Issue 7, Volume 17
For decades, Bernie Sanders has stood at the forefront of the Progressive movement in the United States. The man marched with Martin Luther King Junior, to give you an idea of how long he’s been aboard this boat. Last week, he suspended his campaign for President, effectively ceding the Democratic nomination to Joe Biden. There is no doubt that 2020 was his last hurrah.
In 2016 I watched, aghast, as the Democratic nomination was wrested away from Bernie through a series of internal Party machinations. To be fair, Hillary might have beaten him fair and square, but we’ll never know for sure, because the process wasn’t run fairly. Still, when it came time, I swallowed my anger and pulled the lever for Hillary, knowing the alternative. We all know how that turned out.
I had high hopes for this campaign, despite the fact Bernie wasn’t getting any younger. So, what went wrong? Well, things were different this time. The super-delegates that Clinton had gleefully raked in in 2015 were no longer allowed to vote on the all-important first Democratic Convention ballot, and so we had a real race on our hands.
From the beginning of the race, former Obama Administration alum Joe Biden was Sanders’ only serious competition. The fact that Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Elizabeth Warren all competed with Biden for the middle-class vote boded well. Sweeping the latter across the early states, by late February, Sanders was the frontrunner to take the nomination. Then came Super Tuesday. The day before this pivotal vote, both Buttigieg and Klobuchar dropped from the race, and endorsed Biden. The result was an electoral massacre.
The death knell of the Sanders Campaign was COVID-19. The Campaign couldn’t, in good conscience, tell people to go vote, as it would endanger their health. Thus, the chance of a massive popular mobilisation, what Sanders counted upon to negate Biden’s institutional advantage, atrophied and died.
Nevertheless, I’d urge my fellow Bernie supporters not to despair. Bernie Sanders will never be the President. However, his ideas will shape the political landscape on the Left long after he is gone. Universal healthcare has become the default position on the Democratic Party – something inconceivable just four years ago. On top of that, a new generation of Progressives has been inspired to enter politics, typified by AOC and The Squad.
This is perhaps cold comfort, as Joe Biden assumes the mantle of Democratic Nominee. Biden comes with a list of liabilities a mile wide. Most glaringly, he has been accused for a long time of touching women in a wholly inappropriate, if not a sexual manner. Even this caveat was removed last month, when former Biden staffer Tara Reade accused him of sexually assaulting her in 1993.
Added to this are rumours that Biden’s cognitive abilities are not what they used to be, prompted by several rambling, incoherent speeches and interviews. Democrats are left wondering whether he has what it takes to beat Trump in November, and end this strange nightmare. Unfortunately, 2020 feels eerily similar to 2016 in that regard. With these ducks lined up, I offer no opinion on whether you ought to vote for the man.
So, why am I submitting this piece to a law school newspaper? Other than being a topic of general interest, I think that despite his eventual loss at the ballot box, Bernie’s struggle to reform the American political system was hugely instructive. For those of us who may be interested in law reform, both here and internationally, the ability to see what a cultural transformation looks like, and how it can be achieved, is invaluable in formulating our own strategies to affect change, either electorally, or through grassroots activism.
That is the true lesson of Bernie’s run, and why none of us should soon forget him.
James Cooper-Smith is a JD student from the USA.