Reflections on the Rise and Fall of Bernie Sanders

Former Vice President Joe Biden is now the clear frontrunner to win the Democratic nomination after another successful night of primaries on Tuesday. The opposing side to this story is the fall of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Sanders may pick up a state here and there between now in the convention, but barring any dramatic unforeseen event, the general election match-up appears to be set.

When Sanders first decided to run for president back in 2016 only a few people knew who he was. He was the self-styled independent who described himself as a democratic socialist, his affinity for communist dictatorships notwithstanding. At the same time as Donald Trump was gaining popularity with his brand of right-wing populism, Sanders was said to have been gain popularity with his left-wing populism.

It appears now that the movement Bernie Sanders was leading was greatly exaggerated. He was able to fire up support among young people, but how much of these young people are interested in the intellectual side of socialism versus how many just wanted the government to wipe out their student loan debt is an open question.

Also among young people, and even older folks on the left, there is this idea that socialism equals Denmark, which Sanders tried to play into to ease the general public’s concerns about voting for a socialist, despite pushing policies way to the left of what actually goes on in Denmark.

For a while he was able to get away with it as his comments about the Soviet Union, Fidel Castro, and others were well known, but nobody cared, because for the longest time Sanders was just a backbencher in Congress. If a socialist rants, but nobody listens, is he really ranting?

He gained popularity in 2016 challenging Hillary Clinton and his relative success in that primary led to Sanders to develop the idea that America was ready for socialism. The election of people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar seemed to confirm this, as well as Democratic presidential candidates such as Elizabeth Warren piggy-backing on his policy suggestions. The party as a whole has moved so far to the left that in 2020, the “moderate” Democrat position on health care was to be for a public option.

However, in 2020, Bernie was given frontrunner status. He was to be one of the prime challengers for the nomination. But here, he struggled. All of a sudden, people cared what he thought. When details emerged, even his own party thought his health care plan was nuts. Yet, he jumped out to an early delegate lead. Then Biden won in South Carolina and the field consolidated.

Once the rest of the field consolidated around Biden, Sanders has struggled. The conversation Democrats never had after 2016 was what kind of candidate was Hillary Clinton? They were eager to blame anyone, but Clinton herself for their loss. It was ingrained misogyny and a culture of sexism, the Russians, Jill Stein, the undemocratic electoral college, anybody but her. Yet, the 2016 primary proved that nobody — not even Hillary Clinton’s own party — liked her.

Sanders did not have that luxury in 2020. In addition to more scrutiny being paid to his ideas, he had to answer for his comments about Fidel Castro. When challenged he came across as the bitter old man who yells at the clouds which departed from the crazy, but lovable uncle who never combed his hair image he had tried to build for himself.

Biden is also more likable and Democrats still love Barack Obama and Biden was able to sell voters that, as Obama’s vice president, he is the heir to Obama’s legacy. Biden also had a pitch for Democrats to rally around that Hillary Clinton did not: “Beat Trump.” The entire rationale for Clinton was it was her turn and that the country needs a female president. She just assumed she would win because the country couldn’t be so crazy as to actually elect Donald Trump.

There was also a flaw in those who sought to compare Trump with Sanders as proof that we live in an age of increased populism and anger at the establishment.

Despite all the analysis to the contrary, Joe Biden is not a moderate. He is a down-the-line liberal, progressive, or whatever Democrats like to call themselves these days. Biden is much closer Sanders than Trump was to either conservatives like Ted Cruz or establishmentarian moderates like John Kasich. The base of the Democratic Party is much closer to its establishment than base of the Republican Party is to its.

Trump challenged and in some cases demolished Republican orthodoxy, Sanders takes the Democratic Party’s belief that government exists to better the lives of the unfortunate and progressivism’s belief that injustice in the world is caused between inequality (between rich and poor, corporations and workers, men and women, gay and straight, white and non-white, ect.) to their logical conclusions.

Where Biden and Sanders differ most is not in policy, but in rhetoric. Biden appears to still have an emotion connection to the country, whereas Sanders has spent his entire adult life associating with radicals and siding with the nation’s enemies. Only someone who believed his public career started in 2015 can say otherwise. Even today he’s frequently associating with anti-Semites while pretending all he’s doing is criticizing Benjamin Netanyahu.

Bernie Sanders is more like Jeremy Corbyn than he is Clement Attlee, the latter of which was the socialist who gave Britain the NHS — the closest analogy to Sanders’ Medicare for All — but still realized the Soviet Union was a threat, not a honeymoon destination.

Whether Sanders’ so-called revolution will out last him is to be seen. Student loan debt is not going down and debt forgiveness, for good reason, has no chance of passing through Congress. The promise of free ice cream will always have a certain appeal that costly vegetables do not. Maybe the younger generation of congresspeople will keep the movement going, but for now, when America’s party of the left was given the choice, the revolution fizzled away.




Writing about politics and other interesting things. Contributing Writer to NewsBusters. Member of YAF’s National Journalism Center’s Spring 2019 class.

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Alex Christy

Alex Christy

Writing about politics and other interesting things. Contributing Writer to NewsBusters. Member of YAF’s National Journalism Center’s Spring 2019 class.

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