9 Ways Bernie Sanders’ Presidential Campaign Changed American Politics
In the days leading up to Bernie Sanders’ endorsement of Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire Tuesday, there was no shortage of yuuge hints it was going to happen. Sanders made clear he was willing to do anything to dodge a Trump presidency, affirmed he would vote for Clinton in the general, and said on CNN’s State of the Union last month he would endorse Clinton when she tackled “bolder” policies. Although his endorsement means he’s officially out of the presidential race, Sanders’ campaign will have a lasting impact on American politics.
“If she does the right thing, I’m absolutely confident that the vast majority of my supporters will vote for her,” Sanders told CNN last month. “That’s the process we’re engaged in right now; we’re working on the Democratic platform.” Since the interview, Clinton has expanded her platform to include tuition-free public college and added a “public option” to her Obamacare-esque healthcare plan, measures that strongly reflect Sanders’ biggest campaign promises since the very beginning. Meanwhile, in a string of concessions to Sanders, the Democratic platform committee wrote in a $15 minimum wage, the expansion of Social Security benefits, stricter sanctions for Wall Street fraud, and a path to marijuana legalization. All of these policies were previously either met with skepticism or portrayed as asking for way, way too much by Clinton and Democratic Party officials, yet here we are today.
As Sanders’ presidential campaign officially comes to a close, it’s worth remembering all the ways, policy-related and otherwise, his campaign has fundamentally changed American politics forever.
1. On Fundraising, Oligarchy, And Buying Politics
I have little doubt the success of Sanders’ presidential campaign without any super PACs and with predominantly small individual contributions averaging $27 a piece has changed how campaign fundraising will work forever. Whether someone is running for city council or the highest office in the land, progressives are now looking for someone campaigning on the support of the people rather than big banks or pharmaceutical companies.
The issue of “oligarchs” or the wealthy being able to buy or, at the very least, heavily shape elections with their money, was never one I was cognizant of before learning just how radical it was that Sanders’ campaign lacked the huge donors of Clinton or Jeb Bush and even, to some extent, President Obama in 2008. We all knew about how the NRA, fossil fuel, and war production companies influenced Congressional policies long before Sanders’ rise, but it wasn’t until Sanders’ grassroots, people-funded campaign that many people came to understand the sway of money in elections.
Let’s be real: not a lot of things are worth spending money, other than clothes or food or any good that you can directly enjoy after purchasing. That record-breaking numbers of small donors were actually willing to spend money on the election at a time of deep disillusionment with American politics shows just how fired up Sanders and his populist message got so many people.
2. Proving Integrity Matters
Now, not only do prospective voters want to know where a candidate is getting his or her money, but Sanders has also set the bar on candidate history pretty high with his record on civil rights reaching back almost 60 years. Writings from young Sanders show a dedication to progressive causes like reproductive rights and marriage equality as early as the 1970s, while videos exist of him arguing against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell more than 20 years ago.
Clinton’s long history as a politician might include ideological gaffes like the Iraq War, military interventionism, opposition to gay marriage, and funding from private prisons and other disappointing sources, but it’s worth noting anyone who’s been in politics as long as she has is going to make a few mistakes. Candidates with histories of questionable integrity have long been the norm. Meanwhile, Sanders’ progressive history was a key reason for his popularity, leading many to demand answers from Clinton about her own history.
While current policies will always matter, I have little doubt candidates’ track records will be a lot more important going forward, too.
3. Young People Will Matter, Too
According to some estimates, roughly 85 percent of Democratic-leaning millennial voters supported Sanders over Clinton, and many young people went out to vote for the first time for Sanders. To a generation disengaged and disillusioned with politics, Sanders was the first politician to get many of them emotionally involved by presenting himself as a new politician.
Also, by proposing solutions to many issues that deeply affect young people’s lives, from college debt to the affordable housing crisis, Sanders showed many young people why they should get involved in politics rather than give up and accept the status quo, if for no other reason than the betterment of their own lives. It’s likely these young people will go on to support progressives in Sanders’ image going forward. It’s a morbid thought, but in the not-so-distant future, the previous generations’ voters and elected officials will inevitably die off, and while Sanders didn’t win the election, his young progressive supporters are, in this sense, the future of the Democratic Party.
And on a more tangible level, in the state of Ohio, Sanders literally sued for and won the right for some 17-year-olds to vote in the state primary.
4. Fundamentally Changing Identity Politics
Despite her deafening privilege, Clinton’s success as a woman in politics marks an undeniable victory for the feminist movement, and her gender took the role of identity in politics this election season to unprecedented heights. But Sanders and his more relatable, representative socioeconomic standing (his net worth is literally almost a third of what Clinton made off three speeches to Goldman Sachs), as well as his overall more progressive policies, changed the game of identity politics, too.
