The 2016 elections have been dynamic and unpredictable. On the Democratic side, the primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will likely remain competitive into the spring. On the GOP side, we face a threat to democracy most clearly posed by the candidacy of Donald Trump. The stakes in the election outcome have been dramatically raised.
The campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders is making a unique contribution to defeating the Republican right and has the potential to galvanize long-term transformative change. The campaign is also a movement. Millions are fed up with the same old establishment politics tied to Wall Street and the 1 per cent. It’s reminiscent of the 2008 and 2012 Obama campaigns. Large numbers, particularly youth, are being activated and excited.
Political boundaries are being eclipsed and thinking reshaped. Seeds of change are being sown and foundations are being laid for deeper-going changes in the future. The Sanders campaign is giving hope to millions coping with long-term economic stagnation and vast wealth inequality, poverty and joblessness, student debt, climate crisis and institutionalized racism.
The campaign is expanding the collective political imagination and injecting radical ideas into the body politic. It has legitimized democratic socialism in the national conversation. Sanders is also influencing Hillary Clinton to adopt more progressive positions on a wide range of issues.
But Sanders understands if he is elected his radical economic and social agenda including breaking up the big banks, universal health care, tuition-free university, massive jobs creation, expanding Social Security, and repealing Citizen’s United will go nowhere given the vice grip the GOP and extreme right has on Congress.
The only way to realize a radical agenda is through a “political revolution”. This means drawing millions of people into the political process to overcome the power of Wall Street, obstruction of the GOP, and the neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party.
Sanders sees his campaign as part of a much bigger movement that must be built.
It starts with defeating the GOP at every level: presidency, congress and statehouses. As Sanders said after his victory in New Hampshire, “Whether or not I win the nomination, we all must work together to unite the Democratic Party. We must come together to assure that the right wing does not capture the White House.”
A decisive victory can open the door to passing progressive legislation, changing the direction of the U.S. Supreme Court and more radical changes down the road.
A political revolution rests on building a broad coalition comprising anyone opposing the extreme right; one that is multi-class, multi-racial, male and female, and multi-generational, which unites left and center currents and encompasses all the democratic movements.
It’s a coalition that fits this moment with the current balance of class and social forces. If the balance shifts in a more favorable direction resulting from victory, more radical reforms will be possible.
A political revolution can transform politics if labor, its allies and the broad left put their stamp on the multi-class alliance, shape its politics and frame the issues debated for the elections. The Sanders campaign is helping do this including strengthening the left and grassroots composition of the broad anti-ultra right coalition.
It will be transformative if the anti-right coalition is united and mobilized. Polls show that 86% of Clinton supporters will support Sanders in the general election if he is the nominee, and 79% of Sanders supporters will support Clinton if she wins. Sanders will need Clinton’s supporters in order to win.
Such a coalition must have an organized expression in every community, particularly working class communities. It must fight uncompromisingly against racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant attacks and all efforts to divide.
White working class communities are considered a key demographic for the GOP and are targets of the worst kinds of racist and reactionary ideas. A political revolution cannot abandon them to the embrace of the extreme right and its ideology of hate. Sanders’ vision of a political revolution calls for a 50-state strategy including turning red states and districts blue and defeating the GOP in its stronghold – the Deep South.
If either Sanders or Clinton are elected, their administrations will face unrelenting obstruction from Wall Street, the military-industrial complex, fossil fuel industry, right-wing think tanks and mass media and, of course, right-wing elements in the oligarchy (Koch brothers et al).
Voters must remain engaged at a high level after the election. When President Obama was elected in 2008 voters thought they had done their duty and went home. The void was filled by GOP obstruction and the Tea Party. Low voter turnout in 2010 and 2014 led to GOP control of Congress and state houses across the country.
A political revolution will be fueled by ongoing shifts in public attitudes. Majorities of Americans now favor taxing the rich, raising the minimum wage, immigration reform, abortion rights, marriage equality, criminal justice reform, and action to curb the climate crisis. New social movements are influencing millions at the grassroots including the Fight for 15, Black Lives Matter, The Dreamers, reproductive rights, marriage equality, and climate justice activists.
A political revolution is based on the idea that majorities make change. It is not enough for majorities to believe in an idea, they must actively fight for it.
Sanders’ political revolution envisions democratizing our political system. This includes removing money from politics, expanding the right to vote, and stimulating independent politics. Movements are acting both within and outside the Democratic Party and comprise many of the key forces in the anti-right alliance.
A political revolution will help establish the foundations for a real people’s party, whether it results in a breakaway from or a takeover of the Democratic Party.
Regardless of whether Sanders wins or not, the politics of the nation will never be the same and the fight for a political revolution will continue.
Photo: Bernie Sanders. | Michael Dwyer/AP