‘The vast majority of the Democratic power structure has focused far more on deriding Medicare for All than it ever did on trying to ensure that poor people do not die because they are poor.’ Photograph: Cheryl Senter/AP
Even in our pitifully broken semi-democracy, rich people shouldn’t be in charge. The math is against them. There are, by definition, comparatively few rich people, and many middle- and lower-class people. In a two-party system where one party represents the interests of the rich and the other party is meant to represent the interests of everyone else, logic says that the rich people party should lose most of the time, based on sheer numbers. The political power of plutocrats should be arbitraged out of existence as parties seek a larger base.
Instead, though, Republicans control the White House and the courts, most state legislatures and half of Congress, business lobbying is a billion-dollar industry, and all the teachers are still waiting for the day when the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber. Why?
Yes, our electoral system is in substantial ways anti-democratic, and the influence of money in politics is pernicious, and Republicans suppress the vote in earnest. But those things have been true forever. They are a given. The job of capitalizing on the enormous demographic disadvantage that the upper class faces in the class war falls to the Democratic party. The Democratic party, however, has never had any interest in really capitalizing on it.
Now, Bernie Sanders is threatening to make the class war reality by winning the Democratic presidential nomination. His biggest obstacle is not the Republican candidate – a rich, evil cartoon man who is a perfect foil for Bernie’s analysis of what plagues us – but the Democratic establishment. In their eyes, he is an existential threat to their traditional approach of determining their stance on moral issues by finding a point halfway between “What’s right” and “What the Koch brothers are advocating via attack ads.”
You can sense their panic, rising like tree sap. As time grows shorter and the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire trend in Bernie’s favor, the Third Way-style Democrats voice increasingly desperate warnings that a party that lost to Trump may be about to make a mistake. The Wall Street set throws more money at Joe Biden; the famous columnists who backed the Iraq war sound the alarm about unelectability; the candidate who lost to a reality television clown joins in the doomsaying. A Hollywood casting agency specializing in budget comedies could not assemble a less credible group of opponents. One of Bernie Sanders’ greatest advantages in the race is that many of the most unlikable hypocrites in America despise him.
It is amusing to recall that one of the go-to criticisms of Bernie, by the Clinton wing of the Democratic party, is that he is not even a Democrat. Indeed, he spent decades in Congress as an independent. The fact that he obtained power outside of the confines of the party machine enrages those who sacrificed their own idealism to play the game – his rise to the presidency would imply that they all sold out for nothing.
But what has the Democratic party ever offered him and his vision? It is a party that did its very best to institutionally elbow him out of the 2016 race; when he returned in 2020, an entire basketball team’s worth of Democrats arose to run on platforms that were explicit rejections of his wild socialist beliefs like “humans should have healthcare and education”. The vast majority of the Democratic power structure has focused far more political capital on deriding, dismissing and smearing Medicare for All than it ever did on trying to ensure that poor people do not die because they are poor. Solving the profound American crisis of inequality that has been building for 40 years – a crisis allowed to grow uninterrupted thanks to the strategy of triangulation and appeasement that marked the Clinton and Obama administrations – is, for them, barely an afterthought.
Fortunately, the Democratic party is no longer going to be defined by its establishment powers. It is going to be defined by the people who are inspired to come out to vote. For the past four years, it has been clear that Sanders and Trump each represent a direct response to the severe (and warranted) disillusionment of average Americans, who have seen the American dream of economic mobility die during their lifetimes.
Trump represents the dark path of racism, nationalism and division; Bernie represents the other path, of socialism, multiculturalism and solidarity. The Democratic establishment, left over from a political era they don’t know has already disappeared, imagines that a Biden or a Bloomberg or a Buttigieg might be able to keep the whole structure from falling apart. But they’re wrong. America has already started down a path away from what got us here. The only question is which path that will be.
Any sane and moral political party should want to do everything possible to make Sanders’ vision become a reality. The alternative is not a fresh flowering of centrism. It is something much, much worse.
Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd
Hamilton Nolan is a writer based in New York City