"Sanders is much more pragmatic and less ideological than his opponents would like to admit."
While Sen. Bernie Sanders is now being declared the new Democratic frontrunner
following his victories in both Iowa last week and in New Hampshire on Tuesday, progressives are reaching out to voters
that remain skeptical of the self-described democratic socialist who preaches "political revolution" and whose
multi-racial, working-class movement is upending what many thought was electorally possible in the United States.
In an op-ed published
at MarketWatch on Tuesday, Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), explained to readers that
despite how often Sanders is painted by the corporate media as a "scary" socialist who can't possibly win a general
election, his politics are in fact quite pragmatic when it comes to addressing the very real needs of everyday people.
"In short," he wrote, "Sanders is much more pragmatic and less ideological than his opponents would like to admit."
According to Weisbrot:
Sanders' program is targeted at correcting a very harmful transformation of the U.S. economy that has taken place over
the past 40 years.
Unlike the first three decades after World War II, when income gains were broadly shared as the economy grew, most of
the increase in income has gone to those who already had much more than their share. Since 1993, for example, the top 1%
of families captured an astounding 48% of the growth in this country's income.
No wonder so many Americans feel like the system is rigged against them.
For many voters, however, especially those who gain their political insights from cable news in the evenings—The Week's Ryan Cooper says it's understandable why they remain unsure of Sanders' viability even as his campaign's message is
so appealing to those exposed to it. As polling continues to show, Americans across the political spectrum widely
support universal healthcare, a higher minimum wage, cancellation of college and medical debt, and the call for urgent
action to address the climate crisis.
"It can be hard to see this," Cooper wrote
in a column published Wednesday morning, "if you watch too much of the hysterically anti-Sanders coverage on
supposedly-liberal MSNBC—Chris Matthews recently spoke of his fear that Sanders is a secret communist who might execute him in Central Park
—but the fact is most rank-and-file Democrats like Sanders just fine. Indeed, the Morning Consult poll found that his
favorability rating among that group is 74 percent
—the highest of any of the candidates, even better than Biden."
Put in a historical context, Cooper argues that Sanders' brand of politics and his economic vision is not unique in the
American tradition—it just hasn't been seen in over four decades, back before the Reagan revolution that decimated the
nation's working class and ushered in an era of corporate dominance of both major parties alongside soaring economic
inequality, steady wage stagnation, and an erosion of working-class power.
Like Weisbrot, Cooper says Sanders is not "some loopy extremist," but rather a pragmatic policymaker who has
successfully navigated government office at the local, state, and federal level for decades while remaining true to his
"While he has always held uncompromising egalitarian views," Cooper argues, Sanders "is a savvy legislative tactician
who has negotiated dozens of compromises
through Congress over the years, from community health center funding
in ObamaCare to a bipartisan bill
to end support for the Saudi war in Yemen. Sanders has been widely covered by the media since 2016, and most Democrats
plainly like what he is saying."
And as Weisbrot wrote:
He has a 40-year track record as a politician. The things he is saying now are mostly what he has shouted from the
mountain tops for pretty much the whole time. The main difference is that now, other Democratic politicians have joined
him: on a $15 minimum wage, student-debt relief, free tuition at public universities, expanding Social Security,
reducing income inequality, and some even on Medicare for All.
His actions speak even more consistently than his words: he understands that politics is about compromise. He fights
hard for what he has promised to voters, but then takes the best deal he can win if it will advance the ball down the
field, and prepares to fight again the next day.
That's why he supported Obamacare when it was the best deal on the table—expanding insurance coverage to 20 million Americans,
without the life-threatening exclusions for "pre-existing conditions." This despite the fact that Obamacare was still
quite a distance from Medicare for All—"health care as a human right"—that had been his passion and signature issue for
Of course, even as Sanders is positioned nicely in the primaries and continues to poll well in hypothetical head-to-head
contests with Trump, there's no guarantee he will win in November. According to Cooper:
A Sanders nomination would be a risk to be sure, but so would nominating anybody else. Trump really might win no matter
who is nominated. Biden has tons of baggage and is plainly terrible at campaigning. Mike Bloomberg has even more baggage
. Buttigieg has no experience. Klobuchar is infamous for abusing her staff
. And even while both the corporate media and the right-wing agitprop machine attack Sanders as a deranged socialist, he
still polls well ahead
of Trump in general election match-ups — within 1 point
of Biden and ahead of everyone else. And let's not forget that in the most recent election, the moderate candidate lost
to the biggest buffoon in the history of presidential politics.
