Bernie Sanders: The ‘classic Coke’ of democratic socialism
In 2016, Sen. Bernie Sanders “started a revolution,” said Bhaskar Sunkara in TheGuardian.com. “In 2020, he can finish it.” Last week, after formally announcing he was seeking the Democratic nomination for president, the 77-year-old Vermont democratic socialist received an eye-popping $5.9 million in donations in only 24 hours, proving that his passionate base of young supporters is intact and as motivated as ever. Sanders has the same basic message as in his first run, said Eric Levitz in NYMag.com. Namely, that “millionaires and billionaires have too much, working people have too little,” and that he’ll lead a populist rebellion to force the plutocrats to share the wealth. This time around, Sanders has a new, impressively diverse campaign staff, which should help expand his base beyond the young white “Bernie Bros.” In the three years since Sanders’ bitter primary defeat at the hands of Hillary Clinton, his signature policies—including “Medicare for all,” a $15 minimum wage, and tuition-free college—have moved “from the margins of Democratic politics, to the center.” His argument, as he faces intense competition from a crowded Democratic field filled with real progressives, will be “Who wants RC Cola when you can have classic Coke?”
If classic Coke is another old white man, said Sydney Ember in The New York Times, then Democrats may very well choose something new. After two years of race-baiting by President Trump and the rise of the #MeToo movement, Democratic voters are eager “to elevate female and nonwhite standard-bearers.” They have plenty of options in such candidates as Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker. In a defensive statement that irritated some Democrats, Sanders said candidates should be judged on their positions, “not by their skin color, not by their sexual orientation or their gender, and not by their age.” That kind of talk is heresy to “the modern Left,” said Rich Lowry in Politico.com. While this “old-school socialist” speaks the language of class warfare with true conviction, he struggles with the race- and gender-based rhetoric demanded by the “identity-politics hall monitors who increasingly rule the Democratic Party.”
Sanders’ bigger problem might be who isn’t running in 2020, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com—namely, one Hillary Rodham Clinton. The ultimate party insider and a Wall Street darling, Clinton was the perfect foil for Sanders to cast himself as a champion of the working class fighting the corrupt establishment. Many of Sanders’ primary votes, later analysis revealed, were cast by disaffected, conservative-leaning Democrats who despised Hillary and wound up voting for Trump. Take away that “Never Hillary” protest vote, and Sanders is likely to be an also-ran in a stronger field this time around.
If Sanders won the nomination, Trump would paint Democrats as “far-left extremists,” said Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post. In the 1980s, Sanders praised the Soviet Union and communist thugs like Fidel Castro and Daniel Ortega, and even today refuses to call Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro a dictator. Sanders’ decades-long allegiance to Marxist autocrats could “turn off many voters.” Perhaps, said Karl Smith in Bloomberg.com, but Sanders’ “gruff, authentically populist demeanor” could defuse the “culture war” between coastal elites and the heartland, and turn the election into a much-needed debate “about how the economy should work.” Should the economy be “primarily directed” by the free market or by “a democratically determined vision of the just society?” A Sanders candidacy would put that question on the presidential ballot. ■