Over the past year, Bernie Sanders has emerged (along with Hillary Clinton) as the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for the 2016 American presidential election. The present sample expository essay intends to explore and discuss Sanders’ campaign for the presidency in greater depth.
The essay will have five parts.
- The first part will provide an overview of Sanders’ career thus far.
- The second part will consider the general progress that his campaign has made to this date.
- The third part will discuss some of Sanders’ key policy proposals for the nation.
- The fourth part will evaluate the main demographic bases of support for Sanders within the nation.
- Finally, the fifth part will reflect on Sanders’ odds of winning first the Democratic nomination and then the presidency itself.
Who is Bernie Sanders
Sanders is currently a U.S. senator from the state of Vermont. According to the Bernie 2016 website,
“in 2006, he was elected to the U.S. Senate after 16 years as Vermont’s sole congressman in the House of Representatives. Bernie is now serving his second term in the U.S. Senate after winning re-election in 2012 with 71 percent of the vote” (paragraph 1).
Sanders thus has a long history of serving as a legislator at the national level, and his run for the U.S presidency can thus be understood as a logical next step from this basis. Sanders has often been portrayed as a kind of outsider by the media; but if this is the case, it is only so at the level of ideology or platform, and not at the level of actual professional experience. In terms of the latter, Sanders clearly has the same experience and qualifications that most candidates tend to have before deciding to run for the presidency.
Sanders’ political perspective can be described as staunchly progressive, with Sanders himself often referring to Scandinavian-style socialism as an economic model that the United States would do well to emulate. Moreover, links of affinity can clearly be traced between Sanders on the one hand and the Occupy movement from a few years ago on the other, with its characteristic slogan regarding the 1 percent versus the 99 percent (Graeber).
Sanders does in fact affirm that the government and economy as they currently stand are designed to serve the interests not of the common man but only of the elite. In the aftermath of the recent economic depression, a substantial proportion of the American people would seem to be more receptive to such a message than they have been at any other point in recent historical memory.
Progress of Sanders’ campaign
From the start, Sanders’ campaign for the presidency has met with a high level of enthusiasm—an enthusiasm that was surprising to many people, including Sanders himself. As Ball has somewhat humorously written:
“There’s no way this man could be president, right? Just look at him: rumpled and scowling, bald pate topped by an entropic nimbus of white hair. Just listen to him: ranting, in his gravelly Brooklyn accent, about socialism. Socialism! And yet here we are: In the biggest surprise of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, this thoroughly implausible man, Bernie Sanders, is a sensation” (paragraphs 1-2).
In other words, Sanders would seem to lack many of the qualities—including style, charisma, and elite support—that one generally associates with a potentially successful presidential candidate; but he has nevertheless managed to resonate with a significant portion of the American people. He has drawn massive crowds at all of his speeches. The most reasonable explanation for this is that people genuinely are drawn to Sanders’ actual message regarding the brokenness of the economy and the need for revolutionary structural changes if the economy is to actually begin serving average Americans once again (as opposed to the Republican presidential nominees).
This momentum has largely kept up over the past several months, with Sanders now a key contender—indeed, the only serious contender against Clinton—as the primary elections draw closer. To an extent, it can be suggested that this progress of Sanders’ campaign is threatening to precipitate a crisis within the Democratic Party, in an analogous sense to how the rise of Trump has precipitated a crisis within the Republican Party.
This is possibly at least in part due to the fact that many Democrats have no real interest in seeing another Clinton in the Oval Office. As Graham has written:
“Now comes the ultimate test of Democratic unity: a dynastic, centrist, seemingly unstoppable frontrunner—someone who, despite decades in public life, had to convene a committee of 200 advisers to figure out where she stood on economic issues. Finally, the left has been pushed to the breaking point,”
with many liberals beginning to think that “the nutty Vermont uncle” would be better than this (paragraph 6). In short, the progress of the Sanders campaign has been driven both by a resonant message on the one hand and a lukewarm opposition on the other.
Key policy proposals by Sanders
Almost the entirety of Sanders’ political platform focuses on the problems of the contemporary economy, and the need to reform it in the direction of socialism. As Talbot has put it:
“Most of his policy proposals have to do with helping working people and reducing the influence of the wealthy. He would like to break up the big banks, create jobs by rebuilding infrastructure, and move toward public funding of elections—and provide free tuition at public universities” (paragraph 8).
What all of these policy proposals have in common is that they are geared toward diminishing the influence of oligarchy within the United States and reinforcing the foundations of a democratic society, including an educated public, a reasonable distribution of wealth, and fair opportunity for work.
On the other hand, Sanders would seem to be somewhat weak on areas of public policy not having to do with the economy. It has become something of a common joke that whenever Sanders is asked about any other subject, he attempts to find some kind of connection, however tenuous, that will enable him to “pivot” back to the economy as soon as possible.
