Updated: Jul 3, 2020
As I sit down to write this, my first opinions piece, the Democratic Party of the United States are going through what some may call an existential crisis – or better yet, a series of existential crises. In the past fourteen days, the party has had to deal with a complete calamity of an Iowa Caucus, the acquittal of Donald Trump’s impeachment charges, and a surging Sanders in the post-caucus results.
Underpinning all of this is a seismic shift in what the Democratic Party are and what they are perceived to be. From ‘across the pond’, anyone with a modicum of political familiarity knows that the Democratic Party are by no means a party of leftists (despite Trump’s desire to label them as the “radical left”, and that’s a quote). In fact, the Democratic Party has, historically, been the more conservative party in the U.S. For example, the Democrats were the party that supported slavery, whilst the Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, wanted to resolve slavery in a more manageable fashion. The Democrats didn’t become the ‘lefty’ party until the late-19th – early 20th Century, with the Progressivism movement being the catalyst for the big shake-up.
Nevertheless, in the present day, the Democrats have become known as the party representing the liberal, progressive wing of America’s politics. To this end, they have had resounding success. Roosevelt, Kennedy, Clinton and Obama. Four Presidents, all champions of American liberalism in some form or another. All been remembered by Democrats as magnificent Presidents. So, what is changing? Why can’t the Democratic Party rely on the safe, liberal, mainstream politicians to win them the Presidency in 2020?
Hillary, is that you?
Put simply, it’s all Hillary’s fault. Hillary personified the Washington liberal elite. She ran her campaign with consistently brazen pomposity. Pomposity that the ‘fly-over country’ has come to loathe in Washington politicians. There is a cultural contrast in the land of the free, between the haves on the coast, and the have-nots inland.
Donald & The Dichotomy
On this dichotomy, Trump & his campaign worked with efficiency & precision. Donald Trump, for all his faults, knows how to capture a crowd, he knows how to manipulate the media, he knows how to use oratory to his advantage. One could argue that Trump embodies everything Plato hated about democracy; oratory above strategy.
Perhaps I slyly am.
Nevertheless, the point I’m trying to drive at is that Trump is no ordinary beast. He is not your archetypal Washington Republican; the Mitt Romneys of the world, or the John McCains. No, Donald Trump is a political black hole that holds the highest political office of the free world. Despite this void of any coherent philosophy, he is a political behemoth. If he were a card in Top Trumps (pun intended), he would be the top trump.
The One in Twenty-Seven
Hence the long list of candidates vying for the chance to be the one, to paraphrase Sir Alex Ferguson, to knock him off his fucking perch. At the time of writing, 16 of the initial 27 candidates have dropped out. Many of the initial candidates were absolute no-hopers. Marianne Williamson, for instance, a spiritual guru whose campaign message was, in essence, to hope that love beats hate. Hillary kind of tried that one Mary – good effort though. Similarly, the likes of John Delaney, Seth Moulton and Tim Ryan all decided to run. Yet, one look at these chaps showed they offer absolutely nothing in the way of the requisite characteristics, acumen or cunning necessary to take down the electoral led zeppelin in the White House.
Bernie Sanders, like Trump, is a political phenomenon. Born in Brooklyn, three months before the U.S. entered the Second World War, Sanders was raised in a working-class household to two Jewish European refugees.
Unlike Trump, Sanders has a long list of achievements in politics and is truly an example of the American Dream in action. Interestingly, and rather ironically, he has done so without the aid of vast fortunes. Trump, the right-wing Republican billionaire, had money, fame and fortune handed to him. There is an argument to be had around the extent to which one’s beginnings in life can affect their potential for achievement, but certainly starting off with a few million doesn’t hurt.
Conversely, Sanders started off with next-to-no money. He ruffled few feathers in college & instead chose to dedicate his young adult life to community activism. He used his love of public service as a springboard for a political career, becoming the Mayor of Burlington, Vermont, in 1981 - an election in which he ousted the Democratic incumbent by just 10 votes. Indeed, Sanders' first victory removed a Democratic Mayor from office.
It is important to note that Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat – not in the sense that he belongs and identifies with the Democratic Party. He was elected Mayor of Burlington as an Independent candidate. He remained as such throughout his tenure in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. This brief biographical section is here to demonstrate Sanders’ ability to overcome the seemingly impossible.
Vermont is hardly a global hub for socialism. Is there something in the water in Burlington that gives voters an inclination towards Marxism? Tests are yet to be conducted, but let’s err on the side of caution for now. Bernie Sanders has gotten to where he is now because of his own hard work. To borrow the most thoughtless of right-wing idioms, Bernie “pulled himself up by the bootstraps”.
So, What About the Rest?
Bernie’s a good guy and a more than qualified politician. He knows his stuff and he can connect to the people of Vermont. But how on earth does that make him better than the likes of Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar or Pete Buttigieg? In my estimation, there are three factors that make up the bulk of the reasoning behind my argument.
The first being that Sanders, unlike Biden & Buttigieg, are not ‘owned’ by big money. Trump went hard on Hillary in 2016 for being compromised by big money. To put it rather simply, this allowed Trump to be framed as the honest man who’s looking out for the little guy, whilst Hillary’s only looking out for the Wall St. banker and the corporate tax cheats. If anyone thinks this device won’t be wheeled out in 2020 to extraordinary effect, you’re sorely mistaken.
Second, Bernie’s message is consistent. Multiple videos have surfaced in the past year of Sanders saying the exact same thing he’s saying now, but 10, 20 or 30 years ago. Whether it be fighting for marginalised and fringe causes like LGBT rights during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, fighting against the declaration of the Iraq War in the early 2000s, or proclaiming acts of deceit and dishonesty by those in the “billionaire class” in the post-2008 climate as acts of “class warfare”. You’re free to disagree with his language, but there’s no denying his message and thus, his objective is the same. Moreover, this strength of Sanders’ is the reason he outclasses each and every one of the other Democratic nominees. Those on the debate stage with mainstream political experience (Warren, Buttigieg, Biden & Klobuchar), have all changed their tune massively throughout not just their careers, but the campaign: Warren was a diehard Republican until the age of 47; Buttigieg has desperately tried to walk the line between progressive and moderate throughout his campaign; Biden has, on multiple occasions, made troubling remarks about black people and the black community; Klobuchar has voted in line with the Trump administration 26.6% of the time, double that of other Democratic candidates [FiveThirtyEight, 2020].
Finally, the third and final point as to why Bernie Sanders is the only Democratic nominee capable of beating Trump, is that he is a populist. A populist whose entire rhetorical device relies upon referring to, and demonising, the bogey-man billionaires. Go and watch any clip of Bernie Sanders talking to an audience, I’ve no doubt he’ll reference the “billionaire class” at least one time. Even as I type the phrase, I can hear it in his thick Brooklyn accent. The “billionaire class” is something, while all can understand, is still a rather abstract concept. It’s certainly not something as visceral as Mexican thieves and rapists flooding over the border. However, if Bernie Sanders stood on the stage next to Donald Trump, and Sanders referred to the “billionaire class” whilst able to point at the man beside him, he may be able to illustrate to the American voters that the “billionaire class” aren’t an abstract and benevolent people, whose summers in Monaco and winters in Aspen appear in fun Hollywood flicks. But that they are, in fact, the root of millions of American's vulnerability.
· FiveThirtyEight, 2020, Tracking Congress in the Age of Trump, FiveThirtyEight.com [online] Available at: <https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/congress-trump-score/> [Accessed 11/2/2020]