by Josh Chernila
As the dust settles after the Iowa Caucuses and Hillary emerges with a win, the Democratic state of the nomination remains in doubt. Hillary Clinton is the most well-financed, heavily backed, and well-known establishment candidate to seek the office in modern history. Her only opposition, with the exit of the laudable Martin O’Malley is the irascible and tireless Democratic Socialist, Bernie Sanders.
Those of us who have labored in progressive politics since Bush v. Gore have long hoped for a moment like this. During the Bush years, we saw a pantomime parade of big lies and hysteria around conservatism. We deciphered their “three pillars” as a long walk to fascism. Their “Strong Military” became a call to disastrous wars; their “Family Values” a war on women; and their “Small Government” came to mean the end of American democracy and the walk to oligarchy. Through all the 24-hour news cycles and the ebb and flow of popularity and polling, the power of democracy declined. The middle class evaporated and, as Democrats, we had to look ourselves in the eyes and realize that by supporting corporatist neo-liberalism, we had to face the fact that we had been complicit. Democracy died on our watch.
Reaganomics moved wealth power and freedom from the middle class to the 1%, and the Roberts Court delivered political power to them with the Citizen’s United decision.
Bill Clinton, in creating NAFTA, ending Glass-Steagall and supporting the Reagan Revolution, facilitated the march away from opportunity and democracy. Barack Obama bailed out the banks, and was caught flat footed as American productivity skyrocketed and the leadership of the right managed to inflame grassroots fears into support for policies that moved more and more wealth and power into the hands of fewer and fewer Capital Socialists, the real beneficiaries of the Reagan economies.
The sickness of the political system, however, was clear. In poll after poll, it became clear that the American people supported progressive policies, even as they voted for “moderates” and “conservatives.” We can credit Ronald Reagan and the propagandists who screamed his revolution for this effect. Billionaires funded think tanks to “mainstream” extreme positions, while the conservative media made “liberal” a four-letter word.
Through eight years of the Obama Administration, however, something changed. Conservative theory was revealed. Americans want to value families, not pay lip service to “family values.” American’s don’t want you telling them what they need to do with their personal lives, and the injustice of institutional racism is exposed. We see that neocon adventurism gave us limitless war and debt and made us hated around the world, where progressive international power regained our position as leaders of the free world, opening Cuba and Iran. And, of course, a Democrat got Bin Laden. But that leaves that whole “small government” issue, which gave economic and political power to the 1% and also created the sensibilities of the neo-moderate millenials and the Bernie Sanders candidacy.
If we look at the programs proposed by Bernie Sanders, they are supported by the vast majority of the American people. They may identify as Democrats or Independents or even Republicans, but the progressive agenda is America’s agenda. American’s overwhelmingly want a renewed social contract. We want to clean up the political system. We want a solid safety net. We want markets that protect innovation, opportunity, and democracy. And we want to move to an economy that doesn’t require the death of the planet.
The progressive agenda, once you pull out the divisive politics of the culture wars, is overwhelmingly supported by voters now, and that’s a very good thing. The pendulum has swung back and it is Bernie Sanders who has the record and the momentum to lead the charge.
The cold hard facts of the primary point to Hillary Clinton as the nominee. Fivethirtyeight.com puts the chances at near 70% despite the “coin toss” victory in Iowa (Yes, Hillary won, but that’s how history will remember it). The demographics of Iowa and New Hampshire are particularly good for Bernie, so it will take more than what we’ve seen for Bernie to become the nominee. It’s going to be a long February for all of us.
Regardless, we now understand something that we didn’t understand before. Millennial voters support Bernie Sanders by overwhelming margins, and this is not a cult of personality kind of experience the way the Obama phenomenon was feared to be. This is clearly issue-based. Democrats have the chance in the next few elections to win the future of the American political system for a generation. The Progressive agenda has a broader support than any other group of policies available to us today. In short, the American people are Democratic Socialists. They are sick of the Conservative Corporate Socialism that has divided us and they are sick of the Neo-Liberal Corporate Socialism that has tried to hold the whole game together.
Americans want a progressive agenda, and Democrats have the opportunity to not only save the party, but the nation, democracy and the planet if they can find a way to deliver it to them.