It’s starting to feel like 2008 again. Only, instead of Shepard Ferry’s Hope and Change posters, we have numerous articles, including this one from the Huffington Post, about Bernie Sanders’s rise in the polls and the possibility that he could defeat Hillary Clinton in the primary. He’s closing the gap in New Hampshire and Iowa. Other articles have reported on the massive size of his campaign rallies.
One thing can be said. Sanders has energized his base. The size of his rallies and the money he’s raising offer proof of that. I, too, am excited about Sanders. He’s the only self-identified socialist in the Senate, and when he speaks about economic equality for all, I believe what he says.
That said, I have one big concern. The left in this country tends to get very excited every four years during presidential election cycles. They fell in love with Obama in 2008, and then after the election, the left went silent, other than the Occupy Movement and some other movements here and there, which formed as a response to the left’s disillusionment with the president and the widening economic inequality. Then, in 2012, activists knocked on doors again and helped re-elect Obama. After the election, however, they went away.
Here’s the thing: if Sanders is somehow elected to the White House, he most likely will accomplish less than Obama did in his first term. To his credit, Obama passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Obamacare, and bailed out Detroit, all within his first two years in office, before his party lost the House and nearly lost the Senate in the 2010 mid-term elections. When he was elected in 2008, his party had a super-majority in the House and a majority in the Senate. If Sanders is elected, he will face a divided government. It is highly unlikely the Democrats will win back the House, though retaking the majority in the Senate seems likely. However, the Dem’s Senate majority is likely to be 1-3 seats, and the Senate landscape in the 2018 mid-term elections will favor Republicans, due, in part because Democrats will have more seats to defend. Whatever big proposals Sanders puts forth would most likely die in the House or get filibustered in the Senate.
After Obama was elected in 2008, I hoped there would be a sustainable movement, one that would push him even more to the left. Instead, there was the rise of the Tea Party Movement. Then, after the 2012 election, I held out hope again, and even the Obama campaign tried to make OFA (Organizing for America) into a long-term movement. However, that never happened.
The left needs to learn what the right has known for years. Electoral politics, especially at the national level, are only part of the puzzle. Movements are what create and sustain change. While I am happy that Bernie Sanders has reignited the national debate about income inequality, I have a major concern that the left is once again ready to funnel all of its energy into supporting a candidate, hoping he will create lasting change. If Sanders is to have any real, lasting impact beyond this election cycle, then he needs to encourage his supporters to keep the momentum going well beyond election season. He must encourage movement building.
We’ve seen the left rise up during Occupy and Black Lives Matter, but the tents in Zuccotti Park were swept away by Bloomberg and the NYPD a few months into the movement, and the fate of the Black Lives Matter movement is uncertain, though thus far, it has had more of an impact and has sustained itself far longer than Occupy. There is potential for something bigger. If Sanders can somehow channel the energy of his campaign crowds into something sustainable, then he will achieved something more important than a campaign victory and a seat in the White House. He will have ignited a movement that has been bubbling under the surface in this country for years.