Bernie Sanders Has Already Won
The Overton Window and the Populist Left
Bernie Sanders was cheated in 2016. I don’t mean to suggest that I know he would have won the nomination if not for cheating, but there is no doubt that he was cheated. The DNC has practically admitted that it purposely shut Sanders out. Superdelegates — unelected party insiders — flat out ignored voters in supporting Clinton, even in states that overwhelmingly supported Sanders. For example, in Washington and Colorado, where Sanders won the primary by a substantial margin, he received the support of ZERO superdelegates. In fact Sanders won at least 45% of the popular vote in the primaries, but only received about 7% of the superdelegates. Then there was the resignation of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who was forced to resign amid allegations of bias in the primary. And her successor, Donna Brazile, actually leaked debate questions to Clinton. Not to mention the secret “deal” Clinton made with the DNC to finance the DNC in exchange for almost total party control.
Additionally, there were numerous disturbing allegations of election fraud, voter suppression, and other “irregularities” in state primaries. Such as the purging of 125,000 Democrats from the voting rolls in Sanders’ hometown of Brooklyn just before the primary. Or the thousands of voters whose party affiliation was mysteriously switched. Or the massive and unprecedented disparity between exit polls and election results in numerous contests. Or the decision in several states to close a majority of polling places, causing huge lines and ridiculously long waits in order for people to vote. Or the numerous instances of polling places running out of ballots. Or allegations that auditors improperly changed individual votes to cover up discrepancies.
But even absent actual cheating, the primary system itself is flawed, and fails to reflect the will of the actual voters. In numerous states, including New York, Maryland and Pennsylvania, closed primaries prohibited independent voters from voting. Since approximately 45% of voters in the U.S. are declared ‘independents,’ and Bernie Sanders does far and away better with independents than Mrs. Clinton, her victories in those closed primary states were, at the very least, misleading. There were literally millions of voters that were not able to voice their opinion due to these closed contests. And in the caucus states, which Sanders won overwhelmingly, there is no actual count of the number of votes cast, which makes Clinton’s declared margin of victory less than accurate, as well.
Alas, Clinton “won” the Democratic primary in 2016. And somehow, one of the most “qualified” and well-known candidates in history, lost the general election to one of the most unqualified and least-favorable candidates in history. Why? Because she was a terrible candidate. Because she is a relic of the past. Clinton is a “New Democrat,” a founding member of the Third Way democrats that have gradually taken over the establishment in the past 3 decades. These Democrats are nothing more than 1980’s Republicans, rebranded as the opposition to the New Republicans, which are more akin to 1930’s fascist European parties than to the Eisenhower moderates of the 1950’s. Today’s Democratic party is corrupt in the same way that the Republican party is — they take massive amounts of money from the super-rich and powerful, and return political favors to benefit those super-wealthy donors. Just like the Republicans. In fact, there is practically no difference in the donor lists for the two major parties. And their policies are likewise practically identical, benefiting a handful of wealthy elites, and screwing the middle and working class.
There is a concept in political science known as the “Overton Window.” It is a theoretical range of ideas tolerated in public discourse. Essentially, it is a bracket of views and policy proposals that are deemed mainstream, and within which politicians are able to offer promises without fear of being labeled an extremist. Ideally, the political spectrum represents ideas that are considered communist on the extreme left to fascist on the extreme right. In America’s heyday, the Overton Window was centered on the center line between these two extremes. Thus, strong Democrats like Franklin D. Roosevelt, could push policies that were substantially left-leaning, very close to “socialism,” and they were some of the most popular programs in American history. And “right-leaning” presidents, like Eisenhower, were comfortable very near the center of that spectrum, and well within the Overton Window.
However, since the 1970’s, our politicians have been edging that Overton Window to the right, little by little. By 2016, the Overton Window had shifted so far to the right, that even moderately liberal policies began to look “extreme.” It is why George W. Bush was able to push ideas that were bordering on fascism — such as the Patriot Act, domestic spying, and unauthorized wars of aggression — without much political pressure. And why Barrack Obama, who ran as a “progressive” voice of hope and change, still managed to pursue policies that would have been right-wing just 30 years ago — such as additional regime-change wars, unprecedented extrajudicial killings with Predator Drones, and bank and Wall Street bailouts with tax-payer money. The Overton Window of 2016 made traditional liberal values seem more like communist propaganda.
But Bernie Sanders came along in 2015, with his first bid for the presidency. Sanders had no delusions that he would actually win. Very few people outside of his home state of Vermont knew who the bombastic Senator was. The few times he appeared on national newsfeeds, he was referred to comically as the “socialist” Senator from Vermont. But he surprised himself, and a lot of other people too — mostly establishment Democrats — when he began pulling huge crowds of cheering supporters. And even more so when he caused the closest Iowa primary race in history, and when actually won the New Hampshire primary. Sanders’ rise in popularity in such a short time was truly exceptional. He went from an 80 point deficit in the fall of 2015 to being nearly tied with Clinton in national polls by spring. Sanders was able to build a truly miraculous movement against all odds, with the Democratic party openly hostile to him, and the major media outlets practically ignoring his entire campaign. And perhaps most impressively, Sanders managed to fund his campaign almost entirely with small, private donations from individual citizens, refusing to take any money from large corporate donors or Super PACs. He received a record-breaking 6 million individual contributions, averaging just $27.00 each.
