In this week of the very unconventional Democratic national convention, I think of Bernie Sanders. I agree with renowned scholar-activist Noam Chomsky that Bernie did not fail. Instead, in a real sense, he won.
There was more involved in Sanders’ campaign over the past five years than we are used to seeing. Yes, he wanted to be President, but unlike most candidates, he seemed to want just as much to have this country change its direction. The brilliant economist Thomas Piketty argued that Bernie’s objective was nothing less than to save America’s fragile democracy.
The jury is still out on whether he has saved our democracy, so what did he do. Chomsky said, “I think [Sanders’ campaign] was an extraordinary success. It completely shifted the arena of debate and discussion. Issues that were unthinkable a couple of years ago are now right in the middle of attention.”
Sanders inspired a movement, something that Chomsky argues got Sanders in hot water with the establishment. This movement does not appear to be something that pops up every four years in presidential elections. Instead, it is an activist movement that continues to apply pressure.
For one thing, he has transformed the Democratic party. Since he began his campaign five years ago, Bernie Sanders and his supporters have pushed Democrats to take stands to the left of where the party was when Obama left office. By this past spring, all the Democratic candidates for President endorsed either Medicare for All or a robust public option, doubling the minimum wage, much higher taxes on the rich, legislation to facilitate union organizing, and a transition to an economy based on sources of renewable energy.
And by two years ago, the American public held similar views. Pollsters get these kinds of responses when they ask responders about the specific issues, and not whether they are liberal or conservative.
While Bernie might have wanted to be an “FDR,” bringing in his more just deal, that is not going to happen. Sometimes Moses does not get to the promised land.
While Sanders has changed democratic politics for the better, the jury is still out on whether he has led us to save our democracy, which was showing its frailty even before Trump got his inept hands on the steering wheel. However, Bernie was trying to show us the way.
One of the most significant problems in American society is income inequality, which is as extensive and getting worse than inequality in the “gilded age” of the late 19th century.
Thomas Piketty has shown that historically a “rising tide” does not lift all boats economically, and Nobel Laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz described how corrupt policies produce inequality, which “endangers our future.”
Sanders proposed programs to slow this growing inequality. One was a large-scale public investment in education and public universities. Piketty praised such actions, arguing that in the twentieth century, the United States had advanced beyond Europe because of its public investment in education in higher education. But that investment has dwindled in recent decades.
Another proposal pushed by Sanders was for a substantial increase in the minimum wage, an area where the United States had been a world leader, but no more.
On the other hand, if the movements that Sanders inspired do not succeed in getting the country to address its outrageous inequality and its ever-growing authoritarianism, Sanders may have failed in his ultimate goal—the saving of our fragile democracy.