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Until late April, I was completely dreading the 2016 election cycle. Every four years, the election process starts earlier and always seems to drag on forever. As someone who identifies as a Democratic Socialist and regularly votes for Green Party candidates, elections are generally a boring and depressing affair for me.
But when Bernie Sanders announced his intent to run for president, my attitude completely changed. Sanders is a Democratic Socialist senator who is wildly popular in his home state of Vermont. He is known for speaking his mind, which is guaranteed to make next year’s debates and election coverage actually worth watching.
Unfortunately, talking heads in Washington are saying that Bernie’s only role in this election cycle will be to drag Hillary Clinton to the left. I would love to see a female president as much as the next gal, but not if Clinton is the only option. She has close relationships with Wall Street firms, her foreign policy is hawkish, and her interactions with others are painfully scripted. Plus, her career is marred with controversy, whether it’s rejecting transparency as Secretary of State or accepting money from a Russian uranium supplier.
It’s also worth noting that for the past 25 years, the “vast right-wing conspiracy” has been actively smearing her at every turn. Her clothes, her hair, her relationship with Bill - everything has been fair game for conservative pundits. (If you want to read some truly insane conspiracy theories about the Clintons, here you go.
Let me be clear - I think this is deplorable. However, 25 years of negative press is a significant barrier for any candidate, especially a candidate for whom public opinion is lukewarm at best.
As of today, a majority of Americans do think that Clinton is the inevitable winner of the election, but that’s not because of enthusiasm for her candidacy. As Hamilton Nolan writes over at Gawker, “The inevitability of Hillary Clinton’s triumph is a facade, manufactured by a team of political consultants for the purpose of making her victory easier by encouraging any and all opponents to give up and fade away.”
Sanders, on the other hand, has been riling people up for years. For one thing, he’s an Independent, and that’s a big reason why he’s a breath of fresh air. He will be running as a Democrat in 2016, but not as a Clinton Democrat. He holds views and supports policies that are sensible and popular, and in an age where many Americans are completely fed up with the political status quo, Bernie Sanders could be a candidate that people are actually excited to support.
So what does Bernie Sanders, a Democratic Socialist, actually stand for? Well, for starters, he supports infrastructure investment, the full legalization of marijuana, universal healthcare and childcare, a $15 federal minimum wage, and progressive taxation. He will never attract Tea Party voters with these views, but he doesn’t need to. They are a tiny but loud segment of this country’s independent voters.
Sanders is also known for taking principled stands, even when they are against his best interest. For his 2016 campaign, he is completely rejecting Super PAC money. Even without the super PACs, Sanders raised 1.5 million dollars on his first official campaign day. Regarding his rejection of super PACs, his campaign spokesperson says, "He simply isn’t content with just denouncing the system. He feels compelled not to participate in it. That is a political statement and one that voters will respect.”
Notably, Sanders’ worldview shares significant overlap with Pope Francis, who is currently one of the most well-liked public figures in the world. Both men are influenced by socialist principles, but in Sanders’ own words, he’s “not quite as radical” as the Pope. Sanders’ popular Facebook page regularly shares photos and quotes of the Pope (it’s worth noting that Sanders is not Catholic, he is Jewish).
Up until this point, I haven’t spent any time discussing Republican candidates, but I should briefly mention that I’m not concerned with any of them. So far in the 2016 presidential election, they just aren’t worth anyone’s time or analysis. Their social views are increasingly viewed as bigoted and backwards, and when forced to articulate these views outside of a million-dollar campaign ad, people don’t respond in a positive way. Sure, there will always be voters who appreciate conservative talking points, but they certainly don’t constitute a majority.
The American public is becoming less white and more progressive every year. Presidential candidates will not proudly proclaim their opposition to gay marriage this election cycle. Republicans are no longer aggressively denying climate change - now, the party line is to skirt the issue by saying, “I’m not a scientist!”
Republicans cannot win a presidential election again until their party platform changes significantly, because the presidential election is the only time when all American voters have the opportunity to weigh in on one office. Republicans do best in low-turnout, highly localized elections - that’s why the House of Representatives is so conservative.
So, if the Republican candidates don’t stand a chance and few people are truly enthusiastic about Hillary, why couldn’t Bernie Sanders win? A common gripe among independents is that the American two-party system represents a narrow sliver of the political spectrum. By running for president, Sanders is significantly widening the represented viewpoints in 2016. His views are popular, and don’t just appeal to people on the far left. Moderates and independents are always courted in elections, and are often turned off by partisan antics. Sanders has a good chance of attracting these voters to the polls next November with his straightforward attitude and principles.
If you’re still dismissive of Bernie Sanders as a presidential contender, think back to 2008. Many people thought Hillary Clinton was the inevitable winner then, too. But then, out of left field, a junior senator stole the spotlight. Bernie Sanders is no junior senator - he’s been navigating Washington outside of the two-party system for decades now. If anyone can beat Hillary, it’s Bernie.