In more than a few ways, Bernie Sanders reminds me of another politician from Vermont. Remember this guy?
Howard Dean ran in 2004 as a progressive who voted against the War in Iraq, championed healthcare reform, and was funded through grassroots donors rather than big lobbying groups. The media predictably rejected his “far-left” ideals, and dismissively referred to his young, enthusiastic supporters as “Deanie Babies” (Bernie Bros, anyone?). But they couldn’t find any real dirt to throw against him.
Then, after the Iowa caucuses, Dean gave a speech during which he loudly proclaimed, “…we’re going to South Carolina and Oklahoma and Arizona and North Dakota and New Mexico […] and then we’re going to Washington, D.C., to take back the White House! Yeah!!!” Unfortunately for him, his voice cracked when he shouted “Yeah!!!” and it ended up coming out as a weird, high pitched scream.
For the next several weeks, the media exclusively focused on the “Dean Scream,” and shut his campaign down by refusing to cover anything else other than his weird scream. They relentlessly attacked him on the news, on late night shows, etc., as if having a weird scream makes one unqualified for president.
John Kerry won the nomination, George Bush won the election. The demoralized Democrats packed their bags and went home, and Howard Dean and his ideas became a mere footnote in history next to GWB’s disastrous second term.
Why is this relevant? Because depending on how his supporters act after the election, Bernie Sanders may too become a mere footnote in history. He will only be historically remarkable if his supporters press on and push his ideas forward.
We are at a crossroads in history…if the enthusiastic college students who support him today go on to elect progressives to Congress and to local and state positions, and hold these officials accountable until they reform the campaign financing system and redefine the relationship between the 99% and the 1%, then years from now, people might look back and say “Bernie Sanders is where it all started.”
If, instead, they become demoralized and abandon hope in the political system, then Sanders will be merely a footnote in history, as just another one of the many decent men and women who tried to stand up for the people, but were ultimately defeated by the overwhelming forces allayed against them. Patronizing old men, full of experience but lacking in vision, will continue to shake their heads and scoff at the silly enthusiasm of youth. And the 1% will continue their dominion of the American political system and economy unabated.
What Bernie Sanders has done to reinvigorate young and working class voters, and remind them of what America could be if it were free from the disproportionate influence of the super-rich, is indeed remarkable. But he cannot change the course of history alone. Whether Bernie Sanders becomes historically remarkable will be up to everyday voters, who must continue to carry the torch through local, county, state, and Congressional elections until his ideals become reality.
edit: I should add (thanks – Ian Everhart) that if my answer seems to have portrayed Howard Dean as an unmitigated failure, that wasn’t my intention. Dean went on to be a successful DNC chair and founded a successful grassroots advocacy group called Democracy for America, that still exists today and in fact endorsed Bernie Sanders.
What I meant to convey is that without persistently strong participation from large numbers of progressives, “reach” goals like single-payer healthcare and campaign finance reform will inevitably fall by the wayside, even under a Democrat-controlled Congress!