That inherent risk aside, Cooper judges that the energized movement Sanders is building is the most powerful weapon to
march into the general election battle against Trump. "In a crisis, gritty determination and commitment are surely more
useful than timid hesitation," wrote Cooper.
"Who knows what dirty tricks the Trump campaign might try, or how inscrutable swing voters might react?" concluded
Cooper. "Best to just go with a clearly good candidate and gear up for an all-out general election effort."
On Tuesday, just ahead of the victory in New Hampshire, Sanders' national press secretary Briahna Joy Gray put out a new
video explaining why the campaign's vision for a "big tent" coalition in this year's election is not about sacrificing
shared values in order to accomodate the "lowest common denominator," but is instead focused on bringing a coalition
together by "backing policies that are so helpful to such huge numbers of struggling people that folks from across the
political divide see their differences as less important than the values which unite us."
The ethos of the campaign, concluded Gray, is "about understanding how many of our needs are overlapping, and using
those commonalities as the basis of a movement that can be powerful enough to defeat the strongest enemy."
Political correspondent John Nichols, in his latest campaign trail dispatch for The Nation, wrote
Wednesday morning that with victories in Iowa and New Hampshire under their belt, the Sanders campaign must now "go
beyond 'Bernie Beats Trump' sloganeering and deliver a comprehensive and convincing argument that the senator is the
most electable contender." According to Nichols, the campaign and its supporters are quite capable of delivering on that
challenge. He writes:
Instead of building his campaign around appeals to a dwindling universe of "swing" voters, Sanders is talking about
building the electorate out to include new voters—many of them young, many of them from low-income and historically
disenfranchised communities. In Iowa and New Hampshire, he has been successful in attracting young voters. He also had
notable success mobilizing Latino voters and diverse immigrant communities in Iowa. In the upcoming Nevada caucuses and
the South Carolina primary, he’ll have to keep proving himself.
Actor and author John Cusack, who campaigned for Sanders in New Hampshire, argues that the candidate and his supporters
must now amplify the message that his ideas represent the new mainstream. "The 'center' has moved to Bernie on policy,"
says Cusack, who notes that all the candidates are discussing ideas that were popularized by Sanders in 2016.
That doesn't involve abandoning positions or principles, as presidential contenders frequently do when they gain
traction. Rather, Sanders must define his campaign as a new center where Democrats, independents, and millions of new
voters have a place—in much the way that Franklin Delano Roosevelt did as he crafted a sprawling "New Deal Coalition"
that reached across what had been lines of division to welcome the great mass of Americans who wanted a new politics.
Despite the familiar consternation and hand-wringing by corporate media pundits
, Nichols points out that "while almost half of voters [in exit polls] said Sanders was 'too liberal,' overwhelming
majorities of those same voters embraced the issues most closely identified with his campaign." What can't be denied,
according to Nichols, is that Sanders is looking extremely good coming out of the Granite State and looking forward to
Nevada, South Carolina, and Super Tuesday in the coming weeks:
With the corporate media not likely to do Sanders any favors, opined Nichols, the campaign is going to have to do most
of that messaging to voters itself. "Clearly, Sanders can make a credible argument for himself as an electable
candidate," added Nichols. "But he will have to sharpen that message going forward."
While the challenge of winning over increasing numbers of voters is the essence of any campaign, it was David Plouffe,
former chief strategist for former President Barack Obama, who made it clear during comments on MSNBC following the New Hampshire results Tuesday night that out of all the 2020 Democrats still in the running, "you'd still
rather be Bernie Sanders than anybody else."
Oringinally published on Common Dreams
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