As Barack Obama’s presidency draws to a close, the American people have turned their attention to deciding who will replace him. Both parties – the democrats and the republicans – are in the process of deciding who will represent them and run for president at the end of the year. While Donald Trump has been capturing all the headlines on the republican side thanks to his outspoken style, one of the democratic candidates has also been making waves for completely different reasons – the self-proclaimed democratic socialist Bernie Sanders.
Who is he?
Bernie Sanders has long been involved in politics and has established himself as a progressive voice. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, as a youth he was involved in the civil rights movement as well as becoming an affiliate member of the American Socialist Party. He became the representative for Vermont in 1990 as an independent candidate and was known to be a fierce critic of both parties. He voted against the war in Iraq and the controversial PATRIOT Act. He then became a Democratic senator in 2006 and by 2011, the polls had him as the third most popular senator in the United States.
As a socialist, Sanders is known for his opposition to the way in which capitalism has put money at the heart of politics and a lot has been made of his refusal to accept donations to his campaign from lobbyists and corporations. He argues that this practice is damaging to democracy as it gives those who can afford it undue influence on the elected government.
What are his policies?
As his commitment to socialism would suggest, Bernie Sanders believes in a strong state that looks after its citizens. He sees the problems that the US faces as being down to the country’s love of capitalism and the greed of the richest Americans. The government has a duty, he says, to combat the rising levels of inequality and resulting poverty. He argues that this will only be achieved by providing a safety net for those at the bottom of society by making those at the top contribute.
Many of his policies attempt to address this imbalance, and his campaign is based on several policies designed to take the burden off the poor. He has pledged to expand the social security system and he wants to expand Obama’s Medicare system so that everyone can have access to healthcare – whatever their income. He argues that the minimum wage is too low to live on and if elected will raise it to $15 an hour. Finally, he wants to deal with the astronomical cost of education in the United States, promising to cut interest rates on student loans and make public universities free.
Sanders plans to fund these programs with tighter regulations of the corporate and banking sectors – who he says have caused the country’s poverty problems and have been allowed to get away with little/no contribution to society. He wants to introduce legislation that prevents banks from engaging in the type of speculative deals that caused the 2008 financial crisis. He also wants to break up the biggest banks to prevent the ‘too big to fail’ situation that meant public money was used to bail out banks during the crisis. These measures would be coupled with attempts to squeeze more tax from corporations by closing the loopholes that allow them to avoid paying their fair share as well as higher tax rates for the richest Americans.
Alongside his economic policies, Sanders takes a progressive stance on the social issues that the USA faces. He aims to tackle climate change by moving towards renewable energy and wants to take a more diplomatic approach to international relations – most notably with Iran. He also wants to reform the justice system to reduce America’s massive prison population, as well as ending the war on drugs.
Can he win?
Sanders success illustrates the discontent that many Americans feel at the moment. That a politician who labels himself a socialist – an idea that has long been anathema in the USA – could potentially become the leader of the democratic party shows that a large number of Americans have been struggling since the financial crisis and are unhappy with the power that large corporations and bankers currently hold.
His progressive social policies have also given him support from minority groups who feel discriminated against as well as young people. If he is to succeed he will need to hold these groups together and ensure that he appears sufficiently reformist, while not alienating the centre-left mainstream section of his support. The young and ethnic minorities are also less likely to vote and many see the political system as broken and uninterested in helping them. While these ideas match Sanders’ own beliefs, and this is the very thing he seeks to reform, he will still have to inspire them to overcome their apathy and go out and vote. Despite being by far the most progressive candidate, the fact that straight white men – of which he is all three – have dominated politics for so long, may damage his credibility in the eyes of some feminist, LGBT and ethnic minority voters.
If he were to win the democratic nomination, he would then face the far bigger challenge of winning the election. His bid would almost certainly face a concerted fear-mongering campaign from the large right-wing section of the media, as well as the entrenched American fear of big government and socialism. The American dream and a belief in the rights of the individual have always made the country sceptical of the idea of government interference, even when designed to improve their standard of living. In the end he might be a little too progressive for the average American voter. However, the nomination of one of the many extreme candidates standing for leadership of the republican party could work in his favour as floating voters are driven away. Even if he was to become president, he would likely face a truculent senate and – just as Obama has – find it extremely difficult to enact his policies.
Sanders is putting on a stronger showing that many expected so far in the ongoing nomination contest and it seems that he stands a decent chance. The race between himself and Hilary Clinton is currently too close to call and a successful – although not victorious – showing in the Iowa contest has raised the spirits of his supporters. Winning the general election however, would be a far greater challenge.
What do you think?
Can Bernie Sanders win?
Feature Image Source: The Daily Dot