What Bernie Sanders Won by Losing the Democratic Primary | Soapboxer | Indy Week
Pin It

What Bernie Sanders Won by Losing the Democratic Primary 

Senator Bernie Sanders

File photo by Jeremy M. Lange

Senator Bernie Sanders

It's no secret that I supported Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary—a choice of pragmatism over populist idealism, of a theory of change oriented around attainable, incremental progress instead of lofty, unrealistic promises. It's also no secret that much of the INDY's readership—and some of its staffers—disagreed, oftentimes vehemently.

I understand that. I understand, too, the restive frustration driving Bernie Sanders's political revolution, especially among the young and disaffected, those burdened by student-loan debt or worried about socioeconomic stagnation. Sanders offers an unvarnished antidote to a center-left politics that's often more center than left. He's also done something objectively incredible: an obscure senator challenged a well-funded machine and came closer than anyone predicted to toppling it.

But he didn't topple it, not quite. Last week's primaries—in which Clinton racked up big wins in North Carolina, Florida, and Ohio—effectively sealed the deal.

So Sanders won't prevail. But his revolution did, both in the short and long terms. In the short term, Sanders won by pushing Clinton to the left, eliciting firmer commitments on things like immigration and free trade and environmental policy than Clinton would have made otherwise. And, though it probably wasn't his intention, he succeeded in making Clinton a stronger general-election candidate.

Sanders's long-term victory, however, is much more important. The coalition he built will define leftist politics into the foreseeable future. But it will have to do that without its figurehead. This change will come not as one sweeping revolution but as a thousand smaller ones, on school boards and city councils and party committees, in state legislatures and activist groups. It will come, bit by bit, as the energy and enthusiasm galvanized by the Sanders campaign morphs into a next generation of political leaders who slowly take hold of the levers of power.

There's a playbook to emulate. This is, for example, how movement conservatives took over the Republican Party, then pushed it rightward, then pushed local governments rightward, then states, then Congress and court systems, all the while building up a deep bench and, through gerrymandering, cheating their way to dominance. Their success speaks for itself, in robust congressional majorities and outright supremacy in most statehouses. But it didn't happen overnight.

And it won't happen on the left without sustained pressure from the Sanders coalition. To win, progressives need to show up—and not just in a presidential election but in the midterms, in county commission races, in congressional primaries, both holding Democrats to account and bolstering the progressive movement at all levels. If Bernie's people stay engaged, if they keep pressure on from both inside and outside the system, then in time—a few years, a decade—the Democratic Party will think a lot more like they do.

When that happens, the Overton window—meaning the range of acceptable policies—will have shifted, and suddenly, all of Sanders's lofty, unrealistic promises won't seem that lofty or unrealistic anymore. And that's how Bernie really wins.

This article appeared in print with the headline "What Bernie Won by Losing"

More by Jeffrey C. Billman

Comments (24)

Showing 1-24 of 24

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-24 of 24

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Soapboxer



Twitter Activity

Comments

Some verifiable proof, instead of politically-inspired allegations of Donald Trump's crimes against the country, would be nice for a change. …

by Rataplan on Donald Trump Is an Incompetent Menace. Just Impeach Him Already. (Soapboxer)

The author states that we have an imperfect system. Indeed. And his rationale of voting for the lesser of two …

by datdood on Loathe Hillary? Fine. Vote for Her, Anyway. Democracy Depends on It. (Soapboxer)

Most Read

  1. De-Districting (Peripheral Visions)
  2. Blind Attack (Letters to the Editor)

Most Recent Comments

Some verifiable proof, instead of politically-inspired allegations of Donald Trump's crimes against the country, would be nice for a change. …

by Rataplan on Donald Trump Is an Incompetent Menace. Just Impeach Him Already. (Soapboxer)

The author states that we have an imperfect system. Indeed. And his rationale of voting for the lesser of two …

by datdood on Loathe Hillary? Fine. Vote for Her, Anyway. Democracy Depends on It. (Soapboxer)

Hillary is like prune juice. You don't really care for it and it is hard to swallow. But if you …

by DR B on Loathe Hillary? Fine. Vote for Her, Anyway. Democracy Depends on It. (Soapboxer)

If they cared about democracy they wouldn't have made a mockery of it during the primary.

by musicfounds on Loathe Hillary? Fine. Vote for Her, Anyway. Democracy Depends on It. (Soapboxer)

Understandable take on the presidential race, but glosses over the benefits a third-party could gain from hitting the 5 percent …

by Ryan Gray on Loathe Hillary? Fine. Vote for Her, Anyway. Democracy Depends on It. (Soapboxer)

© 2017 Indy Week • 320 E. Chapel Hill St., Suite 200, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation