Sanders’ 2016 platform popularized progressive economic reform on the Democratic ticket but failed to address racial issues.
Last Tuesday, Bernie Sanders threw his hat back into the ring for the presidency in 2020. Hoping to capitalize off his 2016 momentum and brush past recent allegations of sexual misconduct in the upper echelons of his campaign staff, Sanders enters an already crowded Democratic field.
However, the presidential race looks much different than it did in 2016. Instead of taking away crucial support from the clear favorite in Hillary Clinton, Sanders is facing off against a field that doesn’t have a frontrunner. In addition, over the last three years, the Democratic Party as a whole has moved to the left toward his own positions on economic issues. Sanders completely rewrote the economic platform of the Democratic Party, enough so that Howard Schultz, a billionaire pseudo-liberal, is considering making a run to combat the danger that democratic socialism poses to his class position.
For most septuagenarian politicians, they would be content with crafting and resting upon the remarkable legacy they made for themselves. Sanders, through the sheer force of will, reimagined and revitalized democratic socialism in the last major Western nation that has actively rejected it. But Sanders’s ego does not allow him to remain content with being the kingmaker: he wishes to crown himself too. The primary issue for Sanders is that he doesn’t understand that the revolution left him behind.
In front of him, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand and (most notably) Elizabeth Warren have all subscribed to his 2016 economic platform, promising to relieve student debt, provide affordable (or free) tuition, universal healthcare and to overhaul the criminal justice system. While these series of proposals, first championed by Sanders in 2016, stymied Hillary Clinton, the new candidates have grasped the popularity to forge a new Democratic ideology. Sanders is no longer the sole champion of democratic socialism.
In fact, Sanders is left confronting serious issues on the fronts of racial and social justice. With news that major members of his campaign staff across the country were sexually harassing women, Sanders chose to confront these women and apologize privately rather than publicly address the issue. He has apologized, but his actions spoke louder than any socially mandated statement of regret can convey.
However, most puzzlingly, Sanders still continues to cling to his reticence to confront racial issues. On many occasions, including in his declaration of running on Vermont Public Radio and in an interview with the New Republic, Sanders dodged questions of representation. Rather than celebrate the diversity of the candidates, that same value that sprung forth American ingenuity and the Great Compression that Sanders consistently harkens to, he insists that we “move past identity politics.”
It’s disheartening that a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president would choose to ignore such a crucial, unifying component of the Democratic coalition. However, it’s even more unfortunate for Bernie Sanders, who apparently has not learned his lesson on race. He failed to galvanize minority voters in 2016, and it appears he will fail to do the same in the next two years.
Clinton’s failure to win the presidency despite her victory in the popular vote was attributed to her inability to revive the Obama coalition: white working-class voters along with marginalized black communities who were both shut out of the mainstream economic and social order. Although Sanders managed to win those states most closely associated with that bloc in the primary (the Rust Belt), Clinton’s failure against Trump does not mean Sanders would have done any better. With no racial component to his campaign, no rallying cry and effective rhetoric for the dreams of millions of people of color across the nation, Sanders would have failed to secure any hope for victory either.
Sanders continues to insist that economics will solve the issues of race, but he forgets that this country’s greatest era of prosperity, the ’50s and ’60s, was also the period of the highest racial tensions in America since the Civil War. Increased income equality ignored minorities then and would likely leave them out again now under a Sanders-led economic redistribution.
For their bids in 2020, Harris, Booker and Warren are positioning themselves where Sanders hesitates. Fashioning themselves as harbingers of social safety nets and the levelers of vast income inequalities in favor of the middle and poorer classes while also addressing racial injustices, the former three will thrive while Sanders flounders. By the time the senator from Vermont realizes his weakness, it will likely be too late, if he chooses to rectify his mistake at all.
Sanders, by running now, has effectively sealed his legacy as a bitter old man clinging desperately on to his own desire for power. Unwilling to let go and allow his political ideology to triumph, Sanders will instead prove an effective punching bag for Trump to mindlessly bash over the head of any of the candidates that end up the Democratic nominee. But at least he was talking about universal healthcare before anyone else.