ted Cruz and Ben Carson have also gained significant ground in the race through the use of fiery hard-right rhetoric. Instead of becoming more progressive and turning to the left, as might be expected of candidates, following recent Supreme Court decisions more in line with the Democratic platform such as the legalization of gay marriage, candidates have taken a sharp turn to the extreme right instead.
This does not mean that candidates have not acknowledged the power of the socio-liberal movement, with a recent Ted Cruz interview on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert providing the perfect example. Instead of taking the typical Republican stance against gay marriage, which is that gay marriage is not only unconstitutional, but immoral; Cruz argued instead that it was more a question of states’ rights — that the Supreme Court should not interfere with issues relating to governance at state level, especially taking into consideration how marriage is technically a state issue.
Ultimately, the conservative shift can be attributed to the current political climate in the Capitol, where the Republican majority in both the Senate and the House have taken a strongly hostile stance towards Obama’s administration.
Ironically, it is the leniency of these representatives that has led to certain disillusionment for many conservative factions with their representatives in Washington, which has in turn led to heavy criticism being heaped on leaders like John Boehner, who recently announced his resignation as speaker of the house. Critics believe that the Republicans in Washington failed to stop much of Obama’s legislation, such as the Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Act (also known as Obamacare), or the Iran Nuclear Deal, which is awaiting a vote by Congress, but looks a surefire bet to pass, as President Obama can still wield a veto if the disapproval vote were to pass. This has led most of the candidates not only to cast themselves as outsiders, but as opponents and critics of the current state of affairs in the Republican Party. The more presidential hopefuls cast themselves as non-politicians, the more popular they seem to become. They are essentially capitalizing on the heavy disillusionment of Republican voters with their representatives in Congress and the Senate.
Even so, there are still some who are satisfied with the Republican work in Congress.
“People are saying [the Republicans] are failing to compromise,” Huard said. “But I think that works on both sides and I don’t think the executive branch has done enough to compromise with Congress and vice-versa.”
However, if the most recent Republican debate serves as anything to go by, it seems Republicans are more intent on attacking each other than the Democratic candidates.
Ultimately, it seems a majority of the candidates are attempting to appeal to a base severely disappointed with the performance of their House representatives.
In a sense, a similar phenomenon has occurred in the Democratic Party, where voters are increasingly frustrated with the moderate policies of politicians like Clinton. Furthermore, Obama’s failed attempts to compromise with the Republicans has led many to believe the only remedy for the conservative movement’s increasing stubbornness is mirrored radicality in the left.
Bernie Sanders seems to have capitalized perfectly on this growing disenfranchisement among voters, especially among the youth, who, faced with the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2008, have slowly matured into heavily cynical voters furious at what they perceive to be corporate domination of government. Furthermore, Sanders’ donations have underscored his thoroughly grassroots foundation, with 18 of his 20 biggest donors being unions. On top of this, Sanders has raised around $25 million through small online donations from supporters.
However, this is only half the story, because Sanders’ rise could be the result of a much larger movement, one that spreads across most of the Western Hemisphere. To better understand what that means, one need only look across the pond to the United Kingdom, where the leftist Labor party just elected another self-described socialist, Jeremy Corbyn, as its leader. In American political terms, this makes him similar to John Boehner as the opposition leader, only he has a little more influence and will most likely run for Prime Minister in 2020 if he can keep his spot as leader of the party.
Corbyn capitalized on the disenchantment of many voters with the current political class. As mentioned earlier, this can mostly be attributed to the economic crisis of 2008, when voters concluded that current career politicians could no longer be trusted to lead their nation. This anger is not limited purely to the United Kingdom; it is a shift that has occurred all across Europe, partly due to the secondary effects of the crisis coupled with the influx of immigrants following unrest in neighboring countries. This influx has contributed to a tense political climate full of finger-pointing and extremists on both sides gaining significant ground.
Case in point, even more so than Corbyn in the U.K., has been the election of Alexis Tsipras in Greece. Tsipras was elected in January this year as part of a coalition of socialist and communist parties promising an end to severe austerity measures imposed on Greece since 2010 by the rest of the European Union. Tsipras was elected following an economically brutal four years under a center-right party that acquiesced to the demands put forth by the European Union and cut thousands of jobs in the public sector as well as increased taxes and reduced pensions. This paved the way for extremists within Greece to take the national stage. Not only did Syriza (the communist and socialist alliance) come to power, but various other parties, who would otherwise be completely ignored, also gained significant traction. This included the neo-nazi party Golden Dawn, which won 18 out of 300, or 6 percent, of seats in the Greek parliament in the last election.
