Bernie Sanders’ greatest achievement and one that will go down in history books as success will be his influence on American policy discourse. Bernie’s plan to institute a $15 per hour minimum wage, cancel student debt and provide healthcare for all was a hotly contested point. All the issues which seemed too radical in American politics only a decade ago became the most intensely debated questions in 2020, writes Omer Azhar
Bernie Sanders, the 78-year-old senator from Vermont and an unapologetic democrat socialist since the 1970s, has dropped out of the American Democratic Presidential race for 2020 elections. Few politicians in the United States of America have displayed the sheer consistency in the voting record and called for political revolution the way Bernie did.
The American electoral process for the Presidency which continues to be heavily reliant on big corporate donors and Super Pac funding was anathema to Bernie, who staggeringly became a significant front runner in a campaign that had zero donations by corporate lobbyists and Super Pac donors. Bernie ran a campaign purely based on massive funding from his base of Democrat voters. Among his many transforming proposals overwhelmingly popular with voters under the age of 30, Healthcare-Medicare tops the list. He envisioned a system that provided healthcare for every citizen in the United States to get rid of a broken privatized healthcare market that leaves people uninsured and unable to access basic facilities. But his efforts did not shift the political reality.
On the foreign policy front, Bernie Sanders was able to call things as they were, with an uncanny ability to call a spade a spade. He broke with the American foreign policy tradition by criticizing Israel’s expansion in Palestine and its role in the volatile Middle-East region. He went on to criticize America’s South Asian ally, India, for clamping down on Muslim citizenship and lockdown in Kashmir. Bernie emerged as a flag bearer of American liberalism based on human rights which were reflected in his foreign policy stances.
Despite his efforts to revive the American left, the political reality was underpinned by democrat voters’ concerns over his electability. Poll after poll showed that Bernie’s ideology had struck the right chord with many Americans, especially those aged 20-40 but Joe Biden was considered a more likely candidate to defeat populist right-wing candidate President Donald Trump in a general election.
This reasoning materialized into reality as the political momentum shifted drastically against him when South Carolina voted heavily in favor of Joe Biden. On Super Tuesday, Bernie Sanders failed to win a large number of black American voters and also the older American working-class voters which form a key constituency for the Democratic Party. Sanders was unable to bring this key constituency of voters into his broad-based, multi-generational movement, therefore losing key states such as Michigan, Florida, Texas to Joe Biden in Democrat Primary. Michigan was also Bernie Sander’s knight in the 2-16 ‘shining armor’ which boasted a significant number of American middle and working-class voters. He beat Hillary Clinton in the state during 2016 Democrat primary and Donald Trump eventually won the state against Hillary in the 2016 election. The defeat in Michigan was the beginning of the end for Sanders in 2020.
Despite leading an extraordinary rise of the American left that challenged seasoned Washington politicians like Hillary Clinton and now Joe Biden, Bernie was unable to grapple with the coalescing of Democratic Party’s other candidates around Joe Biden. The consolidation of the center vote around Joe meant that the key constituency of the Democratic Party that didn’t align with his democrat socialism left Bernie vulnerable – the result of which was his falling behind in the delegate count in many states. Drop out candidates like Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg voiced their support for Biden, who then went on to win 10 of the 14 Super Tuesday states.
The jury is out and political obituaries will be written. But Bernie Sanders’ greatest achievement, and the one that will go down in history books as a success, is his influence on American policy discourse. Bernie’s plan to institute a $15 per hour minimum wage, cancel student debt and provide healthcare for all was a hotly contested point. In fact, all the issues which seemed too radical in American politics only a decade ago became the most intensely debated questions in 2016 and 2020. He brought into the mainstream the issues that had affected Americans drastically not only since the 2008 financial crash but had structurally disadvantaged the working class since the 1970s.
One can’t help but twist that statement from one of Hollywood’s most popular productions, The Dark Knight, which encapsulates the mood on the left. Bernie Sanders: The hero America needs but not the one it deserves.
The writer is co-founder Future of Pakistan Conference and a graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science.