11th February 2016
Bernie Sanders results in Iowa and then New Hampshire leave him now standing at a pivotal moment in US history. He is on the brink of a breakthrough that would offer the US public a genuine credible alternative choice for the first time in decades. As a veteran senator from Vermont he’s hardly an ‘outsider’ but as a jewish socialist he most certainly is. His team just released his video …
… and his message is an inspiring one.
He is unambiguous and unashamed in calling-out corporate America and denouncing the entire political and economic system that subjugates and exploits. Here’s three things make his candidacy and his potential presidency something worth supporting with all of our energy, not just Americans but all of us, everywhere:
He Can Speak
Not only can he speak eloquently but he does so, every day. Whilst Trump and the republican guard stammer out strangled incoherences of bile and blethers, and Hillary offers up bland admonishments and pleas about her good record, Sanders speaks, often off-the-cuff with feeling. This is such a remarkable thing in contemporary politics people are just amazed, and moved.
Whilst there are pitfalls from oratory, his is a blessing, tapping into and articulating the anger of ordinary Americans. Can you imagine the impact Jeremy Corbyn’s Momentum movement could make if he could string a sentence together? Someone, somewhere should be doing the same against the Bullingdon Junta and its travesty of failed elite rule.
Sanders has gained endorsements of environmental groups, like Friends of the Earth Action, as well as the founder of the group 350.org, Bill McKibben.
He has called climate change a “major crisis,” and speaks to it regularly as a core of his campaign. He endorsed a carbon tax and was an early opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline. It’s the single reason while the youth vote is going overwhelmingly to Sanders against Clinton.
Sanders’ own New Hampshire communications director, Karthik Ganapathy, is on leave from 350.org. Ganapathy has gone on the record to say that it’s Sanders’ work on climate is what drove him to join the campaign. And Claire Sandberg, his national digital organizing director, previously worked on climate at the Rainforest Action Network.
He Might Win
The Clinton team have been clear to attack Sanders for “over-reach”. The message is he can say anything he likes because he’ll never see office. The message is he has the voice but she can deliver. But the reality is that if Sanders can continue to build the sort of grassroots movement then he will be hard to defeat. The media have been focusing on policy and language but it is structure and means that is the key. The significant difference between Sanders and Clinton isn’t just outsider versus insider, radical versus moderate, it’s grassroots versus top-down. In a social-media connected world the network wins. Horizontal politics beats top-down even if you throw billions of dollars at it. This is a message corporate America hasn’t swallowed yet.
And, as Alhan Keser writes, Bernie and his team are way-ahead of everyone on social media and website conversion. The era of hashtag politics is here.
Added to this the Sanders message has resonance across class, gender and age, Clinton’s doesn’t. She has struggled to articulate an argument beyond gender empathy, or a now-tired Obama continuity ticket. That’s not enough to overcome her baggage. But more importantly the prospect of Trump does two things to boost the Bernie Sanders campaign. First it sharpens the latent focus of class and corporate antagonism every time The Donald opens his big mouth. Secondly it heightens the idea that Sanders might win. If he was facing a clever and broadly popular Republican opponent he might suffer, but in the binary conditions created by Trump, and with the prospect that Trump can’t reach out beyond his media-hyped bubble, it’s suddenly game-on.
Credibility is absolutely crucial in the next phase of the Sanders campaign. Can he go from being an exciting stump speaker motivating Democrat voters to pan-American appeal?
The media are repeating an easy trope about Sanders, that he is the flip-side of Trump, backed by ‘angry America’. they are, the argument goes, just ‘populist politicians’. It’s an analysis that will be familiar to Scottish voters who were frequently lumped in with UKIP / SNP by lazy political journalists working from afar. But German Lopez at Vox puts paid to this myth:
“While Sanders and Trump may tap into the anger that US voters feel, their big policy solutions are vastly different: Trump has proposed a host of xenophobic policies that would essentially keep minorities — particularly Muslims and Mexican immigrants — out of the US to, in his view, protect Americans. But Sanders wants government (at often a big cost) to do more to boost people who are struggling to make ends meet.”
There are problems ahead though.
There’s no doubt Sanders weakness in campaigning terms is attracting black voters – an issue he is desperately trying to address – and in policy terms he is weak on foreign strategy – an issue he is vulnerable on and needs help with.
There’s a second more sinister problem that hasn’t really been talked about. As Trump whips up a movement of right-wing Tea Party activists, racists and well-tooled-up Angry Americans – what will that crowd look like if it goes head-to-head against a self-professed ‘socialist’? In truth Sanders ‘socialism’ is mild and moderate. But in the eyes of Trumps followers, already unhinged and emboldened by his dangerous rhetoric this could be a toxic battle. These people are armed. Let’s hope whatever happens America’s political culture, and law enforcement is mature enough, and solid enough to contain a Trump mob.