Harbinger of the Hard Left
Though the recognition and, possibly within the next few years, the effectuation of his ideas have taken years to gain steam, Bernie Sanders has long been the harbinger of the hard left. Indeed, within the past few years, much has changed in the thinking of the party of which Sanders putatively has no part—being, as he is, an avowed and long-standing Independent from the state of Vermont. Yet some amount of dependence appears to be necessary, if not entirely expedient, if that grand office to which he aspires is ever to be his. And so, due to the general impotence of the Independent as he appears on the national scene, Sanders will be running this coming year for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party.
Strangely, though, it’s not he who’s had to ingratiate himself to the Party in whose primary he’ll be running as the leading candidate. His isn’t the story of an Independent, itinerant and forlorn, begging for acceptance at all doorsteps and searching for a party to call home.
Instead of it being Sanders flattering the Democrats, it’s they who’ve taken to clamoring for and boasting of their possession of him. Once considered an outsider to the Party, he’s now considered fundamental to it. His more radical positions, once amiably rebuked by Democrats for being slightly too quixotic for their still somewhat practical tastes, have become moderate in every way. The overtly socialist talk—a language in which Sanders is eminently fluent—has gone from Party heterodoxy to orthodoxy in but a few short years.
In earlier articles, I’ve taken to calling this phenomenon of which Sanders is the chief proponent “Socialist chic”, but it seems intent on becoming more than just fugaciously fashionable as the word “chic” implies. On the contrary, the concept of Socialism appears to be becoming ever more deeply ingrained, however much it’s misunderstood. Never will it become fully politically passé, I’m assured, for it offers speciously easy solutions to the complex troubles and inequalities of our day. No one has more convincingly exposited its potential benefit than has Sanders, and the Democrats—once reasonably moderate and with a modicum of respect for our institutions—have taken to parroting his ideas.
But one mustn’t forget that Sanders is the most recent intellectual, political forebear of this leftward jump. As far as I can recall, he was the first Democratic presidential candidate of any note who advocated the feasibility of university attendance without cost. College for all and college for free was the clarion shout heard at his rallies and campaign stops. Hillary Clinton, his 2016 primary opponent and a more traditional Democrat of the odiously “neo-Liberal” ilk, dared not to go so far. She considered such quixotic promises unavailing and politically ill-advised Her ideas regarding the reform of college education were rather more innocuous than ambitious; more incremental than radical. As such, they were far less inspiring. Without the feeling that she’d every put it into place, Clinton stumped for tuition-free college education—doubtless a more affordable solution than that currently on hand, but not one as galvanizing for the debt-laden, Bernie-loving youth. Now, the bulk of the Democratic Party has boarded alongside Sanders in its guarantee of a college education without cost.
Sanders was also one of the earliest mainstream politicians persuasively to argue for universal healthcare. Granted, “Medicare for All”, as the slogan now goes, wasn’t an idea originally born of his mind, but he certainly made it de rigueur amid the Democratic talking points so commonly heard today.
So redoubtable and popular is the idea among the more zealous members of the left, that almost every other presidential candidate for 2020 has echoed it in some degree. Clinton, for her part, still bore around her ankles the albatross of her failed healthcare initiative that she (with husband Bill’s imprimatur) attempted over two decades ago. Ultimately, it was a political failure of which she never proved capable of disencumbering herself. Surprisingly still resonant till this day, it combined the worst of two sides: extraordinary bureaucratic red tape and private enticement. Ultimately, it ended as it should’ve and are healthcare system remained unfixed. Fast forward to her most recent electoral attempt, she was slow completely to relinquish all belief in the merit of the private insurance industry. It was an industry whose vestiges she thought worthy of conservation. Sanders thought this proposition (including most propositions defending the sanctity of private industry) ridiculous and quite far beyond his contempt. Healthcare ought to be a “right” and it ought to be guaranteed unconditionally to all. The only way to accomplish this, he argued, is by the full socialization of the healthcare economy. The consequences (including the rationing of care, the diminution of doctors, and the vitiation of all those endeavoring pharmaceutical companies upon whose hard research and development our medical advances desperately rely) would be unpleasant but unnoticed. If not happily, they would at the very least be borne by us all equally.
Though Sanders is old, Clinton is unprepossessingly archaic. She is, much to her own chagrin and the consternation of the moderate “I’m With Her” contingent to whom she appealed, the Democrat of yore. Sanders is the Democrat of today. But he’s not a Democrat cut in the traditional cloth. He’s not been absorbed into the Party so much as the Party’s been absorbed into him and now it accepts his positions nearly unanimously. As such, he’s not only the harbinger of this new, vertiginously progressive movement to the far left, but he's the father and promulgator of it as well. At least politically speaking and on a national stage, it was he who begat these unabashedly socialist ideas and has molded them to form. In so doing, he’s established himself more along the lines of a trailblazer than a passenger on this journey; more a hurricane than a weathervane in this climatic shift. All the other candidates in the Democratic field are simply there for the ride, subject to the rustle of his wind.