Thinking independently: The appeal and importance of Bernie Sanders

    Hillary Clinton’s announcement that she’d be running for president was perhaps the most hyped nonevent of the year. Social media blew up and everyone went nuts, but the fact that it happened didn’t surprise a soul. Democrats have been rallying behind “Hillary 2016” even before they were finished with “Obama 2012,” and people were handing out #Ready signs at the Arch back in Fall Quarter. I’d compare the announcement to Mayfest reassuring Northwestern that Dillo Day would indeed take place this year; it was just sort of assumed.

    Her political dominance has deterred many democratic presidential hopefuls from running in 2016, but one unconventional challenger has risen up and turned many heads. 

    Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, isn’t your run-of-the-mill politician. A bona fide socialist, he stands in stark contrast to the Democratic establishment that Clinton represents. While Hillary’s top campaign donors include Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, Sanders recently proposed a bill that would break up America’s biggest banks. He also openly advocates for free college tuition and universal government-run health care. His campaign website reads, “A political revolution is coming.” 

    It seems unlikely that anyone outside of ultra-leftist groups would support such an extreme candidate, but Sanders thinks he has a shot. He’s already had a long and successful political career, serving as mayor of Burlington, Vermont from 1981-1989, and sitting as both a representative and a senator in Congress since. In 2012, he won Vermont’s senate election by a larger margin of victory than Barack Obama received in the state that same year. 

    But what’s his appeal? In liberal Vermont, many are accepting of his grassroots ideology, but the reason for his popularity is bigger. He does what people expect politician to do: govern not in the way that’s most popular, but the in the way deemed best for the American people. And in the eyes of most, he’s one of the few people doing it. Over the last five years, congressional approval ratings have never broken the 20 percent mark. With so many Americans feeling disillusioned with Washington’s stagnated, partisan operations, there is a resounding call for change.

    For now, Sanders is the only candidate that embodies that change, at least on the left. He’s gone against the grain of what defines a D.C. politician for his entire career. He doesn’t use vague rhetoric – he says what he means and means what he says. He’s not worried about winning people over with his appearance — he announced his candidacy during an underrated ten-minute press conference on the Capitol grounds, looking endearingly disheveled. He doesn’t schmooze wealthy campaign sponsors; so far, 99 percent of his presidential campaign contributions were $250 or less and he’s frequently condemned the Citizens United decision which greatly expanded the campaign funding abilities of corporations and unions. He himself doesn’t come from money. He has the lowest net worth of any presidential hopeful, coming in at $330,507 compared to Clinton’s $15.3 million.

    Kevin Corkran, a SESP freshman and a former NU College Democrats ASG Senator, calls Sanders a “true progressive candidate.” He plans on working for the senator’s campaign this summer. 

    Corkran believes Sanders’ presence in the primaries will also give the party a much-needed shake up. The lack of primaries in 2012 closed any opportunity for debate on the agenda of the greater Democratic Party, but this year, Sanders and Clinton will be going debating issues head to head. 

    “People are going to be able to talk about issues, and we’ll see a lot more media coverage on the left side,” Corkran said. “We can build up our own party.”

    But could Bernie beat Hillary? If I were in Vegas, I wouldn’t bet on it. As students, we may believe everyone is as progressive and forward-thinking as we are in the left-leaning bubble of higher education, but America as a whole probably isn’t ready for a socialist president. NU Political Union co-president and Weinberg junior Alexi Stocker believes that Sanders is too extreme even for most Democrats, especially in early primary states like Iowa. In his opinion, someone like Clinton might be the better overall choice for the Democratic Party, given her political experience and proven ability to compromise. 

    “It’s tea partyers and extreme hardline left-wingers who actually cause the problems in our system,” Stocker says. “What I think we need is a return to institutional, career politicians. I think it’s critical for the functioning of our government. Slow progress is the progress that historically has worked.”

    Though his victory would be a long shot, Sanders’ mere presence could have an effect Hillary, shifting her left, or at least forcing her to discuss liberal issues like mass incarceration and labor rights in greater depth.

    “If she was running unopposed then she could focus on the general election and really framing herself against a Republican candidate,” said Karna Nangia, NU Political Union’s other co-president and Weinberg junior. To get support from the party’s left wing, Hillary will now have to articulate her opinions on the issues Sanders is addressing in detail, according to Nangla.

    The primaries won’t start for another eight months, so there is plenty of time for the situation to change, but one thing is certain. Starting May 26, when Bernie Sanders formally kicks off his campaign, America can expect an interesting show.


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