Bernie Sanders has been a revelation in this Democratic primary campaign, making a race out of what was considered a stress-free procession for the wily and experienced Hilary Clinton to the Democratic nomination. A fire-brand leftist independent, who in fact was not even a member of the Democratic Party 18 months ago, Sanders gained a 50% tie for share of the vote in the Iowa Caucus, and is widely expected to romp to victory in the New Hampshire Primary.
I have to confess, even as a student who leans towards the right of the political spectrum, Bernie Sanders is a breath of fresh air for American politics. For the first time in at least two decades, there is a genuine voice from the left of US politics. A self-described socialist who is probably better described as a social democrat, Sanders is a fresh alternative to the Democratic candidates of years past who most would describe as at best centrist or even centre right.
“The ideas that give Sanders his “radical” status … are pretty much the norm by British standards”
So why has a left-field candidate finally been able to gain traction in a major American political contest? I suspect that the same forces propelling Donald Trump to the forefront of Republican politics are helping Bernie’s push for the Democratic nomination, dubbed by John Cassidy in the New York Times as the “New Populism”. Both are political outsiders, Trump being a billionaire businessman and reality TV “star” and Bernie having been a well-regarded independent Vermont governor, both at best on the fringes of each party’s political establishment. In a world where there is widespread dissatisfaction with the US political establishment, both Republican and Democrat, outsiders flanking on the “radical” right and left have gained a great deal of enthusiastic support from those who feel left behind in the USA. This explains the similarity in the political rallies of both Trump and Sanders; they attract people dissatisfied with the status-quo and possessed with a fervour and passion for candidates they feel can make “real” change.
Inevitably there will be comparisons made with our own Left-wing firebrand, Jeremy Corbyn; and indeed both have been generous in their comments to one another. Bernie Sanders told the Huffington Post last September that “At a time of mass income and wealth inequality throughout the world, I am delighted to see that the British Labour Party has elected Jeremy Corbyn as its new leader.” Meanwhile, Jeremy told the BBC that same month that he was “following Bernie Sanders’ campaign with great interest”.
“There is a clear alternative to the centrism of Clinton, and the outright bombastic lunacy of the most honourable Donald Trump”
There are certainly similarities between the two that would lend to such a friendship; such as a commitment to higher taxes on the wealthy. However, the ideas that give Sanders his “radical” status; such as universal healthcare, subsidised higher education and a higher minimum wage, are pretty much the norm by British standards. Even more surprising is Bernie Sanders’ record on gun control, voting consistently against legislation to limit the availability of arms. This only serves to demonstrate the Rightist nature of American politics, where the leading Republican “establishment” candidate, Marco Rubio, can advocate for banning abortion (except in life-threating circumstances) and still be considered relatively moderate.
Nonetheless, it is clearly beneficial to hear at least one voice from the Left in mainstream American politics, even if some of the proposals set out by Bernie, such as the raising of the minimum wage to $12.50, seem unlikely and unrealistic. At least there is a clear alternative to the centrism of Clinton, and the outright bombastic lunacy of the most honourable Donald Trump.
Image by Shardayyy on Flickr