Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Thoughts on the “Sanders Surge”

Bernie Sanders is now the undisputed frontrunner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Last week, in the Iowa caucuses, Sanders won the popular vote by a clear margin in both the first and second rounds.

On Monday, he took the lead in a national Quinnipiac University poll for the first time in the 2020 Democratic race.

And yesterday, in New Hampshire, Sanders won with a narrow victory over former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Joe Biden came in fifth.

What a difference a year makes. When he launched his second presidential campaign, in February 2019, the independent senator from Vermont was mocked and written off by much of the pundit class. The Washington Post’s Henry Olsen called him a “one-hit wonder,” adding: “After a few concerts that attract ever more ‘selective’ audiences, he will likely drop out and retire, his influence consigned to history.” (On Monday night, a whopping 7,500 people turned out for a Sanders rally headlined by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as well as rock band The Strokes, in Durham, New Hampshire.)

. . . No wonder Democratic Party elites are panicking. We hear the same tired arguments about Sanders lacking “electability.” These arguments conveniently ignore the fact that Sanders beats Trump in head-to-head polling; that the Vermont senator is the most popular member of the Senate; and that this self-proclaimed socialist has both the highest “net favorability rating” among Democratic voters as well as the most enthusiastic base.

Plus, the only way to test “electability” is through actual elections, and so far Sanders is two for two.

Iowa and New Hampshire, though, weren’t only victories for the senator from Vermont; they were also victories for Sanders’s signature issue, Medicare for All. Asked last week in an entrance poll how they felt about “replacing all private health insurance with a single government plan for everyone,” 57 percent of Iowa caucus-goers said they backed it, while only 38 percent were opposed.

In New Hampshire, on Tuesday, again almost six in 10 voters said they supported a Medicare for All system over the current private insurance system, according to an early exit poll.

Yet again, the pundits and prognosticators were wrong. “Iowa Democrats worry ‘Medicare for All’ hurts key industry,” read the headline in the Associated Press in December. “In Iowa, Single Payer ‘Medicare For All’ Loses Ground,” declared Forbes in August. “Medicare For All Isn’t That Popular – Even Among Democrats,” proclaimed FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver a month earlier.

“We’ve heard a lot about how Bernie Sanders is so ‘wildly out-of-touch’ with the Democratic electorate,” observed CNN contributor Kirsten Powers on Tuesday night. “Well, that’s not actually true.”

The message from Iowa and New Hampshire is clear. It was a big, big mistake to write off both Bernie Sanders and his No. 1 policy proposal. So going forward, will his critics make that same mistake again?

– Mehdi Hasan
Excerpted from “The Pundits Wrote Off Bernie’s Candidacy.
In Iowa and New Hampshire, He Proved Them Wrong

The Intercept
February 12, 2020

As Bernie Sanders continues to increase his standing in the Democratic primary, and his opponents in both parties feel the pain, there is an effort to paint him as an extremist of some sort. Someone who might even lose to Trump because of this alleged “radicalism.” But it’s not that easy to make the case on the basis of facts.

He has a 40-year track record as a politician. The things he is saying now are mostly what he has shouted from the mountain tops for pretty much the whole time. The main difference is that now, other Democratic politicians have joined him: on a $15 minimum wage, student-debt relief, free tuition at public universities, expanding Social Security, reducing income inequality, and some even on Medicare for All.

His actions speak even more consistently than his words: he understands that politics is about compromise. He fights hard for what he has promised to voters, but then takes the best deal he can win if it will advance the ball down the field, and prepares to fight again the next day.

. . . Sanders’ program is targeted at correcting a very harmful transformation of the U.S. economy that has taken place over the past 40 years.

Unlike the first three decades after World War II, when income gains were broadly shared as the economy grew, most of the increase in income has gone to those who already had much more than their share. Since 1993, for example, the top 1% of families captured an astounding 48% of the growth in this country’s income.

No wonder so many Americans feel like the system is rigged against them.

That right-wing transformation was mostly launched by the Reagan team, but it came to be accepted, and even deepened by some liberal political leaders as well. Perhaps this normalization of the radical changes of the past few decades is why some commentators perceive Bernie’s program – designed to reverse this damage – as “radical.”

