It’s hard to believe that it’s already been over a year since Bernie Sanders announced he was running for president, launching a campaign that would change the Democratic party forever. As someone who supported Hillary Clinton, and has, at times, been critical of Sanders during this past year (though most of my issues have been with a certain section of his supporters), I’ve always maintained that I would have proudly supported him had he won the nomination. Win or lose, he has been instrumental in changing the party forever.
While he didn’t ultimately win the nomination, he did make Hillary Clinton a much better candidate and has cemented his status as a major player within the party for the rest of his career. His movement has also brought with it a demand for change within the party that’s going to better serve the people of this country going forward.
In fact, here are the five things I think the Democratic party must learn from the success of Bernie Sanders.
1. It’s okay to be far more left-leaning on many issues: One of the biggest things Sanders brought out during his campaign is that there’s a fairly large demand for much more left-leaning political pushes than I think many Democrats have realized. Not only was his campaign very successful, but he brought Clinton far more to the left than she had been and it benefitted her greatly. The party can now embrace more left-leaning policies and push for more dramatic progressive change because they know the demand for that call to action is out there and it’s very passionate about bringing transformative change to this country.
2. Democrats must brand themselves better: Like President Obama in 2008, Bernie Sanders and his campaign did a brilliant job at “branding” his image. The Internet and social media aspect of his campaign destroyed anything Hillary Clinton tried to do and they made “feeling the Bern” into its own brand. This is one thing Democrats have really been terrible at doing with many of their candidates and the party, itself. Sure, President Obama was a “rock star” in 2008 — but who else? Sen. Elizabeth Warren, like Sanders, became a big-time star on her own. It wasn’t because the party knew how to “build her brand.” This past year we saw what can be accomplished by listening to the people, building a brand and pushing a message millions of left-leaning Americans would show up by the thousands to listen to. The Democratic party must learn from that and treat every day like they’re fighting for a movement, not just a political party.
3. Get rid of superdelegates: Okay, so this isn’t exactly linked to anything Sanders really did, but this past year we did see superdelegates discussed far more than they have been during previous primaries. The truth is, they serve no purpose other than to overturn the will of the voters. That’s a pretty bad “purpose” to have unless you want an all-out revolt on your hands and almost no chance at winning the general election. At first, they were a contentious topic because so many had sided with Clinton before the primary had really even started. Then, when Sanders realized he was going to need them, they became an even more ridiculous topic when his “strategy” essentially became “ignore the winner of the most states, pledged delegates and overall votes and side with me because… poll numbers.” Either superdelegates are going to side with the candidate who wins the majority of pledged delegates or they’re going to go against the voters — which won’t go over well. And if they’re not going to overturn the will of the voters (which would be stupid), then the only “purpose” they serve is being something for people to complain about during the whole process. Get rid of superdelegates, lower the number of pledged delegates needed to clinch the nomination and make it to where, if nobody reaches that magic number, the person with the most pledged delegates and overall votes wins. If there happens to be an instance where one candidate wins the popular vote and one wins more pledge delegates, then figure out some sort of system to determine the winner from that.
But superdelegates need to go.
4. Bernie Sanders must be one of the leading voices against the Republican party in Congress: While Bernie Sanders unexpected success is noteworthy, the story most people aren’t talking about is the fact that he was relatively unknown until this past year despite being in Congress for nearly a quarter century. He’s technically been an “independent,” but he’s almost always aligned with Democrats. It’s ridiculous that the left has had someone mostly on their side who can dish it out as well as he can; motivate voters the way that he can; and be the kind of fighter he’s been — but they’ve never really utilized him. While I’m sure there are all sorts of conspiracy theories people can come up with as to why that is, I think the truth of the matter goes back to point #1: For far too long, Democrats have been scared of pushing too far to the left.
A lot of what Sanders supporters want is largely just a return to economic policies of generations past, while expanding some of the programs we’ve already put in place like public education and Medicare to cover public colleges and all Americans.
It’s time for Sanders to be one of the leaders for Democrats against the Republican party’s propaganda machine.
5. It’s time for a “new guard” to lead the Democratic party: Okay, I know, this sounds slightly ridiculous considering Bernie Sanders is about to be 75-years-old in a couple of months and he’s been in Congress for over 25 years — so he’s not exactly “new.” By “new” I’m not necessarily talking about age or experience. What I mean is, his voice was new. His campaign brought with it a message of a newer generation of progressives. While most on the left are grateful for the work people Harry Reid, Barbara Boxer, Nancy Pelosi, Charles Schumer and many of the other long-time leaders of the party have done, it’s time for people like Cory Booker, Tammy Duckworth, Sherrod Brown, Al Franken, Jaquin and Julian Castro, Martin O’Malley, Kristen Gillbrand and others who, while known to some, still haven’t been used to their fullest potential within the party. These are some of the people who can continue the push toward a more progressive Democratic party by being the new “faces” for Democrats.
I left Elizabeth Warren off that list as I’m one of those who thinks she’s headed toward the vice presidency.
Oh, and it goes without saying that they need to completely sever ties with Debbie Wasserman Shultz as DNC chair — she’s just awful.
While there’s obviously more the Democratic party can learn from the success of Bernie Sanders’ campaign (and I’m sure the comments section will be filled with plenty of conspiracies and other DNC-bashing nonsense by some), it’s my opinion that these are some of the main things the party should take away from one of the most unexpectedly successful presidential campaign’s in history.
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