The center of power in the Democratic Party has shifted dramatically in Bernie Sanders’ direction following Hillary Clinton’s loss in the 2016 presidential race. And as power has shifted so too has the party’s agenda.
But to what end? After all, Sanders has become the de facto leader of the Democratic Party despite fervently stating that he is not a member of it. This, as Hillary Clinton argues in her new book about the election, makes Sanders a dangerous choice to rally behind.
“[Sanders] isn’t a Democrat—that’s not a smear, that’s what he says,” she writes. “He didn’t get into the race to make sure a Democrat won the White House, he got in to disrupt the Democratic Party.”
Ironically, this may be one of the very few things that Sanders would agree with Clinton on. Take these comments he made at the People’s Summit earlier this summer:
“…Trump didn’t win the election; the Democratic Party lost the election. Let us—let us be very, very clear: The current model—the current model and the current strategy of the Democratic Party is an absolute failure. This is not—this is not my opinion. This is the facts. …
The Democratic Party needs fundamental change … The Democratic Party must, finally, understand which side it is on. And that cannot be the side of Wall Street or the fossil fuel industry or the drug companies.”
His suspicion of Democrats runs so deep that even after the party named him to a leadership post in the Senate and included many of his left-most campaign ideas in its recently-released economic agenda he still refused to find common cause with them.
“Do not underestimate the resistance of the Democratic establishment,” Sanders told the New Yorker’s Benjamin Wallace-Wells.
Perhaps. But also, do not underestimate the cravenness of Democrat politicians.
Today’s Democrats—especially the ones who are vying for the party’s nomination in 2020—care much less for good ideas than they do about good politics. And right now, in a rudderless party with no clear leader, it’s clear they feel that Bernie Sanders is the closest thing they have to a good political bet. David Catanese reports for US News:
Just look at some of the names who stood next to him Wednesday to roll-out his universal health care pitch: Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey.
All are prospective candidates for the presidency in 2020 – and 10 months following the party’s harrowing 2016 defeat, they found themselves moving towards Sanders ideologically and physically, as each waited for his call Wednesday to make remarks at a Capitol Hill podium.
“If you look at the list who are co-sponsoring this and those who are rumored to be interested in [the presidency], you see some alignment. I don’t think that’s a coincidence,” says Kenneth Zinn, the political director of National Nurses United, a staunch supporter of the Sanders legislation. “This is how change happens. Grassroots action, bottom-up pressure. I think anyone who wants to be considered a progressive has to sign on to this bill. This is indeed becoming a litmus test for the movement.”
The fact that a single-payer healthcare sponsored by a self-avowed independent Democratic Socialist from the tiny, unrepresentative state of Vermont has become a litmus test speaks volumes about the state of the party. Moreover, these sponsors don’t even know what they’re signing on to. The bill includes no indication of how it would be paid for, an enormous oversight given it would be the most expensive piece of legislation to ever be considered in Congress. But again, Democrats aren’t signing onto the legislation’s ideas, they are siding with the legislation’s author, and even then only to advance their political career.
Their time in the spotlight could be short lived. What Bernie Sanders giveth, Bernie Sanders’ ideas taketh away. Simply put, Medicare-for-all is a terrifically bad idea that cannot be achieved without economy-crushing tax hikes, health care rationing, and the disintegration of our current hospital systems.
Old-guard Democrats know that. They’ve fought these battles and learned these lessons. But this isn’t their party anymore. Welcome to the dawn of the Berniecrats.
Photo credit: Laurie Shaull.