Just as they love to pretend that corruption in Washington began on January 20th, 2017, the Democratic media class also loves to pretend that the ideological fracturing of the Democratic Party began the moment Bernie Sanders challenged Hillary Clinton in 2016. But the fissures in the party long predate that primary. With the election of Barack Obama the public was clear: they wanted out of the Middle East, they wanted job creation, better healthcare, and to punish whoever was responsible for destroying the economy and squandering their life savings. In fact it was speaking to these very frustrations that allowed Barack Obama to transition from a fresh-faced long shot to a serious competitor when he squared off with Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic Primary.
Obama sailed into office on a progressive, change-based message, something the public was desperate for after the doom and gloom of eight long years of Bush. But after seizing upon the country’s desperation Obama quickly changed gears. He stuffed his cabinet with fatcat Wall Street aristocrats and hawkish foreign policy advisors, who then in turn advised him to bail out the banks instead of the public, and to keep the war machine humming in the resource-rich developing world.
He passed the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, aka the bailout bill, that amounted to little more than a slap on the wrist for the very institutions responsible for the collapse to begin with. Now it would turn out that there are consequences to betraying your base, but when the boot finally dropped for the Democratic party, Obama’s bags would be long packed. By the time his replacement arrived in the oval office, Barack was well on his way to collecting on eight long years worth of favors.
As Obama kept his sights set on appeasing the grifter class who would finance his re-election in 2012, discontent lingered in the minds of Americans. The disappointment brought on by just the first two years of Obama’s presidency resulted in enough voter apathy to turn the tides and cost the Democratic Party control of Congress. Ultimately stripping the ability to pass any of the progressive promises other than a watered down, corporate-friendly healthcare bill that left millions uninsured. After losing their Congressional supermajority in the 2010 midterms, the Democrats squandered the rest of their time in power making excuses and blaming Republican obstruction, fanning the flames of the very nation-wide frustration which led to Obama’s rise in the first place.
Mitch McConnel’s Senate and Paul Ryan’s House provided Obama with the cover to due the bidding of the grifter class with a proper scapegoat. Even with Democratic majority Congress during his first two years in office, Obama chose not to pursue the bold policy his campaign rhetoric would have suggested. Instead opting to do the bidding of the elites he packed his cabinet with.
After 8 years of the Obama administration, voters were looking for an alternative to the mainstream. While Hillary Clinton was a beloved figure among Democratic leadership, she remained vastly unpopular with large coalitions of voters, for reasons very much connected to Obama’s tepid legacy. After all, Obama’s victory in 2008 was already a repudiation of the Clintons, Sanders simply capitalized on that same frustrations.
For all of the media’s theories as to Bernie’s sudden rise to Democratic fame, the most obvious answer is simply that voters were tired of neoliberal policies and milquetoast reforms offered by the Obama administration, which improved their lives in no tangible way. In the shadow of the disastrous Bush administration, it is easy to compliment the Obama administration for what good was accomplished under his presidency, but it was his incrementalism and compromise with the corporate class that lead to much of the duress we are seeing today; his administration’s refusal to meaningfully address the cultural, economic, and environmental issues plaguing the country left a bulk of the country completely without trust in either party.
During the 2016 primaries, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump both ran as outsiders to the establishment of their respective parties, each the perfect foil of the other, Sanders and Trump both uniquely understood the power of populism in America. Trump soaked his campaign rhetoric in racism and hyper nationalism, Sanders with unity and collaboration.
To the disbelief of first the Republican and then Democratic establishment, Trump’s promises actually resonated with much of this country. Particularly in swing states in the Rust Belt that had been ravaged by decades of disastrous trade policy, voters simply didn’t trust Clinton to improve where Obama had failed, with 4.4 million Obama voters opting to stay home. Of those who did turn out in the critical states, many of whom voted for Trump despite his crassness, hateful rhetoric, blatant bigotry and profound lack of class, because they hoped would bring a change to the sorry status quo.
Now, as they prepare to face an incumbent Trump, the Democratic establishment’s support is clearly divided, unable to settle collectively on a candidate to oppose Bernie Sanders–who intends to oust Wall Street from the bed of the Democratic Party like a scorned lover. Even in the face of opposition from a Republican party bent on destroying economic and social progress by any means necessary, the Democratic establishment seems determined to cut the legs out from underneath their best shot at the White House. Populism will always prevail in a fair contest with corporatism and incrementalism, which means only one thing–it’s about to get dirty.