WASHINGTON — Bernie Sanders has been rising in the polls, and the idea that he could be America’s next president is gaining among political observers who had previously written him off.

It seems that they may have underestimated how important authenticity is to the electorate at this moment — and to the activist and small-donor base that Sanders has built more than anyone else.

We got a preview of this dynamic in 2016. How did Bernie Sanders, a not very well-known U.S. senator, vastly outspent and outgunned, with an average contribution of $27 and relatively little attention from the major media, manage to win 43 percent of the Democratic vote and build a formidable activist base with 2 million contributors and a million volunteers?

Simply put, he was able to accomplish this because people knew that he was real.

The most prominent news outlets have acknowledged that he has played a pre-eminent role in transforming the electoral debate: on Medicare for All — or as Sanders says, health care as a human right, free public college tuition, a $15 minimum wage, student debt relief and the urgency of undoing America’s crushing inequality of income and wealth.

Twenty years ago, when we were fighting a bipartisan false narrative that Social Security was going broke, Bernie saw right through it and led the charge to make sure that benefits would not be cut. He did the same in 2012 when there was another bipartisan effort to cut Social Security.

With other candidates having adopted many of Bernie’s positions, his decades-long, consistent track record and incorruptible tenacity have become increasingly important to his popularity among voters.

Bernie’s record stands in sharp contrast to that of his main competitor, former Vice President Joe Biden, who supported cuts to Social Security. Biden’s record also differs sharply from Bernie’s on crucial economic and political issues: Biden’s support for NAFTA and permanent normal trade relations with China in 2000, which cost millions of manufacturing jobs and harmed U.S. labor unions; his leadership role in promoting legislation and ideas that increased mass incarceration; his alliance with the banking industry in passing bankruptcy legislation that hurt poor and working people; as well as financial deregulation that harmed the whole economy. On issues of war and peace, Bernie’s consistency also stands out. He was a leader in the fight against George W. Bush’s disastrous Iraq War — which Biden played a major role in supporting.

Bernie also led the fight most recently to avoid another horrible war with Iran, and to get Congress to pass legislation ordering an end to U.S. military participation in the genocidal Saudi war in Yemen.

In these efforts, as well as others, Sanders has also demonstrated his ability to work with people of very different political views to get things done. This has included Republicans as well as Democrats in the Senate.

America is approaching what could be the end of a long and unusual period in its economic history in which a massive upward redistribution of income took place. These past five decades put an end to the prior period of widely shared economic growth, in which it was common for a family with even just one wage earner to be able to buy a home, raise children and pay for their college education.

Maybe it took the Great Recession and more than 8 million Americans losing their homes to make so many people understand how the U.S. economy had been so profoundly transformed. But most voters now want someone whom they can really trust to take this country down a different path; a path that most economists know is quite feasible. That could be why Bernie Sanders is rapidly gaining momentum.

A native of Chicago and a graduate in economics from the University of Michigan, Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C.

Copyright 2020 Tribune Content Agency.

(4) comments

seanjames

Bernie is a new-deal era democrat. nothing more nothing less. the fact that the democratic party has moved so far to the right in the past 40 years that it is no longer recognizable does not suddenly make him a radical

dcmetro

I don't think he is capable of beating Trump. I actually don't care for any presidential candidate running this year from any political party. I think it was said that Sanders needs to gain the support of the huge and growing numbers of independents in this country to win. I'm one of them and he certainly doesn't have my vote.

Comment deleted.
seanjames

ah, bloomberg. who switches parties whenever it is politically convenient for him and literally buys his way onto a debate stage. what a bastion of integrity!

seanjames

i mean, Obama ran as a social democrat and won in a landslide. sure, it turns out he was a neoliberal in disguise, but the lesson of the election strands. and since we already have definitive proof that a centrist can lose to trump (since, it's already happened) it's no wonder that scare tactic just doesn't resonate quite so much anymore

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