Here it is important to note that the fight over this right-wing transformation has never been so much about “the market” versus “the state.” Almost every economy in the world is a mixture of both.

But the Reagan “revolution” and the counter-reforms that followed (e.g., the WTO, NAFTA, financial deregulation, permanent normal trade relations with China, anti-labor legislation and practices) were not so much about changing the relative weight of market and government.

Rather what changed most is that both markets and government were harnessed vastly more to redistribute income and wealth upward. The result is an America that is unique among high-income countries in the percentage of people who are employed full-time and yet struggling to get by, not to mention the more than 10 million children in poverty and more than half a million homeless people.

Sanders, in his reform program, seeks to use both markets and government to reverse this massive upward redistribution of income and wealth.

– Mark Weisbrot
Excerpted from “Bernie Sanders Isn’t a Radical
– He’s a Pragmatist Who Fights to Un-Rig the System

Common Dreams
February 11, 2020

None of the transformative policies Sanders has proposed – a Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and debt-free college the most notable among them – embody the change he represents as much as the label he proudly carries: democratic socialist. It’s a term Republicans have weaponized against liberals so frequently that most Democratic politicians simply reject the tag out of hand. Sanders does not, and his success frightens establishment Democrats who worry that the socialism label remains a potent pejorative among the swing voters they’ll need to defeat President Trump in key battlegrounds this fall. On the day after Iowa’s caucuses, Trump devoted an entire section of his State of the Union address to a warning against the advance of socialism, while Joe Biden spent his final days in New Hampshire cautioning that Sanders’s “democratic socialist” label would bring down Democrats running alongside him on November’s ballot.

Neither attack worked, and to Sanders’s supporters, his surge to the top is evidence that socialism as an epithet has lost its sting. “If you look at the history of this country and the left, there have been times when our ideas have been popular and millions of working people have stood up for them,” Maria Svart, the national director of the Sanders-backing Democratic Socialists of America, told me. “And I think the time is coming again for us to do that.

“The socialist bogeyman idea,” she continued, “has been used for decades to prevent people from bringing up alternative ideas, and Bernie winning validates our ideas and demonstrates that people, especially young people, are willing to confront capitalism.”

The recent evidence for whether Sanders’s identity as a democratic socialist would hurt him in a general-election matchup with Trump is mixed. He fared no worse against the president when pollsters identified him as a socialist in a survey conducted by the progressive group Data for Progress. But socialism remained broadly unpopular in a poll released last month by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal: Just 19 percent of respondents said they had a positive view of socialism, compared with 53 percent who held a negative view. That was roughly the inverse of how people in the poll felt about capitalism.

Rather than renounce the term, he has sought in both of his presidential campaigns to define it as part of a “quintessentially American” tradition, a descendant of mainstream liberals such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Martin Luther King Jr. (who were also demonized by their opponents as socialists while they were alive). “We must recognize that in the 21st century, in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, economic rights are human rights,” Sanders said in a speech in June. “That is what I mean by democratic socialism.”

More recently, Sanders has argued that the U.S. is already “a socialist society” that redistributes national wealth to corporations through tax breaks and subsidies. “The difference between my socialism and Trump’s socialism is, I believe the government should help working families, not billionaires,” he said on Fox News Sunday.

– Russell Berman
Excerpted from “The Night Socialism Went Mainstream
The Atlantic
February 11, 2020

Unlike so many elites who ascend through the ranks of party politics, Sanders was precariously-employed well into his early adulthood, living in a small ramshackle Burlington apartment and struggling to pay the bills. This ineluctably shaped his formative experiences and political orientation in a way that most of the well-heeled American political class will never intuitively understand. But conversely, it has enabled him to connect with millions of ordinary working class people who, rightly, do not believe that these detached elites prioritize their interests.

In the five years he has been a nationally-known figure, Sanders has successfully de-mystified democratic socialism -- his self-applied label – by placing the emphasis on “democratic.” Making sure always to affix the word “democratic” ahead of “socialism” conveys his determination to attach the Sanders-style political project to the historical aspirations of the Demoratic Party. Hence, he delivered a treatise-style speech last year in Washington, DC defining what he means by socialism, and called not for the total nationalization of all industry or the expropriation of private property, but “to complete what Roosevelt started” – that being Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the revered Democratic president who led the country to victory in World War II and created the modern social welfare state.

