Hasn’t Bernie-mania been fun so far? Yes, in Colorado over the weekend Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders tore it up with a crowd of nearly 5,000 in Denver, his largest since announcing for the Democratic nomination in May.
The 73-year-old Independent spoke for an hour and hit a nerve on economic issues as he advocated for an end to income inequality as well as a higher minimum wage, pay equity for women and more government spending on infrastructure.
“What we are doing tonight is we are sending a message to the billionaire class and that is: You can’t have it all!” Sanders said, shouting to a crowd that filled a University of Denver gymnasium and spilled onto a nearby lacrosse field. “The unquenchable greed of the billionaire class is destroying this nation and it has got to end.”
Combine this with another story out this weekend that, according to new polling data, there is a significant increase in the number of Americans who describe themselves as liberal and the number of Americans taking liberal positions on the issues.
Since the 1988 presidential campaign, when George H.W. Bush and Lee Atwater turned “Massachusetts liberal” into an epithet, the label has been tainted — so much so that many liberals abandoned it for “progressive.”
But new polling shows a significant increase in the number of Americans who describe themselves as liberal and the number of Americans taking liberal positions on issues. Gallup has found the percentage of Americans calling themselves social liberals has equaled the percentage of social conservatives for the first time since pollsters began asking the question in 1999 (when 39 percent identified as conservative and 21 percent as liberal). Democrats are more likely to call themselves liberal and Republicans are less likely to embrace the “conservative” description, opting instead for moderate.
I would caution my brothers and sisters on the left not to get too excited in the short term because we have a long way to go before a liberal like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren can win the Democratic presidential nomination or the presidency itself. But trends are everything in politics and, for many of us, this is a good one.
My sense has long been that the tea party movement is a response built on fear to do with the diminishing stature of the U.S. in the world andlower standards of living at home for most and the kind of selfishness that can accompany that fear.
My hope is that the recent rise of liberal sentiment is based on a growing understanding that if we are to survive we have to learn to share what we have, which means, horror of horrors, we have to talk about how best to redistribute the wealth.
For now, we can take some comfort that Hillary Clinton understands the wisdom in taking seriously the leftward tilt of Democratic voters even as she continues to chug along nearly unabated to the Democratic nomination. On that point, a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll has her at 75% of the vote among Democratic primary voters compared with 15% for Sanders.
I am not a Hillary-basher, believing that she is progressive enough to earn my enthusiastic support, especially as one contemplates the Republican alternative. But as we consider the long game, those of us who care deeply about real progressive values, especially on things like the influence of wealth, income inequality and real access to opportunity, will have to balance an interest in “good enough for now” with the need for change that doesn’t just nibble around the edges.
Like a lot of people, I hate to be told not to ask for too much for fear that we will play into the hands of those who want so badly to label the Democratic Party as too radical. I get it, but if the aforementioned polling is accurate, what counts as too radical is a moving target and we ought to be testing it constantly.
Good for Bernie Sanders for aggressively trying out the lines and concepts that will be needed for victory at some point in the future.