Bernie Sanders, America’s first and only socialist Senator, will launch his campaign for President on Thursday, running for the Democratic nomination, according to Vermont Public Radio.
“Bernie Sanders is an unreconstructed 1930s socialist and proud of it…a master practicioner of class warfare,” Vermont activist John McLaughry told the Guardian.
That’s great news for the left – and for liberals, too. Until today, the Democratic Party’s only candidate for the 2016 elections was Hilllary Clinton, an unrepentant center-right capitalist and hawk for American empire. Even that’s better than any of the maniacs the Republican Party will run against her, but not by much.
Sanders is extremely unlikely to win the Democratic nomination. But his campaign can give a voice to the millions of Americans who want the fight against inequality, climate change, militarism, and the police state to become national priorities – and who favor a more direct challenge than the Democratic center is willing to offer.
This won’t change the way Clinton or her Republican opponents would actually govern. At the most, it will force them to make cosmetic adjustments to their rhetoric and campaign marketing in order to compete with Sanders for votes. But by running a substantive, specific campaign, Sanders can put the other candidates on record on a full range of leftist concerns, throwing their inevitable betrayals in sharp relief. After eight years of faux-radical posturing from Obama and hyperbolic accusations of creeping socialism from Republicans, America needs a reminder of what a substantively leftist alternative would look like.
Sanders is not an ideal candidate. The nomination of a 73-year-old white man over the most likely contender for a woman in the White House in our country’s history would not exactly be a symbolic victory. More importantly, though Sanders identifies as a socialist, much of his voting record places him well within the mainstream of American neoliberalism. He continues to vote for military budgets and support pernicious instances of militarism abroad, and of course, Sanders has called for neither the abolition of private property nor worker’s control of the means of production.
But none of this contradicts the tactical fact that a presidential election with Sanders on the ballot is much better than an election without him. And right now, in the formative weeks of his campaign, donors and supporters can have a disproportionate influence on the shape it will assume. The American left has a brief opportunity, right now, to push our electoral politics in a more positive direction. It won’t last long.
Photo credit: 350.org/Flickr
Carl Beijer is a writer who focuses on the Left, linguistics, and international affairs.