In situating “democratic socialism” squarely within the ambit of the present-day Democratic Party – rather than as some outside agitating force – Sanders has fused his radical past with the more mainstream present.

. . . There will certainly be resistance to Sanders as he strides toward the nomination; older, monied Democratic power brokers will struggle to reconcile how their party could’ve been overtaken by a socialist movement, as qualified as the “socialism” moniker may be in Sanders’ telling. Mike Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor and one of the richest men in the United States, has launched his own parallel campaign with the not-so-subtle subtext of being a last-ditch insurance policy against Sanders for panicked rich liberals. (And Sanders has already declared the DNC’s sudden accommodation of Bloomberg “an outrage.”) The ensuing clash – modulated socialism versus oligarchic, friendly-faced capitalism – will be epic.

– Michael Tracey
Excerpted from “The Bernie Revolution
Die Weltwoche
February 12, 2020

Sanders has been a punching bag for the media establishment for some time. In explaining its decision to pass over Sanders to endorse, strangely, both Warren and Klobuchar, the New York Times editorial board wrote “we see little advantage to exchanging one over-promising, divisive figure in Washington for another.” Their competitors have been little different. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank and Jennifer Rubin have made Trump-Sanders comparisons a writerly tick. Last April, Milbank said both Sanders has emerged as “the Donald Trump of the left,” citing their “flair for demagoguery” and speeches with “Trumpian flourishes.” Rubin for her part has been banging that drum as daily practice, accusing Sanders in January of “playing Trumpian politics.” As if a politician advocating for healthcare and against student debt somehow equaled Trump's authoritarian and racist [extremism].

. . . In consistently undercutting Sanders, news organizations do themselves no favors, also undercutting their own credibility in a time when they sell themselves as a corrective to disinformation (The Washington Post’s slogan is now “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” while the New York Times ran a “The Truth Is Worth It” ad campaign).

. . . Perhaps [the mainstream media’s seeming pattern of anti-Bernie bias is] built-in from how top editors staff their sections and producers choose their regular commentators. Among major media outlets, there is only one single democratic socialist (New York Times’ Elizabeth Bruenig), even though 39 percent of Americans have a positive view of socialism, and the Scandinavian-style policies are resoundingly popular. Meanwhile, many outlets feature conservatives and NeverTrumpers (Bret Stephens, Jennifer Rubin, Rick Wilson), a statistically tiny political group: 6 percent of Republicans don’t approve of Trump, according to Gallup. For an ecosystem of reporters whose sources include many donors, lobbyists, and lobbyist-and-donor-funded politicians, the popularity of a democratic socialist is confounding. And the disinterest of editors and producers in representing the views of a rather large movement has made for a giant blind spot about the size of New Hampshire . . . or Trump in 2016.

– Mari Uyehara
Excerpted from “Why Does Mainstream Media
Keep Attacking Bernie Sanders as He Wins?

February 12, 2020

[There has been] a five-year corporate media assault on Bernie Sanders. There was a notorious one-day period that FAIR, the media watch group, documented on the eve of the pivotal Michigan primary in 2016, where the newspaper owned by the richest person in the world, Jeff Bezos, The Washington Post, published 16 negative articles about Bernie Sanders in 16 hours. And that pattern has continued. And what we’ve seen in recent weeks, as Bernie’s strength has risen, is an escalation of the war on Bernie, not a 100% war on Bernie, but the vast preponderance of coverage of Bernie from corporate media.

And people need to remember that if you, for instance, don’t trust Comcast, why would you trust a network that is owned by Comcast? These are class interests being worked out where the top strata of ownership and investors hires the CEO, hires the managing editors, hires the reporters. And so, what we’re seeing, and not to be rhetorical about it, but we really are seeing a class war underway.

And Bernie Sanders is very clear about who he aligns with. He aligns with working people. He aligns with the elderly. He aligns with children who need neonatal care and nutrition, one to five. He is fighting for people who don’t have power in the society and suffer from lack of power. And he’s fighting against those who have too much power. And so, the net effect is, it’s not only the Democratic National Committee that Bernie is up against. I think, even more significantly, the Bernie Sanders campaign, which now I think truly is a movement, or a constellation of movements – the Bernie Sanders campaign is up against the oligarchy. And that oligarchy’s biggest and strongest arm are the corporate media outlets.

