I wrote six articles (1, 2, 3 , 4 , 5 , 6 ) about the Bernie Sanders campaign during the 2016 primary. As everyone keeps saying, Bernie is a paragon of consistency, so my understanding of him stands unchanged. The political situation in 2020 is, however, significantly different, and has opened up new possibilities for the Sanders campaign. On the eve of the first primary vote in Iowa, let's consider what those possibilities are and where this campaign is taking its constituents and the Democratic Party.
Bernie himself is the same as he ever was. a moderate welfare-state Social Democrat, not a socialist or even anti-capitalist; anti-war with an historically anti-imperialist, but now imperialist-accommodating, tinge; nominally independent but functionally an auxiliary Democrat; fiercely critical of Republicans but stubbornly shy about criticizing Democratic colleagues. He is also, I think, honest and trustworthy. You can see that he takes and fights for the positions he does because he believes in them, not because he is opportunistically pandering to a specific audience segment or to the donor class.
To be clear, even though, from my decidedly more leftist, socialist point of view, I have no illusions about Bernie's faults (and was pretty ruthless about them in those 2016 essays), I hope he wins and will vote for him. Indeed, I changed my registration in New York to vote for him in the Democratic primary, and I would certainly vote for him in the general. He would be the first Democratic presidential candidate I have voted for in decades.
That's because there is a difference in kind between Bernie and the other Democratic candidates, a difference unlike the differences among them. It's the difference between a principled Social Democratic program to meet human needs, based on and supported by a mass movement, and a program of neoliberal tinkering to protect profit-making possibilities, based on and supported by capitalist donors/the donor class.
His nomination would be a radical departure and would radically disrupt the Democratic Party and the whole political game, and he would have a great chance to win, opening new and substantively different and left, social-democratic possibilities in the U.S.
Nowhere is this more evident than in his Medicare-for-All program, and nothing has been more revelatory then watching fauxgressives like Warren and Buttigieg moonwalk away from it. Bernie's universal coverage single-payer program establishes healthcare as a human right, not a commodity. It concretely benefits the lives and enhances the social power of the great majority of citizens by taking public control of an essential service, and eliminating a predatory capitalist industry. That is why all the other Democratic candidates (save perhaps Tulsi, who has been unfairly but effectively rendered moot) reject it: they prefer maintaining health care as a commodity sold to consumers for a profit, just adding a generic version on the supermarket shelf; their "public option" is all about preserving the "profit option."
Similar principled differences can be seen in programs like free tuition, and cancellation of medical and student debt. Bernie's framework, which establishes a universal public right, is different in kind not just degree from other candidates' frameworks that maintain tiers of assistance based on income-thus, reinforcing class divisions and resentments, keeping everyone aware of who gets "welfare" and who's "paying their way," reminding poor people that they're not precariously "middle-class," and vice-versa.