It’s four years on – but in some ways nothing much has changed. Bernie Sanders is running to become the Democratic candidate in the US 2020 Presidential election and just like I did in 2016, I feel the Bern and think that he’s the best person for the job. Here’s why…
Primary elections 101
Before we get into that, let’s outline the basics. The US holds Presidential elections every four years, and Presidents are limited to two four-year terms in office. As head of the executive branch of government, the President has broad powers over everything from defense to foreign policy but they don’t have the ability to make laws – that falls to Congress, the legislative branch.
In theory, anyone who was born in the US and is over the age of 35 can become President. But the country’s two main parties – the Democrats and the Republicans – have a virtual duopoly on the US’ political system and it is these two parties who put up the main candidates for the election. According to the White House, the last President who wasn’t affiliated with either party was Millard Fillmore who governed between 1850 and 1853, showing the strength of their grip on the system.
The main two parties choose their candidates by holding primary and caucus votes in each state. These votes ask party members (although in some states these votes are open to all) to choose their favourite candidate, with each state being allotted a certain number of points based on its population. These points are then divvied up between the most popular candidates, and then the winner is then appointed as the party’s nominee at a national convention.
Who is Bernie Sanders?
And this brings us to Bernie. Born in 1941 in Brooklyn, New York, Bernie Sanders is a self-described ‘democratic socialist’ and US Senator for Vermont. Bernie is not a member of the Democratic Party but he does caucus with the Democrats (basically he tends to vote as they do) in the Senate and in recent years he’s become more involved with Democratic leadership in this chamber.
As he is affiliated with the Democrats, Bernie decided to run against Hillary Clinton in the party’s primaries to become their nominee for the 2016 US Presidential Election. Clinton – a former First Lady and Secretary of State – had far higher name recognition than Bernie, and he initially fell far behind her in the polling, but he managed to close a 30 point gap and gave Hillary a run for her money. Clinton did win the primaries, but she went on to lose to Republican Donald Trump.
Bernie has decided to run again in 2020. Other candidates include former US Vice President Joe Biden, US Senator for Massachusetts and liberal firebrand Elizabeth Warren, US Senator for Minnesota Amy Klobuchar as well as rising star mayor Pete Buttigieg. Some candidates have started to drop out, and it appears that three are now leading the race – Biden with 27% support, Sanders with 19% support and Warren with 16% support. So why am I backing Bernie?
Socialism vs. capitalism?
I have similar values to Sanders and like him, I would call myself a democratic socialist. This is a political philosophy which advocates for a political democracy running alongside a socially owned economy. The word ‘socialist’ is a loaded term in US politics, and often conjures images of Stalinist purges and Maoist revolutions as it is typically associated with communism. This is a form of socialism which stands against the political philosophy which has come to define America – capitalism.
But many believe that democratic socialism isn’t incompatible with capitalism, and more Americans are coming to hold similar views and see socialism more favourably. A poll conducted this year shows that 42% of Americans now have a positive view of socialism and 38% of likely Democratic voters now have a positive view of both socialism and capitalism. Also, self-described democratic socialists performed pretty well in the most recent elections (held in 2018). In other words, the US seems to be more prepared to elect a democratic socialist than they would have been ten years ago.
Will of the people
When we look at the issues, we also see that many Americans actually agree with Bernie Sanders and his democratic socialist outlook. Let’s consider ‘Medicare for All’, a policy championed by Bernie which would basically nationalise the US’ healthcare system. This is a contentious issue in US politics, as many in the country believe that healthcare should be free like it is in other Western nations, but others believe that this system wouldn’t be as effective as the current one. According to recent polls, 70% of Americans support the ‘Medicare for All’ proposal with 42% strongly supporting it.
A large swathe of the US public agree with Bernie on the issues – especially on his signature issue of wealth inequality. Bernie argues that currently, wealth in the US is concentrated in the hands of the ultra-wealthy (recently he noted that 49% of all new income goes to the top 1% of society). He has proposals to deal with this issue, such as his ‘wealth tax’ which would cut the wealth of US millionaires and billionaires in half in 15 years and generate an estimated US$4.35 trillion in taxes over a decade. A staggering 76% of voters think that the wealthiest Americans should pay more in taxes and 61% support a similar wealth tax proposed by Elizabeth Warren earlier this year.
A politician to rely on
Bernie Sanders is not only a politician who embodies the will of the people, but one whom they can trust to carry it out as he has stood by his principles time and time again. Back in 1996 when he was a Congressman, Bernie bucked popular sentiment and voted against the Defence of Marriage Act which sought to ban same-sex marriage at the Federal level, and he has maintained consistent support for same-sex marriage to this day. In contrast Biden, who was a Senator at the time, voted for the Defence of Marriage Act and didn’t come out in support of same-sex marriage until 2012.
Don’t get me wrong – I support a politician’s right to change their mind on a particular issue. If we excluded everyone who once held a different opinion, we’d never get anything done. But Bernie has stood on the right side of history on this issue – as well as many others – from the beginning, and I think this speaks to his integrity. Integrity is something I think we should value in any world leader.
Question of electability
There’s another argument that I’d like to debunk – the one that says yes, Bernie would be great for the job, but the American people would never elect him. This concept of electability is an elusive one and means many things, depending on circumstances. To be honest, electability means one thing to Democrats in 2020. Can our candidate beat Donald Trump, a President many democrats despise for his controversial stances on everything from immigration to trade and race relations.
There are those that argue that because Bernie Sanders is a democratic socialist, he’s unelectable. This is mainly due to the negative perceptions of socialism traditionally held in the US. There is some merit to this argument – according to The Guardian – a poll showed only 24% of Americans would vote for a socialist. But what people mean by ‘socialist’ is open to interpretation and many would argue that as a democratic socialist, Bernie is different from the stereotypical image of the socialist.
We can also look at the cold hard data to show that Bernie Sanders is electable. Poll averages gathered by Real Clear Politics show that all three of the main Democratic candidates would beat Trump in a head-to-head match-up. Biden by 4.5%, Warren by 0.2% and Sanders by 2.6%.
Feel the Bern
The question of who would win and make a good President is an open one. I have argued for Bernie but I recognise that you could make the argument for the other candidates. I also understand that it’s hard to predict the future, and Bernie may not be what he’s cracked up to be.
I can only go with my gut, and like his slogan says I really do “feel the Bern”. Bernie Sanders is a politician who I believe has the best will of his people at heart, would govern in a way that benefits his people and has a realistic chance of winning the election. Whether I’m right – and whether Bernie even gets the chance to govern – well only time will tell on that front.