Sanders, for example, has not said anything particularly innovative regarding American foreign policy; and at any rate, he would clearly be far less experienced in this area than his rival Hillary Clinton, who has had actual experience serving as secretary of state for the Obama administration (Douthat). On the other hand, though, it would hardly seem to matter, from the perspective of his supporters at least, that Sanders positions on other subjects may be less fleshed out than his position on the economy.
This is because Sanders’ fundamental message is the economic one, and this alone is so radically different from what any other candidate is saying that it is enough to solidify support for Sanders among people who deeply care about this subject.
Bases of support for Bernie Sanders
Sanders’ political support primarily emerges from young people within what has been called the Millennial generation. This is somewhat odd, if one considers the fact that Sanders himself is 74 years old. Talbot offers the following compelling explanation for the dynamics involved here:
“Young people who like Bernie Sanders like him because he sounds like an old record. He’s been talking about the injustices done to working people by unequal income distribution for more than forty years. His voice, often hoarse from his habitually loud and impassioned speeches, even has the crackle of worn vinyl” (paragraph 1).
In other words, Sanders’ elderly status, far from making him “uncool” to younger people, may well give him a compelling aura of authenticity and nostalgia.
Likewise, it is primarily younger people who can be expected to hold significantly favorable views regarding the concept of socialism. For older people, the term “socialism” probably connotes the Soviet Union, whereas the term “capitalism” connotes the superiority of the United States to the Soviet Union. For younger people, however, the term capitalism probably just connotes a system that has put them hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt just for getting a college education, while the term socialism connotes nothing in particular.
In this context, Sanders’ self-identification as a democratic socialist could be expected to appeal significantly to younger people, who not only do not have a negative bias against that terminology but also understand the basic point that Sanders is proposing the creation of an economic system that will truly serve their own best interests.
Feeling the “Bern”
For a considerable length of time, it was generally assumed by the media that Sanders did not present a serious threat to Clinton regarding the Democratic nomination itself, and that the challenge presented by him was more akin to a squabble within the “family” that would ultimately just end up making Clinton even stronger for the presidential race itself.
This has, however, changed over the course of the last month or so: several polls now indicate that Sanders is closing the gap between Clinton and himself in the key primary state of Iowa, and that he is even maintaining a lead in the other key state of New Hampshire (Leys). If Sanders wins these states, this would be a huge setback for Clinton, and it could also potentially alter the long-term momentum and dynamics of the race for the Democratic nomination.
Sanders has a significant chance of winning these primary states; and if this were to happen, he would also have a significant chance of going on to win the Democratic nomination.
Now, if this were to happen, then Sanders would need to defeat the Republican candidate in order to actually become the next president of the United States. Interestingly, Sanders has recently begun campaigning on the proposition that he is actually more electable than Clinton—that is, that he would be more likely than Clinton to successfully defeat Donald Trump in the general presidential election (Graham).
Whether this is true or not remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that if Sanders were to win the Democratic nomination, then this would make for a highly polarized presidential race. Clinton is solidly centrist, whereas Sanders is clearly left-wing; and given the nature of the situation at the present time, it is likely that if Sanders won, he would find himself running against a right-wing candidate. This would clearly raise the stakes of the election, turning it into a veritable referendum on the future of the American nation. This would like inspire more people, from both sides, to come out to the polls on Election Day.
In summary, the present essay has consisted of a discussion of the Sanders presidential campaign. An important point that has been made here is that Sanders’ candidacy is premised almost entirely on his economic vision: he believes that the system must be reformed in the direction of socialism so that it may begin to truly serve ordinary Americans; and this is a message that is resonating powerfully with significant portions of the national population, and especially the young. If Sanders can solidify this support and also broaden his appeal to some extent, then he would have a decent chance of defeating Clinton in the primaries and then proceeding to face off against a right-wing candidate in the general election.
Ball, Molly. “There’s Something about Bernie.” The Atlantic. 29 Ju. 2015. Web. 14 Jan. 2015. .
Bernie 2016. “Meet Bernie Sanders.” Author, 2016. Web. 14 Jan. 2016. .
Douthat, Ross. “The Tempting of Bernie Sanders.” New York Times. 14 Jan. 2016. Web. 14 Jan. 2016. .
Graham, David A. “What If Bernie Sanders Is the Democrats’ Best Bet?” The Atlantic. 11 Jan. 2016. Web. 14 Jan. 2016. .
Graeber, David. The Democracy Project. New York: Spiegel & Grau. Print.
Leys, Tony. “Iowa Poll: Clinton Slides, Leads Sanders by 2 Points.” Des Moines Register. 14 Jan. 2016. Web. 14 Jan. 2016. .
Talbot, Margaret. “The Populist Prophet.” New Yorker. 12 Oct. 2015. Web. 14 Jan. 2016. .