Image by Jem Sullivan
The fervent prayer of old-line Democratic operatives and corporate funders is that the Sanders Storm will dissipate now that Hillary Clinton has the nomination, allowing politics-as-usual to reestablish its grip on the system.
Here’s why I think that won’t happen: First, Hillary Clinton is smart, savvy, and accomplished, and she didn’t come this far by ignoring important shifts in the political winds. As Bernie Sanders’s tub-thumping message drew huge crowds, new voters, and a deep pool of small donors, she adjusted her wings to try riding some of the powerful thermals rising from America’s grassroots.
A career-long corporate Democrat, Clinton began sounding more and more like Sanders, sympathizing with the rising fury of working-class families. You can view her adaptations as hopeful or hopelessly cynical, but Clinton recognizes that a new power is loose on the land. She knows the same-old Bill & Barack moderate corporatism won’t charge up the crowds she needs in November, so she’s scrambling to tap the electric populism of the Bernie rebellion.
This rebellious spark is the true hope of a moribund Democratic Party that is backed by only 29 percent of registered voters. Far from wishing away the energetic millions who “Feel the Bern,” entrenched Democratic elders should beg these hot-blooded activists to revitalize the party. In fact, a June poll by Reuters/Ipsos found that three-quarters of Democrats (including Hillary backers) want Sanders to have a “major role” in shaping the party’s positions.
Think about it: While Bernie was the oldest candidate running for President, in heart, soul, vigor, and vision, he is by far the youngest. He won a stunning 71 percent of voters under thirty. He did well among women, African Americans, and Latinas. And he dominated among independents who voted Democratic. There’s the future.
The grassroots insurgents who picked up Sanders and rammed him through the front gate of the Democrats’ corporate bastion have shattered complacency, exposed the party’s drift from democratic principles, and opened the system to the possibility of another populist moment in American history.
The second (and most powerful) reason I believe this rebellion will persevere is that it’s organic. Not an artificial marketing creation sprouted in some D.C. hothouse by national groups and moneyed interests, but a wildflower movement that sprang up spontaneously, took root, and seeded thousands of zip codes.
Despite supporters’ natural disappointment that their efforts ended short of the Oval Office, the majority are not petulantly giving up on politics, as most pundits predicted. Why would they? After all, this corps of pro-democracy activists seemingly came from nowhere, won twenty-two states, virtually tied in five others, and revolutionized the Democrats’ message, policy agenda, and method of campaigning. Having proven their mettle as a talented and inventive grassroots network, they’re eager to push forward.
I’ve been out there among them for months—from Great Falls to Cedar Falls, Albany to Albuquerque, Carson City to New York City, and more—and I’ve witnessed their creativity and grit. No way they’ll “Bern out” and fold, for they have audacious, long-term ambitions.
Unlike the political and media establishment, which treats elections as periodic games to be “won” with pollsters, funders, and tricksters, this populist team is engaged in real politics: the ongoing struggle by everyday people to democratize America’s wealth and power to serve the common good.
Bernie’s success emerged like a grito—a long-suppressed shout of rebellion—from the battered soul of working-class America. It sprang in part from people’s anger at being run over, then ignored, by the corporate and political elites. But as Bernie’s message spread through mass rallies and social media, it became obvious that the rebellion is also deeply motivated by belief in an egalitarian America, a society dedicated to democracy’s fundamental principle: We’re all in this together.
Jim Hightower produces The Hightower Lowdown newsletter and is the author, with Susan DeMarco, of Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go with the Flow.