For a number of months this past year, American voters were treated to glimpse of what it might look like if we actually had democracy in this country. Many on the left have been energized, others were skeptical. There are good reasons for both attitudes, and much to be learned now that it’s over.
Whether or not we realize it, whether or not it is acknowledged in the media, there is a very good reason why so many people Felt the Bern. That reason is that Bernie Sanders represented policy positions that are favored by a majority of the US population. That may sound mundane, but it’s incredibly rare in either political party.
“Party managers read polls, and are well aware that on a host of major issues, both parties are well to the right of the population,” writes anarchist intellectual Noam Chomsky. “A large majority of voters object, but those are the only choices offered to them in the business-managed electoral system, in which the most heavily funded candidate almost always wins.”
Whether it’s support for a Medicare for All health care system, a promised crackdown on Wall St, tuition-free public college, $15 minimum wage, federal action against police terrorism, expanding Social Security, a more peaceful foreign policy, or a carbon-tax and investment in green energy; it would be hard to deny that a Sanders Presidency would’ve been really good news for most of us.
The most obvious reason for the left’s enthusiasm for Bernie is that he calls himself a Democratic Socialist. He brought the word ‘socialism’ out of the political closet. Interestingly, this is also the main reason for left skepticism of Bernie. In one campaign ad, he defined Democratic Socialism as “a government that reflects the interests of ordinary people, rather than… the billionaire class.”
For the record, Bernie is not describing socialism – he’s describing democracy at its most basic. Socialism requires a democratic economy, something that most countries with strong socialist parties don’t even have. To quote Chomsky again, “Bernie Sanders may use the word ‘socialist,’ but he’s basically a New Dealer. Now, in the current American political spectrum, to be a New Dealer is to be way out on the Left.”
After Bernie’s defeat, there was a scramble among his supporters about what to do next. Most of that debate focused on the question of which clown standing deserves Bernie’s votes in the general election. The irony is that the preoccupation with the election distracts people from the tasks of building a movement strong enough to win the policies Bernie talked about.
Bernie Sanders received over 12 million votes in the primary. If any significant fraction of those people were to commit themselves to unionizing their jobs, organizing with their neighbors, or joining progressive social movements; the political ramifications could be groundbreaking. Such an upsurge in working class organizing would be able to force progressive action from whatever President got elected.