Liberals are conducting a concerted campaign to criticize Bernie Sanders and to ridicule his supporters, arguing the only way to achieve change is to vote for the “moderate progressivism” of Hillary Clinton.
I suspect the anti-Sanders rhetoric is being ramped up precisely because, according to one recent highly respected polling organization (Quinnipiac University), the democratic socialist senator has narrowed the national gap to less than the margin of error.
Moreover, according to the same poll, Sanders is the only candidate in either major party with a positive (44-35) percent favorability rating among American voters.
That’s pretty amazing, on both counts.
So, what should we do? Whom should we support?
I’ve been having this argument with a political scientist friend—over the significance of Sanders’s success (remember, Sanders was far behind Clinton, 55 to 17, back in July) and whether or not to support Sanders going forward.
Here’s the argument I made: the continued success of Sanders, in state primaries and at the national level, is a good thing for the Left, as it strengthens the left-wing of the Democratic Party. There are a lot of disgruntled voters out there, especially young and working-class, and the mainstream of the Democratic Party has mostly shut them out. Sanders clearly gives voice to their concerns—both their resentments about the current situation and their desires for an alternative future—and that’s all to the good.
That’s why I want to see Sanders continue his campaign, emboldened by his likely large victory in New Hampshire. All of us on the Left will benefit as a result. Ideas and policies that have long been marginalized (like campaign finance reform, single-payer healthcare, breaking up too-big-to-fail banks, and so on) are now on the national political agenda, and still others (like single-provider healthcare, community banking, worker-owned cooperatives, and so on) might emerge.
But, I will admit, it’s not clear to me the existing Democratic Party is ready to support Sanders in the general election—or, for that matter, American voters are ready to support Sanders’s democratic socialism. And current polls aren’t particularly useful in terms of head-to-head matchups this far out from the national election. So, there’s a good chance Sanders would lose (and, à la McGovern, lose badly) come November. And that would be very bad for the Left.
So, where does that leave us? My view, for what it’s worth, is that, the short-term success of Sanders is just one step in a long campaign to shift the political discourse in the United States, a campaign that benefits from but does not end with Sanders’s run for the Democratic presidential nomination.
And that’s why we should all be eating the equivalent of a pint of Bernie’s Yearning, the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream featuring a milk chocolate disk covering the top of plain mint ice cream. The disc is meant to represent “the huge majority of economic gains that have gone to the top 1% since the end of the recession. Beneath it, the rest of us.”