Has Bernie already won?

Bernie's success is very much the product of a political shift and the rise of the liberal left around issues of economic inequality.

Paul Sancya/AP
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, speaks at a rally in Warren, Michigan, in April.

Bernie Sanders is very much a politician of these times.

In her cover story this week on the senator’s Vermont roots, staff writer Christa Case Bryant chronicles Mr. Sanders’ journey from iconoclastic Yankee outsider to darling of the Democratic left. His moment is very much the product of a political shift. The rise of the liberal left around issues of economic inequality has made someone who proclaims himself a democratic socialist a viable presidential candidate. Indeed, at this stage, he is a Democratic front-runner.

Yet Christa’s story also marks this as Mr. Sanders’ moment in another way – one that bespeaks perhaps an even deeper and more consequential shift in American politics. In nearly three decades in Congress, Mr. Sanders has sponsored 408 bills. Of those, seven have become law, and two of those were for naming post offices in his home state. Says one Vermont political scientist: “He’s much better at articulating the righteous indignation for the country’s failure to achieve what he believes in than making the compromises necessary to seeing [that] those principles are achieved.”

That makes him an ideal politician for this moment. His success shows how much politics has changed.

Back when I was the Northern California correspondent for the Monitor in 2004, I met a politician every bit as liberal as Mr. Sanders. State Sen. John Burton was an institution in California politics, and he was the last of a generation there – someone who had come of political age during President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. Once, in exasperation at the actions of a Republican governor, he mockingly sponsored bills to make poverty illegal and force orphanages to serve gruel. His wit was as sharp as his political acumen.

I had expected to meet a raving partisan. What I found was a man obsessed with numbers. His message to me, over and over, was that what he personally wanted was irrelevant. What mattered was what he could muster the votes to pass. He was, down to his bones, a legislator – his job was passing laws.

That vision of the legislator is on the verge of extinction for all practical purposes in American politics. Again and again, voters have thrown out that old guard – both Democrats and Republicans – and voted in ideologues whose first priority in Washington is advocating not legislating. Those legislators who remain have fewer colleagues with whom to work and a shorter leash from voters back home.

Take California Sen. Dianne Feinstein. When the Democrat told a group of citizens that whether she backed the Green New Deal was irrelevant because she couldn’t pass it, she was pilloried on liberal social media as a heartless cop-out. In short, she was criticized for insisting on legislating. Today, American voters are rewarding politicians like Mr. Sanders, not Mr. Burton. 

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. The people get to choose how they wish to be represented. But then they should also be pleased by a Washington that places advocacy over action.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Has Bernie already won?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today