Sanders has energized a huge portion of the American electorate that was previously absent from the political process. Young people and independents turn out in droves to listen to Sanders, and he enjoys a huge advantage in these demographics. His rallies draw crowds of thousands, selling out large arenas around the country. And he is responsible for enlivening debate on the frank inequality that pervades in our political and economic systems.
The fact that support is so strong for Sanders signifies a discontent with the status quo. Sanders is not exactly a “marquee” candidate, if you know what I mean. He IS a nice guy and has generally high favorability ratings, especially when considering traits such as honesty and trustworthiness. But it is his message that reverberates so loudly with a substantial segment of the populace. Working people, struggling college students, or recent graduates who are being suffocated by student loan debt, millennials who are struggling in a market with flat wages and lack of job growth, and progressive liberals who are disconcerted with the system, all rally behind Sanders because his message means something to them. And the more people that actually hear his message, the more people agree that it is time to change the way we conduct ourselves in this democracy.
Bernie’s message is really quite simple — let’s get money out of politics, so that the rich and powerful aren’t the only ones with a voice in our government; let’s provide a basic level of support to ALL Americans, including healthcare and education, which should both be considered universal human rights; let’s require the wealthiest Americans and huge corporations to pay their fair share of taxes; and let’s re-invigorate the middle class, and make our economy work for everyone, not just the top 1%. These are not revolutionary ideas — in fact they were classic American ideals during America’s most prosperous era between 1940 and 1970. These ideals were cast aside in the 1980’s, and the effects have been a disappearing middle class, unprecedented wealth inequality, and a government that no longer works for the majority of Americans. While these ideas are not revolutionary, it is going to take a revolution to re-instill them into our society, since the wealthy elites are so invested in the current failing system that they will do whatever it takes to resist going back to a time when all Americans were beneficiaries of that great “American Dream.”
The establishment Democrats represent a gradualist approach to change. They still exist and function within the narrow field of the right-leaning Overton Window. While they may give lip service to the progressive liberal values of our nation’s greatest modern leaders, they too are infected by the interests that promote the current system. They too are betrothed to the wealthy elites, funding their campaigns with Wall Street donations, and thus being careful not to bite the hand that feeds them. They too are compelled to military action around the globe in order to protect the interests of a handful of rich and powerful donors, at the expense of working class people. They too are embroiled in the military-industrial complex, the mass incarceration culture, and the almost criminally overpriced pharmaceutical and healthcare syndicate, all of which profits the rich but impoverishes everyone else. The tiny, incremental steps that these establishment politicians promise do nothing but perpetuate the inequality and unfairness of the current system.
But something dramatic is happening in this country. While just two years ago these establishment politicians would have us believe that equality, fairness, economic opportunity, and fundamental human rights are just a fantasy, the current list of presidential hopefuls are singing a new song. While Clinton and her Democratic party called single-payer, universal healthcare a pipe dream; and tuition-free public universities “pie in the sky”; and providing economic opportunity and a living wage to all hard-working Americans idealistic and unrealistic — these exact same policies are now on the lips, and indeed the platforms, of most of the Democratic contenders for 2020. Amazingly, in just two short years, the party that laughed at Medicare for All, calling it a “pony,” is now supporting several candidates that claim to support just such a radical program.
Bernie Sanders did this. Bernie Sanders has shown us that all these things can be accomplished. He has shown us that by raising the standard of living of America’s poor and working class that our country can be better for ALL Americans. He has brought to light the simple fact that fairness and equality will benefit both beneficiary and benefactor alike. And he has reminded us that these ideas are not some new, unrealistic fantasy, but that they used to be core American values that made the country — at one time — the envy of the entire world. He continues to highlight the fact that the policies of the past 30 years have completely failed MOST Americans, causing the poor to get poorer, the middle class to practically disappear, and the rich to become a smaller and smaller club of elites.
No other candidate was talking about these things in 2016. But in the 2018 mid-term elections, we saw rising stars such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar win historic Congressional victories. The Progressive Caucus in Congress has grown bigger and more powerful, and Bernie Sanders’ own organization, Our Revolution — led by voracious Bernie supporter and Ohio State Senator Nina Turner — has been running candidates in elections big and small across the country. The Progressive movement has taken hold, reinvigorated electoral politics, and brought youth and enthusiasm to the polls, thereby shoving the Overton Window leftward by a significant margin.
However, without Bernie Sanders, and the revolution that he brought with him, progressive issues would likely be buried back down in the sands of history, and the status quo would once again be touted as the American Dream. Bernie Sanders has remained active and outspoken and continues to spread his message, and continues to inspire millions to demand a new New Deal. His efforts are forcing the Democratic Party to re-adopt the progressive views of its past, and to realign with the values of liberals. So whether or not Bernie Sanders throws his hat back in the ring in 2020 — something myself and countless other progressives sincerely hope he will do — he has already won a decisive victory in America. Bernie Sanders, with the help and support of grassroots activists and progressive leaders across the country, has managed to undo decades of rightward shift of America’s Overton Window. If Bernie Sanders runs in 2020, he will win. But even if he doesn’t, we have real, progressive alternatives that are running exactly because Bernie Sanders showed the way. So either way, Bernie will win in 2020, because his ideas, and his movement, have made today’s progressive values possible. #RunBernieRun #Bernie2020