Saturday, May 16, 2015
On April 30, Bernard "Bernie" Sanders, the Independent US Senator from Vermont, announced his candidacy for the Democratic Presidential Nomination. Pundits describe him as “a longshot”, though even they had to take notice when Sanders raised $1.5 million in the first day after he announced. Sanders has pledged to not use PACs or Super PACs, but plans to build a campaign on small donations.
Bernie Sanders stands to the Left of Hillary Clinton. By US standards, he’d be “far left” among politicians, however, this is mainly because of how far to the right the centre of US politics has shifted. Most of his positions would be mainstream for traditional Liberal Democrats of a generation or so ago; Bernie Sanders hasn’t moved to the Left—the USA has moved to the Right.
The fact is, Bernie Sanders has had a consistent political ideology for over 40 years, which—love him or loathe him—is both remarkable and extremely rare for a politician. I think that Sanders’ ideology will both help and hinder him.
Sanders has been consistent in his attacks on money in politics, and he noted that even if his dream of raising $100 from 3 million people came true, it would still be less than a third of what the Koch Brothers will be spending to elect whoever the Republicans nominate. This anti-big-money-buying-politicians actually resonates with people all over the political spectrum.
His fight on behalf of the poor and working class people will endear him to parts of the Democratic base, and also to some non-Democratic voters who have been left behind while Republican politicians play partisan political games in Washington and in state capitals.
Sanders also voted against the Iraq War and was in favour of marriage equality all along, both unlike Hillary Clinton who voted for the Iraq War and opposed marriage equality until recent years. Ideologically, on those issues Sanders is closer to the Democratic base than Clinton was—but past tense is the important part.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign has definitely moved to the left compared to the 2008 campaign. She’s been talking about some of the same issues as Sanders has, though perhaps usually in less forceful ways. Still, she’s saying things that appeal to the base.
Sanders does have obstacles, starting with his ideology. Sure some of the Democratic base adore his ideology—and, full disclosure, I’m much closer to Sanders ideologically than I am to Clinton—but will the broader party support him? After all, the Republican Fear and Propaganda Machine has made the word “socialist” an effective poker to rile up ordinary people and get them to vote against their own best interests by voting for Republicans. Will Democratic primary voters back a democratic socialist? Or, will the disaffected see a champion and rally round him?
Age is an issue for Sanders. He’ll be 75 years, 135 days old on Inauguration Day in 2017. Hillary Clinton will be 69 years, 87 days. Ronald Reagan, the oldest president so far, was 69 years, 349 days when he was sworn in as president. Does age matter? Does gender? Obviously, gender shouldn’t be an issue—but age? Whether or not Reagan’s Alzheimer’s Disease really began while he was president or not, he was undeniably getting doddery by the end of his second term. So, should age be a concern? The reality is, even if we agree that, like gender, age shouldn’t be an issue, we’re naïve if we think that voters won’t consider both.
The one thing we know for certain is that if Sanders or any of the other presumed Democratic candidates do well enough, they’ll influence the tone the campaign will take, probably ensuring that it takes a more Liberal and Progressive tone than it otherwise might. This will show a huge, stark contrast between the Democratic nominee and the Republican nominee, whoever they are. This is a good thing—or, it would be without big money in political campaigns.
The only force Democrats had to even begin to counter big cash from corporations and the rich elites were unions, but Republicans at the state level have been working hard to smash unions, and take away a source of campaign cash for Democrats to counter, even if only slightly, the huge piles of cash corporations and rich elites will spend to buy a Republican president and other politicians.
Then, there’s Republicans’ work at voter suppression, including attempts to enact unconstitutional poll taxes by other names (like Ohio’s, for example), to keep Democratic-leaning voters from registering and voting. And that’s all on top of their efforts to restrict access to voting to make it harder for Democrats to vote.
Add it all up, and the Democratic nominee, whoever he or she is, will have a big battle to win the presidency.
On the other hand, look at what we’re up against: A bus full of Republican clowns trying to win their party’s nomination, all of them spouting all sorts of whackadoodle nonsense, and all of them in a party increasingly held hostage by believers in utter batshittery. For example, recently Public Policy Polling found that ONE THIRD of Republican voters said, why, yes!, they DO “think that the Government is trying to take over Texas” (poll results are available online as a PDF). One. Third. Of. Republicans.
And this is why I can say with certainty I'll vote for whoever the Democratic Nominee is. Sure I laugh at and mock the Republican candidates, but the truth is, they all scare the crap out of me. Anyone who lives in the reality-based universe, who knows that the federal government isn't taking part in a secret plot to "take over Texas", should worry, too.
There’s still 1 year, 5 months, and 24 days until the US presidential election.
Update May 27: The video of Sander's official announcement event is on YouTube.