The morning of April 8, 2020, Bernie Sanders addressed supporters and staff and suspended his campaign, formally ending what started with a long-shot bid against Hillary Clinton in 2016: his attempt to get real leftist policy and economic populism in this country, and to move the Overton Window to accept a more progressive agenda. Though many of his supporters would have liked to see Sanders continue running against Joe Biden until the convention in August, it simply was not in the cards, especially with voters’ health at risk as COVID-19 sweeps the nation. As was illustrated in yesterday’s Wisconsin primary, traditional voting is just not tenable in the midst of a pandemic, putting Sanders in a uniquely uncomfortable position–to keep going could put voters’ health at risk, especially as states like Wisconsin refuse to postpone their primaries.
Few candidates, in the history of our nation, have shifted the political landscape by the broad margin that was accomplished by Senator Sanders during the four short years he’s held a substantial national platform. Introducing countless new progressive policy solutions to the struggles Americans face, ideas that even under Obama’s administration were considered “unobtainable” like single-payer healthcare, was finally on the board again thanks to Sanders’ Medicare for All plan, which has totally revolutionized the healthcare discussion in America, exposing our country’s wasteful spending for less quality care, and raising awareness about the thousands of uninsured and underinsured. “Healthcare is a right, not a privilege”, was not merely a line for Sanders, it’s his deeply held belief, and one he used his Presidential campaigns to fight for on a national level. And though healthcare has probably been Senator Sanders’ main charge on the campaign trail, he’s also raised awareness and popularity for tuition-free college, debt cancellation and multitude of other vanguard ideas that Democratic leadership never would fight for, or even pay lip-service to were it not for Bernie.
In addition to popularizing the kind of solutions our country needs to combat rising inequality, Sanders also organized and built a movement of young people around the nation, the only 2020 campaign to have the under 35-demographic on-lock the entire race, speaking to the young voters and addressing the issues that affect them with moral clarity and an understanding of the working class struggle. Sanders cut his teeth in politics as a student activist in Chicago, as his political ideology was permanently molded by the struggle of individuals seeking civil and economic equality, and has never given up the fight for justice, not as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, nor as Vermont’s Senator, nor as a two-time Presidential Candidate. Sanders has unequivocally called out injustice where he sees it, whether or not it’s politically en vogue. It’s this consistency which has made his candidacy so attractive to voters sick of the status quo.
Before Bernie Sanders, no national politician had the gumption nor clout to stand on television and propose we take steps to democratize in the workplace. Such ideas would’ve been lambasted from even the so-called left as electoral suicide, ideas the American people would “surely” reject resoundingly. Bernie also understood the necessity of exposing the rank corruption involved in campaign finance. His campaign’s ability to sustain itself on small dollar donations and still compete with establishment candidates with a corporate bank roll was unthinkable before he did it twice. Even as recently as 2019, Elizabeth Warren scoffed at the idea of refusing corporate funding, an issue she routinely shifted her position on. Sanders’ campaign established a financial litmus test for candidates: “Are you paid for by PAC money, or the people?” With more than 10 million individuals contributing an average donation of $18.53, Sanders’ campaign raised more money than his competitors almost every single quarter.
Unfortunately, despite the tireless efforts of Sanders, his staff and his army of volunteers, Joe Biden is now the presumptive Democratic nominee after a decisive win in South Carolina and a series of substantial victories following that on Super Tuesday and beyond. Despite winning the popular vote of Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, Bernie’s momentum found an end in the South, just as in 2016. Going forward, Biden’s challenge is to somehow wrangle Bernie’s young supporters into voting for him, despite refusing to carry forward any of the ideas that made Bernie’s candidacy so exciting to his base in the first place. This reality will only be compounded when Biden inevitably picks a moderate running mate like Kamala Harris or Gretchen Whitmer, refusing an opportunity to extend an olive branch to his very substantial left flank. He will need the youth vote to win in the general election, which will be a brutal, uphill battle against the incumbent President Trump.
Although Biden will be leading the Democratic party into the general election against Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders will always be an ideological leader to his movement, and an inspiration to progressive minded citizens running for office who will take his example and fund their campaigns with small-dollar donations instead of corporate PAC money. He’s responsible for a public awakening as to the corrupt nature of our campaign finance system, and the reality that many Democrats still won’t acknowledge: that the Democratic party as it’s currently run is not a people’s party, and has been infested by multi-national corporate interests and neoliberal rot. Though Bernie tried valiantly to take over the party from within, it’s now up to other insurgent candidates, as well as activists and protestors, to finish taking back the party for working people as soon as Biden inevitably loses to Trump, once again proving that establishment-approved candidates like Clinton and Biden will never stand a chance against the faux-populism of Donald Trump.
With a global pandemic threatening American’s livelihoods all across the nation, and the inequalities of society more brazenly on display than ever, it truly is a shame that Sanders’ humanistic brand of Democratic Socialism won’t be the face of the Democratic party going into the general election. His solutions predated the spread of COVID-19, but they are more urgently felt than ever before. Though his campaign was not without its faults, some of which will always be looked back upon regrettably, Bernie Sanders is the leader we desperately need, but apparently don’t deserve.
As a memo sent out to supporters from the Sanders camp this morning read, “The campaign ends, the struggle continues.” It now becomes the duty of his progressive coalition to continue the battle of ideas and bring the progressive policies proposed by Sanders to fruition.