OPINION: Bernie Sanders’ ‘radicalism’ is tomorrow’s common sense

by | Mar 5, 2019 | Opinion

Alireza Naraghi, Senior Reporter

When Bernie Sanders announced he was going to run for president last election, his candidacy was viewed by most as a relic of the past. His role was a simple one: energize the large but relatively powerless left-wing of the Democratic Party and, most importantly, clear the way for Hillary Clinton’s path to the White House.

How things have changed.

Sanders, an obscure New England democratic socialist, who triumphed in 20 states with millions of votes as the outsider, is the most popular politician in the U.S., according to a survey conducted by the Harvard-Harris Poll. Figures from 2017 showed he “would defeat Trump by 13 percentage points if a general presidential election was held at that time.”

That’s because, on many issues, Sanders’ thinking actually aligns with an evolving, unspoken consensus among the public.

His 2016 candidacy has redefined the economic and political conversation in this country. One might even call it “the new common sense” of American politics.

Take the country’s health care system. Today, casting Medicare for All as an economic impossibility is widely rejected within the Democratic Party base.

And for a good reason: many studies   including one released late last year  by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst suggests that, yes, the wealthiest country in the world can afford universal healthcare.

The real stumbling block is not that a single-payer system is too costly or “aspirational”, as Sen. Amy Klobuchar puts it. It’s that American politics is dominated by the rich.

The trademark of centrism is that it does “what works,” regardless of political ideology. That Sanders’ detractors refuse to even consider it, despite all the impartial evidence, shows they are more tied down to an uncompromising ideology than the senator from Vermont.

Perhaps more than any other policy, Medicare for All would represent an easy win for Democrats, as this would bring down costs for the majority of Americans and reduce the deficit in the process. It’s the centre of gravity of public opinion, and yet no other candidate has been pushing for single-payer health care on the framework that “health care should be a right of all Americans regardless of their income.”

Only Sanders staked a claim on it until Wednesday when Washington state Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal introduced the Medicare-For-All Act of 2019 in the House of Representatives.

As well as making economic sense, eliminating college tuition fees is also popular. Eight in 10 Americans are in favor of it, according to PSB Research for the Campaign for Free College Tuition, along with 41 per cent of Republicans.

In a similar vein, Sanders also supports Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal. And who could disagree with him, when private oil companies have been subsidized by the taxpayer, to the tune of billions, while the uncertainties associated with climate change — extreme weather events, mass global migration, and economic and political instability — will impact every aspect of human life. It’s no surprise then that more than 80 per cent of Americans already support all the key elements of the idea.

It’s the same story with the country’s foreign policy — one of the defining areas of weakness for the Democratic establishment, which Donald Trump has exploited.

After a series of disastrous wars overseas, Sanders has drawn clear distinctions with the Democratic status quo on foreign policy. “Foreign policy is not just tied into military affairs; it is directly connected to economics,” he said. “Foreign policy must take into account the outrageous income and wealth inequality that exists globally and in our own country.”

It’s a sentiment in tune with public opinion, which, for the most part, views American interventionism as a giant waste of money.

Like Medicare-for-All and a $15 minimum wage, opposition to American military adventures around the world represents the unspoken centre of American politics, with poll after poll showing a clear majority against interventionist policies.

The results of a 2018 survey conducted for the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Foreign Policy showed that “86.4 per cent of those surveyed feel the American military should be used only as a last resort, while 57 per cent feel that U.S. military aid to foreign countries is counterproductive.”

The truth is many of Sanders’ policies, is presented as a half-buried fossil stuck in the ways of the ‘80s. The likes of Harris, Booker, and the rest of mainstream Democrats aren’t “pragmatists” who prefer whatever works now. Their vision of the future is the Democratic Party of 20 years ago.

It is they, not Sanders, who are constrained by yesterday’s ideas

Sanders has shown a consistent track record to advance a progressive agenda, and his authentic disposition is a potent weapon against Trump’s fake brand of “populism.”

Unlike the early 1980s, it is the left, not the right, which is framing the emerging political landscape.

The electorate of the 2020s is coming into view. It is angry, frustrated, and it understands a repackaged version of politics from the 1990s will not deliver in the 21st century. Now, a majority of young Americans have a positive view socialism over capitalism, says a 2018 Gallup poll.

More people are realizing this democratic socialist is the only presidential candidate offering solutions to the biggest challenges of our time: authoritarianism, xenophobia, stagnant wages, and a bleak future for young people.

Whether or not Bernie Sanders wins the Democratic nomination in 2020, his message has already transformed American politics.

This article was previously published on Medium.com.