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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 2/20/19

Why Nation Owes Bernie Sanders Our Enduring Gratitude

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Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders
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It's easy to forget the condescension and amusement that greeted him when he announced his first campaign for president, on May 26, 2015.

How, it was asked, could a rumpled, 73-year-old, self-described Democratic Socialist a junior senator from tiny Vermont, who was born in Brooklyn, Jewish, hadn't even been a Democrat for most of his political career, and eschewed money from super PACs possibly triumph against Hillary Clinton?

In the end, he didn't. But he triumphed in other ways.

Bernie won a surprising 46 percent of the pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention. His primary campaign whipped up a storm of enthusiasm among young people and grass-roots activists. He garnered over a million individual donations, including $20 million in January 2016 alone ($5 million more than Clinton), with an average individual donation of $27.

Most importantly, he showed Democrats they could run successfully on policies like Medicare for all, free public higher education, and higher taxes on the wealthy instead of the cautious "New Democrat" centrism of Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, and Barack Obama.

Bernie Sanders put "progressive" back into the Democratic Party of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Now, ironically, his success four years ago may impede his second candidacy. Not only is he four years older, Bernie is no longer the only progressive in town.

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Sharrod Brown are pushing many of the same themes and drawing enthusiasm from many of the same quarters.

And partly because of his success at mobilizing and energizing Democrats in the 2016 primaries, a slew of other presidential hopefuls are approaching the 2020 primary campaign the same way foregoing big money, talking up the importance of reviving democracy, using social media, and advancing ideas that would once have been considered too radical.

The conventional view is Bernie helped move the Democratic Party to the "left."

Wrong. Even before his primary campaign, American politics was moving away from the old right-left spectrum that had distinguished "small-government" conservatives from "big-government" liberals.

Bernie helped reveal a new and deeper political divide in America between oligarchy and democracy.

Rather than the size of government, he raised the more central question of who government is for.

Donald Trump rode a similar wave of populist anger at a political elite too cozy with big business and too concerned about its own survival to pay attention to average working people. But, as has become clear, Trump was a Trojan horse for the same oligarchy he condemned.

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Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a new film, "Inequality for All," to be released September 27. He blogs at www.robertreich.org.

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