Progressive Populism: Bernie Sanders Makes the Case

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“Sisters and Brothers,” begins an email from Bernie Sanders, “I want you to imagine eight years from now: The minimum wage is a living wage and students are graduating college without the crushing debt stifling their ability to pursue the career of their dreams. Health care is recognized as a right for every man, woman, and child, and the United States is leading the world in fighting climate change.

“There is no bank that is too big to fail, no banker too powerful to jail, and we’ve leveled the playing field so that the billionaire class is no longer able to buy and sell our candidates and elections.”

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Sanders is carrying the flag for progressive populism, or democratic socialism, in the 2016 primary campaign. I initially welcomed his entry into the race, thinking he would add interest, spice, idealism and choice to the Democratic contest, build an enthusiastic progressive activist base and online fundraising network, and move Hillary Clinton to the left. I thought he might succeed as well as Howard Dean did in 2004. Indeed, he is doing better than Dean.

He almost tied Clinton in the Iowa Caucuses. He won a remarkable 84 percent of voters age 18 to 29, according to an NBC exit poll. He has amassed 3.5 million individual donations averaging $27 a piece, and has surpassed Barack Obama’s 2008 total in online donations.

He won a landslide victory in the New Hampshire Primary, clearly sending a message that voters do not want a too-well-connected establishment candidate to inherit the Democratic nomination simply because it’s “her turn.”

He has spotlighted some serious social problems in the U.S., like workers trying to hold down five minimum-wage jobs to make ends meet; citizens struggling to qualify for disability; citizens with chronic illnesses struggling to pay for essential but too-expensive medicines; seniors attempting to survive on $12,000 in Social Security benefits a year without a pension.

“The Pragmatic Case for Bernie Sanders,” by Christopher Cook in The Atlantic: 

“Political and social change emanate from persistent pressure for a just world, not settling for what is “realistic” before even getting to the negotiating table.”

Hillary misreads American politics in a strangely naive and fatalistic way when she insists that “moderate” candidates who compromise their agenda before the political battles have even begun are always best. “In politics, if you demand a mile, you get a foot; demand a moderate inch, and at best, you get a centimeter,” Cook writes.

“Remember when gay rights and gay marriage were “unrealistic”? Remember when voting rights, desegregation, and other basic justice were far from “pragmatic”? They became real through years of dedicated, principled, idealism—by insisting the unrealistic become real.”

Cook contends that change is about “pushing ideas, building movements, and challenging the status quo. Even before the general election, Clinton is campaigning on a deflating and defeatist politics of half-a-loaf “pragmatism,” aiming lower on minimum wage, opposing free college, opposing single-payer health care.”

Sanders boasts that 170 economists endorse his plan to rein in Wall Street, the big banks and corporate greed, asserting that Clinton’s proposals on Wall Street are too weak, and would not protect the country from another financial crisis.

Paul Waldman summarized Sanders’ platform: “Sanders gave a speech in which he outlined his vision of democratic socialism, which is essentially what in Europe they call ‘social democracy.’.. He said that health care should be a right, not a privilege (with a universal single-payer system); that everyone who wants to should be able to go to college; that we should invest in infrastructure; that no one who works full time should live in poverty (so raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour); and that loopholes that allow corporations to shield themselves from taxation should be closed.” Sanders calls for “free child care, paid family leave, universal health care, and free university education.”

E.J. Dionne pointed out that Sanders is actually in the long tradition of social democrats who have worked for equality both in America and in Europe, going back to the New Deal, and that he raises important issues in the age of globalisation.

Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation, made the case that Sanders is a realist with common-sense approaches on domestic and foreign policy. Whereas Clinton would intervene in Middle East trouble spots with disastrous results, Sanders is skeptical of such hawkishness. Unlike Clinton, she notes, Sanders is not close to Wall Street and would break up the big banks.

MoveOn.org members endorsed Sanders. Robert Reich has taken to Facebook and Youtube.com to defend Sanders with interesting videos that, at the least, educate voters on issues of economic disparity, and to also promote his new book, Saving Capitalism, for the Many, Not Just for the Few.

Walker Bragman, “a 27-year-old, politically active, progressive millenial voter,” goes so far as to say if Sanders doesn’t win the nomination, he won’t vote for Clinton because she actually has a moderate Republican agenda and he thinks Democrats must lose in 2016 in order to move the country to the left with Democratic congressional victories in 2020.

Related: 

  • Salon.com: American capitalism has failed us: We’re overworked, underemployed and more powerless than ever before. Denmark, Norway and Sweden are all thriving under democratic socialism. Why is it so difficult for us to embrace? , TOMDISPATCH.COM
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