Home National Politics Bernie Sanders as the 21st Century William Jennings Bryan (other than the...

Bernie Sanders as the 21st Century William Jennings Bryan (other than the Scopes Monkey Trial)?


I was reading The Hill this morning, and the latest column by progressive Brent Budowsky caught my eye. According to Budowsky, while it’s now clear that Bernie Sanders won’t be president…

[He] can change the course of American history and make the central point of his political revolution the law of the land by creating a People’s Political Action Committee to elect a wave of progressives to Congress, create a liberal Supreme Court majority, reverse the heinous decisions in the Citizens United case and against voting rights, and ignite a surge of small-donor grassroots democracy for America.

Not bad, eh? I’d just add “elect a wave of progressives to state legislatures and governor’s mansions all over America.” How would this be done? Budowsky argues that the People”s PAC “would combine the luminous achievements of the Sanders small-donor movement with reinforcements from leading progressive lights such as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Sen. Elizabeth Warren….[and] stars such as George Clooney, who supports Hillary Clinton but admires Sanders and fervently believes in small-donor democracy.”  Budowsky believes that the PAC “could raise between $200 million and $300 million from small donors, increase the strong odds that Democrats regain the Senate, give House Democrats a powerful election boost and promote Democratic unity with a higher purpose.”

Is this realistic? I don’t know. But if Bernie Sanders really wants a revolution in this country, he should keep working to make it happen, and creating a PAC to promote progressive ideas and candidates across the country sounds like a pretty good idea to me.

One more interesting point in the op-ed is Budowsky’s comparison of Sanders to William Jennings Bryan, “the progressive populist who first ran for president in 1896 against the corruptions of the Gilded Age and was opposed by the oligarchs of that age. Bryan did not become president, but he paved the way for the historic progressive populist triumphs of Teddy Roosevelt’s Square Deal and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal.” Now, of course I could do without Bryan’s opposition to Darwinian evolution and some of his other “out-there” ideas (including his support for Prohibition). Still, paving the way for the Square Deal and the New Deal ain’t chicken feed, to put it mildly!

The bottom line is that I wouldn’t want to see Sanders simply exit the stage, never to be heard from again, after Hillary Clinton is nominated. For starters, we need Sanders to stump enthusiastically and energetically for Democrats up and down the ballot this fall. After that, we need Sanders to continue pushing progressive change in this country, to build his movement, and to make sure that all his efforts – and the huge movement he created – don’t go to waste. Come to think of it, Sanders and his followers could be of great assistance right here in Virginia, where next year we have an election for governor, LG and AG, plus the entire House of Delegates. It would be great to have a bunch of Sanders supporters running for House of Delegates, and for Sanders’ People’s PAC to help elect Gov. Northam, a Democrat LG and Mark Herring as AG for a second term. Just a thought. 🙂

P..S. Here’s more background on William Jenning Bryan.

William Jennings Bryan (March 19, 1860 – July 26, 1925) was an American orator and politician from Nebraska, and a dominant force in the populist wing of the Democratic Party, standing three times as the Party’s candidate for President of the United States (1896, 1900 and 1908). He served two terms as a member of the United States House of Representatives from Nebraska and was United States Secretary of State under President Woodrow Wilson (1913–1915). He resigned because of his pacifist position on World War I. Bryan was a devout Presbyterian, a strong advocate of popular democracy, and an enemy of the banks and the gold standard. He demanded “Free Silver” because he believed it undermined the evil “Money Power” and put more cash in the hands of the common people…

In the intensely fought 1896 and 1900 elections, he was defeated by William McKinley but retained control of the Democratic Party. With over 500 speeches in 1896, Bryan invented the national stumping tour in an era when other presidential candidates stayed home. In his three presidential bids, he promoted Free Silver in 1896, anti-imperialism in 1900, and trust-busting in 1908, calling on Democrats to fight the trusts (big corporations) and big banks, and embrace anti-elitist ideals of republicanism. President Wilson appointed him Secretary of State in 1913.

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