Though Senator Bernie Sanders is no longer in the Presidential race, a close look at his core political agendas reveals their remarkable prescience and prudence at a time when the United States is in the grip of multiple crises.
When Rev. Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader, announced his endorsement for Senator Bernie Sanders in 2020, it brought back memories of the year 1988, when Jesse Jackson ran for President and he was endorsed by Bernie Sanders, who was then mayor of the city of Burlington in Vermont. But Sanders made sure to clarify that the endorsement did not mean he was aligning himself with the Democrats. “Jesse believes that serious social change is possible within the Democratic Party,” Sanders said at the time. “I don’t.”
Bernie Sanders, the “democratic socialist” and eternal interloper in American politics, spent most of his public life denouncing the Democrats and calling the Washington duopoly a sham. When he suspended his Presidential campaign in April 2020, it was widely said that one of the reasons he failed was because of his refusal to be formally identified as a Democrat. This enormously damaged his prospects among voters who were attached to the Democratic Party. In truth, Sanders didn’t even have the support of many Democratic Party insiders who were sceptical of him and his brand of revolutionary politics.
But as the United States finds itself in the throes of a burgeoning crisis – public health, economic, and social – a close look at Bernie Sanders’ core political beliefs reveals their remarkable prescience and prudence, particularly in the current context.
Watch: Bernie Sanders in conversation with The Vox
Bernie Sanders famously proposed universal health coverage – “Medicare for All” – which meant that all Americans would receive government-run health insurance. The economic fallout of COVID-19 is causing people to lose their jobs and their health insurance at a time when they need it most. If every person had insurance coverage, this wouldn’t be happening; nor would the federal government have to provide billions of dollars in emergency aid to state health programmes and hospitals. Furthermore, Sanders’ proposal for all workers to get paid sick leave would have let those infected with the virus quarantine themselves earlier, instead of being forced to go to work and infect others.
That many Americans have begun appreciating the significance of Medicare for All is proven by the fact that exit polls in each primary showed the majority of Democratic voters favouring Medicare for All, regardless of whether Sanders lost or won.
During his former Presidential run in 2015, a Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle was interrupted and heckled by Black Lives Matter activists who were unhappy with his campaign for paying scant attention to issues of race and criminal justice. Sanders was slammed for viewing African-American issues through the prism of class and regarding racial inequality as a symptom of the larger malaise of economic inequality. But soon after, he appointed black rights activist Symone Sanders as his national press secretary and made a conscious decision to visit parts of the country known for their stark racial divide.
More recently, Sanders spoke of policing reform and though reluctant to back the idea of reparations for descendants of African slaves, he supported the setting up of a commission to study the issue. In February 2020, Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors endorsed Bernie Sanders, acknowledging him as a progressive, unlike Joe Biden who she felt had an “old guard mentality”. Sanders also criticized Trump’s pugilistic response to the George Floyd protests, even as he drew a parallel between the swelling unrest in the country and the historic Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989.
Watch: Bernie Sanders slams authoritarian Trump
For all his preoccupation with economic inequality, Bernie Sanders’ overall policy beliefs had the strength and capability to steer the United States in a more progressive and compassionate direction for people of every race and colour. It is worth remembering that for his 2020 campaign, Bernie Sanders received $181 million in donations, more than half of which consisted of contributions of less than $200. Joe Biden, on the other hand, raised $88 million, most of which came from larger donations.
Bernie Sanders’ set of foreign policy ideas was largely shaped by his anti-war stance, determination to end the United States’ dependence on military interventionism, and strident opposition to the Washington belief in American military hegemony ensuring security and prosperity. In his op-ed for Foreign Affairs written in June 2019, Sanders elaborated his foreign policy ideas, underlining the need to re-orient the existing foreign policy. As part of it, Sanders advocated withdrawing from Afghanistan, and urged restraint with regard to Iran so as to avoid a direct conflict. Bernie Sanders has also been critical of U.S. military support to the Saudi-led war in Yemen (he sponsored the vote to withdraw U.S. military aid for the war on Yemen in December 2018) and expressed his concerns over competitors such as Russia and China taking advantage of the United States’ endless wars to expand their political and economic influence.
Bernie Sanders is no isolationist though. He merely advocated diplomacy over military force – which he believed shouldn’t be the default option – and cooperation over unilateralism. But his two most extraordinary foreign policy ideas were his desire to exercise U.S. leadership by spearheading the effort to combat common problems like climate change, poverty, and authoritarianism, as well as by utilizing America’s great tools of wealth and technology to forge a better future for all nations.
Other Intelligent Ideas
Bernie Sanders proposed to combat climate change and spur economic growth through a “Green New Deal” that would generate millions of American jobs through creation of green infrastructure and energy (a similar plan has just been unveiled by Joe Biden).
Sanders also advocated free college education, conducting background checks on gun ownership, and raising taxes for America’s wealthiest people.
Shapeless, Aimless, Useless
Unfortunately, Bernie Sanders is out of the Presidential race and Donald Trump isn’t. And we must witness a desultory campaign defined by Trump’s nonsense, instead of Sanders’ sense. Trump has constantly been downplaying the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, recently threatening to slash funding if schools do not fully reopen. This week, the White House targeted US top infectious disease specialist Dr. Anthony Fauci, sharing a list of alleged erroneous comments made by him in the past. Last week, Trump commuted the prison sentence of his friend Roger Stone who was convicted of crimes that included perjury. And all this plain vanilla tomfoolery has been laced with spasmodic Twitter rants against Joe Biden, China, and anti-racism protestors.
Like other authoritarian strongmen around the world, Trump’s predilection for culture wars isn’t surprising. But what is worrying for the people of the United States – and pretty much for Trump himself – is his utterly amorphous agenda with regard to key issues facing the country, namely, economy, jobs, and healthcare. Precisely the issues Sanders had plans in place for tackling.
“…You Are Not Free.”
In June 2019, Bernie Sanders visited George Washington University in Washington DC, where he interacted with the audience, candidly elaborating on his ideas of democratic socialism. Comparing the current political climate to the post-Depression decade of 1930s when hypernationalism, authoritarianism, and xenophobia were globally on the rise, he spoke of how – in response to the era’s twin economic and social crises – the people of America eschewed the divisive ideology of Hitler and Mussolini and chose instead, the visionary leadership of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Sanders presented himself as the heir to President Roosevelt’s progressive legacy, who could help galvanize opposition to the dark forces of oligarchy and authoritarianism not only in the United States, but everywhere in the world.
Sanders also dwelt on the concept of freedom, rhetorically asking the audience what it meant to be free.
“Are you truly free if you are unable to go to a doctor when you are sick, or face financial bankruptcy when you leave the hospital? Are you truly free if you cannot afford the prescription drug you need to stay alive? To me, the answer to those questions, in the wealthiest nation on earth, is no, you are not free.”Bernie Sanders
Though the people of the United States have already lost 2020’s great opportunity of tasting such freedom, Joe Biden – if elected to power – would do well to bring in at least a modicum of Sanders’ political revolution to counter the “tyranny of oligarchs, multinational corporations, Wall Street banks and billionaires”.