A New Republic article by Jeet Heer nicely captures my thinking about the Bernie Sanders phenomenon while at the same time reflecting the concerns that I and some commenters have been expressing in my last couple of posts. The title sums up Heer’s thesis: “Bernie Can Still Be The Future Of The Democratic Party—If He Plays His Cards Right.” Heer doesn’t mean Sanders personally can still be the future of the party (Sanders is 74, after all) but that Sanders can decisively help shape the party’s future course.
Observing the long odds against Sanders winning the nomination, Heer poses the choice for Sanders, who:
…has to decide when he will make the pivot from an aggressive outsider who’s trying to take down the frontrunner to a loyal party member who will support the winner.
If Sanders stays negative as his chances of winning dwindle, he’ll burn bridges and be shut out of the party. By further damaging Clinton ahead of the general election, he runs the risk of being seen as a Ralph Nader–like spoiler.”
But if Sanders avoids this temptation, he has a good chance of building on what he has accomplished with his candidacy:
He has proven there is a large space to the left of Clinton in the Democratic Party….The Sanders campaign should be seen not as a failed gambit but as a road map to the future of the Democratic Party. If a candidate can combine Sanders’s economic populism with the ability to articulate that message in the South, then the future will belong [to] Sanders, and Clinton’s triumph will be seen as the last gasp of the centrism that dominated the party in the long aftermath of Reaganism.”
I hope Heer is right. Real change in the Democratic Party will require continued mobilization of the forces, especially youth, that have powered Sanders’ candidacy. I ‘m less confident than Heer. It’s just too easy to see the excitement of the presidential campaign dissipate after November 2016. That’s why I’ll be glad to see Sanders keep going for another while, but with a view that extends well beyond the Democrats’ July convention.
A note on usage
Grammatical purists may have noted that I render the possessive form of Bernie’s last name as Sanders’ rather than the perhaps more technically accurate Sanders’s. I generally try to write the way I talk, and my mouth rebels against saying Sanderziz. So, it’s Sanderz and Sanders’.