– Norman Solomon
Excerpted from “Despite Corporate Media’s 'War on Bernie,'
Sanders Rides Wave of Support into New Hampshire Primary

Democracy Now!
January 30, 2020

NEXT: Bernie Sanders and the Corporate Media

Related Off-site Links:
Sanders Surges to Eight Point Lead in National, February 10, 2020).
Bernie Sanders Wins New Hampshire Primary, Making Him the New National Frontrunner – Eliza Relman (Business Insider, February 12, 2020).
Bernie Sanders Won the New Hampshire Primary in a Show of Staying Power for His Movement – Ruby Cramer (BuzzFeed, February 12, 2020).
With Back-to-Back Wins for Sanders, Pundits Proven Wrong in Iowa and New Hampshire – Mehdi Hasan (The Intercept via Common Dreams, February 12, 2020).
Bernie Sanders Got More Young Voters in New Hampshire Than Everyone Else Combined – German Lopez (Vox, February 12, 2020).
The Bernie Sanders Campaign Can Help Inspire the U.S, Working Class to Fight for Itself – Chris Maisano (Jacobin, February 11, 2020).
Sanders Crushes Trump by 18 Points Among Independent Voters in New National General Election Poll – Jake Johnson (Common Dreams, February 11, 2020).
Bernie Sanders Says Vice President "Will Not Be an Old White Guy" If He Wins Nomination – James Walker (Newsweek, February 13, 2020).
Progressives to Voters Skeptical of Bernie Sanders: This “Big Tent” Movement Is a Winning and Practical Choice – Jon Queally (Common Dreams, February 12, 2020).
“Do They Never Learn?”: Progressives Rip Media Attempts to Downplay Bernie Sanders Win in New Hampshire Primary – Eoin Higgins (Common Dreams, February 12, 2020).
Bernie Sanders Dominates 2020 Presidential Field in Donations From Suburban Women – Nicole Goodkind (Fortune, November 8, 2019).
There Is Nothing Confusing About Medicare for All – Matt Bruenig (Jacobin, September 13, 2018).
Who's Afraid of “Socialism”? – Peter Certo (Other Words, February 12, 2020).

UPDATES: The Media Keep Falling in Love – With Anybody But Bernie Sanders – Margaret Sullivan (The Washington Post, February 13, 2020).
New Poll Shows Sanders Has Built a Double-digit National Lead – Jonathan Easley (, February 13, 2020).
Bernie Sanders Will Be Good for American Economy, Top Economist Says After Goldman Sachs Attack – Oliver O'Connell (Yahoo! News, February 14, 2020).
For Media in New Hampshire, Losing Is Winning and Winning Is Losing – Alan MacLeod (FAIR, February 14, 2020).
Pundits Look to Bloomberg as Their Anti-Sanders Savior – Julie Hollar (FAIR, February 14, 2020).
Sanders Applauds New Medicare for All Study: Will Save Americans $450 Billion and Prevent 68,000 Unnecessary Deaths Every YearCommon Dreams (February 15, 2020).
Bernie Sanders Can Beat Trump with His Liberal Vision for America. Primary Voters Know It – Jamie Peck (Common Dreams, February 15, 2020).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Case for Bernie Sanders
Quote of the Day – September 7, 2017
Quote of the Day – January 21, 2017
Quote of the Day – November 9, 2016
Progressive Perspectives on the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election
Progressive Perspectives on the Election of Donald Trump
Carrying It On
Hope, History, and Bernie Sanders

For more coverage at The Wild Reed of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, see:
Thoughts on the Eve of the Iowa Caucuses
Quote of the Day – February 9, 2020
A Thank You Letter to Marianne Williamson
“A Beautiful Message, So Full of Greatness”
Progressive Perspectives on Joe Biden's Presidential Run
Beto, Biden and Buttigieg: “Empty Suits and Poll-Tested Brands”
Pete Buttigieg, White Privilege, and Identity Politics
Quote of the Day – October 19, 2019
Quote(s) of the Day – February 26, 2019

Image: Sen. Bernie Sanders and his spouse, Jane O'Meara Sanders, at a primary night event in Manchester, N.H., on February 11, 2020. (Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images)

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