Bernie Sanders’ decision to quit the US presidential race this past week has come as a big blow to many American voters who espouse progressive values. Sanders was let down once again by the Democratic Party, which evidently still considers Sanders’ “socialist” ideology being unfeasible to win the 2020 presidential race.
While the Democratic Party seemingly employs progressive rhetoric, it has firmly adopted a much more centrist agenda. After the Carter years, the Democrats have been shifting towards more centrist positions, particularly in terms of their ever tighter embrace of big business.
It was the Republican Party under Ronald Reagan which first adopted neoliberal values. Economic policies adopted during the Reagan years included reigning in the public sector and placing unflinching faith in big business by providing it tax breaks and other incentives, in the hope that this would make life better for all Americans. Ironically, the era of “Reaganomics” was accompanied by conservative positions on social issues such as the right to abortion, as well as enhanced defense spending. Subsequently, the Republicans (Bush Senior and Junior, and now Trump) have followed in the footsteps of Reagan in terms of economic policies, believing in unbridled market mechanisms to achieve growth, despite all the populist talk of “draining the swamp”.
Yet, the Democrats themselves (Bill Clinton as well as Obama) became increasingly enamoured by corporate lobbies. Obama, at least, tried to make some domestic changes to address healthcare provision gaps, and the plight of migrants who had arrived in the US illegally in childhood. However, on many other economic (and foreign policy) issues, Obama too toed the centralist Democratic party line.
Bernie Sanders at least proposed a very different policy agenda than that espoused by any other prominent American politician over the past several decades. Despite his popularity, however, the Democratic Party remained uncomfortable backing a candidate who they thought was just too radical.
It is not like Sanders is new to politics. He has been a member of Congress for nearly 30 years, as well as a Senator. During this long political career, Sanders has been consistently critical of how big business lobbies have been strangling American democracy. He is a firm believer in egalitarian politics. He has advocated taxing powerful business leaders and providing universal healthcare to America (which remains a country where millions of poor people lack healthcare because of being uninsured). Sanders has even been a vocal critic of Israeli policies toward Palestinians, which he has described as being inhumane.
For the Democratic Party however, Sanders, remains an outsider. He has twice tried to get the Democratic nomination to run for president, and despite his popular backing, he has been sidelined both times. This time around, two leading contenders pulled out of the crowded Democratic candidates nomination race (Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg) to throw their weight behind Joe Biden — who was in fact lagging significantly behind Sanders — to give Biden a much-needed boost against Sanders.
Now that Sanders has withdrawn from the race, president Obama has also endorsed his former vice president (Joe Biden). Sanders too is going to throw his own weight behind Biden, in the bid to deny Trump another four-year term in office. Whether Biden will be able to excite the imaginations of those Americans dejected by the glaring inequalities within their society more than Hillary Clinton did in 2016, remains to be seen.
Yet, one thing is for sure. America will not be able to become as egalitarian and humane a society which it could have become if the Democrats had placed their faith in Sanders, instead of endorsing another already tested politician, which the establishment feels won’t upset the status quo too much.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 17th, 2020.
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