Millennial women predominantly supported Sanders over Clinton, according to most polling, and fought back against condescending criticisms and characterizations of them made by Clinton surrogates Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright. Millennial women’s support for Sanders, which Clinton herself applauded, shows that contrary to popular belief, young women are capable of making their own independent, intellectual decisions taking into consideration a wide range of factors.
In the same vein, this support showed that a variety of qualities help determine how voters identify with a candidate. To many less wealthy women of color, Sanders and his less privileged lifestyle and lack of ties to wealthy elites felt more representative of them than Clinton.
5. On The Democratic Platform And Clinton’s Policies
As previously mentioned, the Democratic Party platform has adapted a $15 minimum wage, the expansion of Social Security benefits, stricter sanctions for Wall Street fraud, a path to marijuana legalization, and additionally, condemned the death penalty. All of these are policies advocated for by Sanders, and while the platform will still uphold the Trans-Pacific Partnership and a more pro-Israel foreign policy stance (both items Sanders vehemently disagreed with), he’s pushed the Democratic Party left on economic and human rights issues in the most tangible way possible.
In an effort to change the fact that literally 45 percent of Sanders voters claimed in June they wouldn’t vote for her, Clinton has recently adapted Sanders’ tuition-free public college plan and added a “public option” to her healthcare plan that reflects Sanders’ calls for a single-payer system. However, it’s worth noting that Clinton’s tuition-free public college plan will initially only be available to households with incomes less than $80,000. This reflects how Clinton has consistently criticized the premise of tuition-free public college as it could be taken advantage of by the excessively wealthy, while Sanders has repeatedly argued back that this would be fair because they would be paying substantially higher taxes.
These policy victories alone are already plenty impactful, and the fact remains that as the leader of his supporters’ “political revolution,” even with the conclusion of his campaign, Sanders’ influence isn’t going anywhere.
6. The Democratic Party And Its Most Beloved Leaders Aren’t Above Criticism
While Sanders has repeatedly voiced his admiration for President Obama, he hasn’t been shy about pointing out where Obama could be more progressive on issues like trade, healthcare, and even immigration. In the same vein, Sanders’ criticisms of fundraising methods by Democratic politicians and more corporate economic policies supported by the party have shown many that while the Democratic Party is leagues and bounds ahead of the GOP on abortion, LGBTQ rights, and protecting the environment, it isn’t perfect. The best way to achieve progress is to push and be critical of both parties.
Sanders has also consistently been critical of Clinton despite probably being well aware that she would win the nomination, proving to his supporters he has no interest in compromising his values for a position in her Cabinet. And while he officially endorsed her, I have little doubt he’ll shy from continuing to challenge Clinton to be the best progressive she can, and we’ll all be better off for it.
7. We’ve Learned To Not Hate Socialism And Learn From Other Countries
Not only have we learned just how much a more progressive tax plan like Sanders’ would raise (roughly $15.3 trillion, as a reminder), we’ve additionally learned that the vast majority of other industrialized nations have universal healthcare, free public college, and paid leave — and they’re doing pretty well.
The result has been acceptance of socialist principles after decades of post-Cold War stigma, and ultimately, the realization that the U.S. might have a lot going for it, but we shouldn’t hold the country up on a pedestal above criticism. There’s a lot we could learn from other countries around the world, and acceptance of our own imperfection is key to making America great. Sanders’ acknowledgement of what other countries are doing better than we are has convinced many Americans to consider this perspective.
8. He’s Probably Altered The Future Of Congress
By encouraging his supporters to run for office and campaign, support, and vote for each other, and also pointing out how the only way to implement his policy proposals would be through electing a more progressive Congress, Sanders has set in motion the next step of his political revolution. In response, his supporters have launched the “Brand New Congress” campaign to sweepingly elect progressives in Sanders’ image to Congress.
He’s been acknowledged by various senate candidates, including transgender senate candidate Misty K. Snow, as the inspiration for their campaigns, which are already being met with success in their respective primaries. So, who knows how far “Brand New Congress” might just go?
9. Voters Won’t Be Afraid To Ask — And Fight — For More
We all knew from the start some aspects of Sanders’ platform might not be possible in America with a GOP-dominated Congress so opposed to change and progressive reform. But just by asking and fighting for more, anyway, Sanders and his supporters have already dramatically transformed their party.
While passing a free public college plan through Congress would inevitably require a lot of compromise, we all know we’d be better off asking for it, than not, because the simple fact is that when you ask for more, you get more. Believe it or not, this is a pretty important concept to intersectional feminists, when you consider how frequently marginalized groups are shamed or portrayed as “asking for too much” when they demand the federal government acknowledge their humanity.
If you take away just one thing from Sanders’ presidential campaign, it should be that real change only happens when you rise above societal cynicism and pessimism.