The Sanders presidential primary run is quickly becoming the most significant progressive/left challenge to “establishment politics and economics,” to use Bernie’s words, in the past 30 or so years.
This doesn’t take away from the significance of other past or present social protest movements. Nor is it a guarantee that it will last beyond the present election cycle. It still remains to be seen if it will acquire the vision and capacity to capture the imagination of tens of millions, especially our very diverse working class, people of color, and women, as well as challenge over the longer run the dominance of the billionaire class.
But it seems incontrovertible that Sanders’ candidacy so far is reshaping the way vast numbers of people think. It is tapping into the imagination of young people, energizing new constituencies, and uncovering a depth of anger and understanding that until now had no voice. It is giving a new legitimacy to “democratic socialism” and making Hillary Clinton into a more progressive candidate (which is a good thing). And, not least, it is giving hope to many that out of his campaign could evolve a popular, ongoing movement – firmly opposed to the overarching menace of the right, fluent in the language and skillful in the practice of equality and democratic rights, consistently anti-corporate, and attuned to the necessity of unity – that could rearrange the political furniture in fundamental ways.
Of course, in the near term the immediate task of Bernie and this movement is to win the nomination, which, notwithstanding the results in Iowa last week and in New Hampshire yesterday, will be an uphill fight, as the primary season heads to the South and Midwest. His commanding victory, however, will give him added momentum. But much the same, and then some, could be said about Trump’s victory. He squashed the field and he will leverage that too as he heads to other primary states.
Which had to be one reason that Bernie in his victory speech last night said, “Whether or not I win the nomination, we all must work together to unite the Democratic Party. We must come together to assure that the right wing does not capture the White House.” Hillary should also echo the same sentiments loudly and clearly to her advocates in high places in the Democratic Party and at the grassroots.
And supporters of both candidates, if they are strategically smart, and not just tactically clever, will heed their counsel and conduct themselves accordingly.
One final thought: This progressive/left challenge of Sanders’s campaign is taking place on a terrain of struggle – electoral politics – and in a political form – within the Democratic Party – that many in progressive and left circles have considered either a waste of time, or, on rare occasions, something to engage in while holding your nose.
Maybe some rethink is in order.