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At this point in the 2016 presidential race it’s highly possible that Bernie Sanders will never get to see the inside of the Oval Office. His diehard supporters may shed some tears when the time comes, but Sanders has other priorities on his mind. In August, the Sanders campaign tweeted: “This campaign is not about electing Bernie Sanders for president. It is about creating a grass-roots political movement in this country.”
Now the question that’s on the minds of political junkies alike is this: has Bernie Sanders really created a political movement with staying power?
Jamelle Bouie asserts that while Sanders certainly is an insurgent, he has not actually created a movement that will miraculously force the democratic party into the “social democratic left where it belongs.” Bouie offers a very compelling argument and some incredibly valid points, but there are a few elements that he fails to consider that would suggest that perhaps Bernie Sanders is creating a lasting political movement.
A large part of Bouie’s argument rests on the idea that Sanders’ anti-establishment campaign is nothing movement-inducing, as it very closely resembles the campaigns of the past insurgent democratic candidates that had no real lasting power. Although he was arguably more devoted to socialist politics in his fruitless early days before any major political success, Bouie indicates that as Sanders gained popularity, his ideals largely molded into those of the mainstream democratic party.
Howard Dean is a prime example of a fellow insurgent, as the Dean and Sanders campaigns certainly do share some similarities. A characteristic typical of insurgent candidates is their ability to appeal to white, college-educated voters and their inability to identify with black voters. Both candidates also voted against the Iraq War in 2003 – a novel idea at a time when frontrunners like John Kerry and John Edwards (along with 80% of the American public) were in favor of the war.
A major difference between Dean’s and Sanders’ respective campaigns, however, is the response by the existing party establishment; while Sanders has failed to be seen as a real threat to the establishment and certainly not enough of a threat to win the election, Dean was the opposite. The driving force behind the Sanders campaign is also much different than Dean’s in that “Sanders is tapping into the voters’ angst that the system is rigged.”
Bouie makes the valid point in his article that there is a definite need for anti-establishment candidates like Sanders to begin making changes within the democratic party, instead of solely making a point to be a part of the “anti-establishment.” During his campaign, for example, Howard Dean worked to engage outside organizations like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee while Republicans were taking over politics at the state and local levels. This has remained a common theme for progressives, who often times find it difficult to “bridge the gap between movement activism and electoral politics.” Sanders has so far been prudent in his efforts to fund-raise for like-minded local and congressional politicians around the nation; it is exceedingly important for the campaign to set its sights a bit lower in order to begin influencing politics at lower levels in order to begin making fundamental changes. Sanders supporters, Bouie asserts, should seek to “become the establishment.”
Perhaps the most significant point indicating that the Sanders campaign really does have potential for lasting political influence is the generation of his supporters. Sanders, as Bouie points out in his article, has an “incredible following with young liberals,” who grew up during the Great Recession, and accordingly have a great desire for economic reform. His platform is easily the most liberal of any major candidate in recent decades, and because of this Sanders is undoubtedly far more relatable to Millennials than the largely out-of-touch Hillary Clinton.
Change is the result of pressure from the people, and Sanders’ popularity among Millennials might very well be the catalyst his campaign needs to gain staying power – the nation hasn’t seen a vibrant left as passionate as the Millennials since the 1960s. History has indeed shown time again that progressive reform is the result of a “large and vibrant left.” As an historical example, abolitionists were a driving force that pressured Republicans into emancipation in the nineteenth century.
The Millennial generation’s passion for progressive politics and its support for Sanders is no small matter. According to The Atlantic, a series of recent exit polls in 21 states showed that 71% of voters under 30 had cast their vote for Sanders – a higher percentage than was cast for Barack Obama in 2008. In fact, Millennials are poised to surpass the Baby Boomer generation in percentage of voters by 2020.
As further credibility toward the lasting power of the Sanders campaign, Robert Borosage, who served as senior adviser to the Jesse Jackson campaign in 1988 has even been quoted in saying, “'[the Democratic party] has not seen this kind of insurgency, this kind of strength,’ since then. ‘It’s even bigger than [Jesse Jackson] because it’s this younger generation coming into politics and moving with their own energy.’”
At this point in the race, it is essential that Bernie Sanders’ supporters collectively understand and accept the improbability of a 2016 Sanders Administration, and begin directing their efforts toward the bigger picture, as the Sanders campaign has indicated. His supporters should commence the forming of organizations, the permeation of establishment politics and the reaching out to people who, as of now, do not necessarily support Sanders’ politics.
As The Guardian states, a “political revolution can’t be built in a single election cycle,” but Sanders has already made his mark on American politics; he’s made income inequality a major focus of the Democratic party, instead of merely an issue left to the most extreme of liberals. It’s not unlikely that the “next time the Democratic party has to choose a nominee, that person’s ideas will be closer to Sanders’ than to Clinton’s.”
Bouie was right when he asserted that Bernie Sanders’ progressive politics are certainly not a novel idea, as the concept of the insurgent is as old as time in American politics. What Bernie Sanders has done differently that will likely lead to a lasting movement, however, is tap into the concerns of the Millennial – the next generation of American politics and the catalyst for change.
Photo courtesy of the New York Times