03 February 2016

Bernie prose

(Boy is it ever dusty in here)

Back when this blog was still going hot in around 2006 or so, and I was young and full of vigor, I found myself fascinated by a little-known Congressperson from Vermont named Bernie Sanders. "Wow," 2006-me said "that guy should've run for president, I would've loved to see how the Democratic Party establishment would deal with a genuinely eloquent populist and defender of social democracy."

Turns out, I am a genius.

So when Sanders announced he was running for President as a Democrat, I rubbed my hands together gleefully. Of course, he was a virtual no-shot against the Clinton juggernaut, but I allowed myself a smirk at the pundits who believed he'd merely be a Kucinichesque distraction squeaking short-lived endorphins into the Democratic Party's leftmost wing before quickly petering out.

And, lo and behold, while Sanders remains an extreme longshot to actually win the Democratic nomination for president, he has rudely stolen the media spotlight away from Hillary Clinton and, albeit temporarily, called a halt to the coronation. Despite facing unprecedented, near-total opprobrium from the Democratic political machine, Sanders has made it a race, virtually splitting the vote with Clinton at Monday's Iowa caucus. And, despite being a 74-year old white guy with a Brooklyn accent, he has built his campaign engine around millennials, winning the under-30 vote in Iowa by an almost-impossible 85-15 margin.

Bernie is so fascinating to watch for a number of reasons, a few I'll touch on briefly here. Firstly, despite not meeting the most particular definition of the term, Sanders nonetheless openly describes himself as a socialist. Even though he wouldn't need to, Bernie dons the mantle of a term which has heretofore been considered as good as instant suicide in American politics. Yes, ultimately Bernie is selling an un-revolutionary, social democratic agenda of redistribution. But, in an American political and economic system that's been so thoroughly corrupted, that's as good a place as any to begin selling socialism. The longer Sanders can stay on the stump preaching his message, the better it will be for the long-term prospects of socialism in America. And that is the hopeful long-term benefit to this (probable) losing effort.

Secondly, Sanders has confounded the liberal opinion-making establishment. For many elections the liberal pundit class has assured its left-sided counterpart that, no, you'll have to accept our deeply-compromised, business-friendly candidate, because no social democratic candidate could ever reach anything like a critical mass of popularity. But Bernie has shown remarkably by slowly, if unsteadily, rebuilding what used to be the Democratic coalition; broad, cross-racial support from poor and working class voters, and young people.

Which brings us to the third point. Sanders, even in defeat, could represent a victory for solidarity politics over liberal identity politics. Liberal pundits, in an attempt to erode Sanders' support among young people, have concocted a caricature of his enthusiastic backers as "Bernie Bros," supposedly crude young white males who support Sanders only out of a desire to keep a powerful woman from the White House. Polls showing Sanders to be even more popular with young women than young men have so far not dissuaded them. Young liberals are often stereotyped, sometimes with merit, as over educated "PC" brats obsessed with personal identity over everything. That they would get behind a broadly old-fashioned campaign of economic populism (though one that has certainly been modernized to the realities of racial and gender inequality) has been rewarding and pleasantly unexpected.

This, of course, is a longstanding favorite liberal smear of the left; that it is merely the province of out-of-touch, comfortable White Male (always writing off left-wing feminists and people of color as irrelevant). They point to Sanders lagging behind among Black voters as evidence of his unfitness, though even there he is slowly making inroads. Bernie picked up three important endorsements from black public figures in South Carolina in the past week. And he's long enjoyed the support,of, among others, critically-acclaimed rapper Killer Mike, who has become one of Bernie's most prolific public advocates.

What a time to be alive!