Don’t Think Bernie Sanders Can Win? You Don’t Understand His Campaign

Christopher Lee for The New York Times

New York Times - December 10, 2019

"... Mr. Sanders has reached the typically invisible, downwardly mobile working class with his language of “class warfare.” He has tapped into the anger and bitterness coursing through the lives of regular people who have found it increasingly impossible to make ends meet in this grossly unequal society. Without cynicism or the typical racist explanations that blame African-Americans and Latino immigrants for their own financial hardship, Mr. Sanders blames capitalism. His demands for a redistribution of wealth from the top to the rest of society and universal, government-backed programs have resonated with the forgotten residents of the country."

As the Democratic primary elections get closer, the party leadership has begun to fret in public about universal health care and other ambitious proposals. Even former President Barack Obama tried to assuage donors’ fears in November when he said that the “average American” doesn’t think we need to “tear down the system and remake it.” His comment captured the essence of tensions that have roiled the party for months. Party elites believe focusing squarely on President Trump’s record will end his presidency, while others counter that the Democrats also have to champion bold policies.

The surprising resilience of the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont vindicates the latter approach. Mr. Sanders’s improbable rise to Democratic front-runner began in 2015 when he organized his campaign for president around a redistributive agenda of universal health care and free college, along with a number of other progressive reforms. Party insiders dismissed this as fanciful and out of touch, but Mr. Sanders aggressively challenged Hillary Clinton for the nomination while picking up 13 million votes.

Mr. Sanders has not diluted his message since then, but has instead recommitted to his promises of “big government” socialist reforms — all the while pulling other candidates to his side. Although Mr. Sanders grows in popularity, neither the Democratic Party establishment nor the mainstream media really understand his campaign. That’s because it disregards conventional wisdom in politics today — tax cuts for the elite and corporations and public-private partnerships to finance health care, education, housing and other public services.

After months of predictions of its premature end, Bernie Sanders’s improbable run continues its forward movement. In October, pundits and other election experts suggested that perhaps Mr. Sanders should leave the race and throw his support to Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, in the wake of her rising poll numbers and his heart attack. But doubts quickly gave way to excitement when Mr. Sanders captured the coveted endorsement of Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. She was soon joined by Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

The spirited endorsements of three-quarters of the so-called squad illustrates how Mr. Sanders’s campaign has grown from 2016 when it was criticized for being too white, too male and for underestimating the salience of race and gender oppression. Some of that criticism was overstated. Indeed Mr. Sanders won 52 percent of the black millennial vote in 2016 and was supported by Black Lives Matter activists like Erica Garner, who passed away in 2017. But Mr. Sanders took the criticisms seriously anyway. ...
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