However, the significance of the Golden Dawn’s victory should not be overstated, for it was ultimately the hard left that won the election in Greece. This growing socialist movement is not only restricted to the Balkans either — the communist party in France has gained significant support over the last five years and the Podemos movement in Spain, another alliance of disillusioned leftists and hardline radicals is, aided by heavy use of social media, becoming one of the biggest radical movements in Europe.
So what does this all have to do with the U.S.? Is it possible that the U.S. is going in a similar direction? While it is doubtful that the U.S., especially without the sort of extreme economic circumstances that gave rise to the aforementioned radicals, could become a petri dish for these sort of extremist movements, it is still possible that something in the same ideological ballpark might take place in the near future.
For starters, it is important to look at a curious trend relating Europe to the U.S., especially in the last 30 years or so, where the U.S. seems to have followed Europe in its political tendencies. This pertains, more than anything else, to the relationship between the U.S. and the U.K., where the latter usually serves as a good measure of the prevailing political climate in Europe as a whole.
On May 4, 1979, Margaret Thatcher, a hardline conservative politician who would later come to be associated with the fragmentation of unions as well as deregulation and the privatization of state-owned companies, was elected prime minister of the United Kingdom. Roughly two years later, on Jan. 20, 1981, Ronald Reagan, a conservative politician whose name would also be associated with heavy deregulation and privatization was inaugurated as president of the United States. Jump forward about 10 years to Nov. 28, 1990, where John Major was elected as prime minister, riding on the coattails of Margaret Thatcher’s highly praised, yet controversial, reign as prime minister. Just a year earlier, George Bush Sr., another conservative politician riding on the coattails of a highly praised tenure by his predecessor, was inaugurated as president of the United States. The parallels continue straight into the 2000s, all the way up to the election of conservative prime minister David Cameron in 2010. This came at the same time as the Republican Party won a landslide victory in the congressional elections. Although the elections do not line up perfectly, it is clear that political sentiment in both the U.K. and the U.S. run parallel.
If this does in fact end up being the case, it appears that U.S. politics might be in for a bumpy couple of years. The political see-sawing between hard-right and hard-left could lead to serious economic and political instability. This is, however, a worst-case scenario that would involve consecutive presidents performing atrociously in dealing with the major issues of the upcoming decade. While the issues like gun control and climate change will be difficult to handle for the upcoming presidents, a much more serious problem comes in the saturation of the Chinese market, where demand for commodities looks to be stagnating as China shifts to a service based industry. This will likely lead to heavier competition for the U.S. as well as deal a significant blow to emerging single-export nations like Indonesia or the Philippines, who will have to shift their exports to the newly emerging manufacturing nations like Mexico and South Africa which, despite high demand, will be unlikely to match the prolific Chinese market. This will doubtless lead to a significant downturn in the global economy that, coupled with other significant economic factors such as the stagnation of major South American and European markets, could severely hurt the U.S. economy. How someone like Bernie Sanders would deal with a problem like this is much more interesting. Sanders has been a strong proponent of heavy tariffs and corporate taxation, forcing major companies and corporations to maintain their business inside the United States. But to balance these upcoming economic troubles with his own ideology will make for interesting viewing. Sanders is not only a proponent of corporate regulation, but has also flirted with the idea of nationalization of banks among other enterprises. Yet, as President, Sanders would most likely have to deal with heavy competition in the services industry from the budding Chinese economy, presenting a significant roadblock to his policies.
It is more likely that Sanders might end up compromising. While many pundits suggest that he is dragging Clinton out to the left, Sanders would probably have to shift back to the center if he were to become president, stressing the ‘Democrat’ in Democratic Socialist.
However, if Clinton won, her aversion to far-left ideologies suggests she would let the free market dictate which way the economy goes. This would lead to a further consolidation of corporate monopolies and continued outsourcing of jobs, only this time, to India and Mexico, with China looming large on the economic horizon.