The real secret to Bernie Sanders’ success

November 12, 2015
Democrati presidential candidates U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (L) and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton debate duringthe first official Democratic candidates debate of the 2016 presidential campaign in Las Vegas, Nevada October 13, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson - RTS4CQD

Senator Bernie Sanders (L) , REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson; Henry A. Wallace, REUTERS/Library of Congress/Harris & Ewing Collection

On the presidential campaign trail, Senator Bernie Sanders’ rallying cry is “political revolution.” The Vermont senator draws big crowds as he incriminates the wealthy for perpetuating an American oligarchy. Calling for policies that can transform a long-suffering lower-income majority into a true middle class, Sanders speaks passionately about the economic hardship of the 99 percent.

When I asked Sanders who his political hero is, he quickly named labor organizer Eugene V. Debs, the six-time socialist presidential candidate. His ideas, Sanders said, “ended up becoming part of Roosevelt’s New Deal.” Though he calls himself a socialist and sits in Congress as an independent, Sanders is running for president as a Democrat.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (C) is surrounded by media after a rally and news conference to introduce legislation designed to make it easier for workers to join together and bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions in Washington October 6, 2015.     REUTERS/Gary Cameron     - RTS3B54

Senator Bernie Sanders (C) after a rally in Washington, October 6, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

At the Iowa Democratic Party’s celebrated Jefferson-Jackson dinner, Sanders urged citizen activists not to “turn [their] backs on the political process.” He reiterated, “You are not on the sidelines of these struggles; you are in the middle, and that is what our campaign is about.”

This is Sanders’ effective message for his supporters outside the political orthodoxy: We need to operate within the Democratic Party in order to achieve a progressive agenda.

History demonstrates that alternative party candidates – including Theodore Roosevelt’s Bull Moose platform in 1912, Ross Perrot’s two independent bids in 1992 and 1996, and Ralph Nader’s green presidential campaigns — are destined to reinforce the status quo rather than upset it.

In choosing to run as a Democrat, Sanders has clearly learned a lesson from Henry Wallace’s unsuccessful 1948 third-party presidential campaign. Like the former Burlington, Vermont, mayor campaigning for a $15 living wage, Wallace endorsed a like-minded “people’s revolution” that makes genuine freedom attainable for working-class Americans.

fdr_Truman_Wallace

(L-R) President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Vice President-elect Harry S. Truman and Vice President Henry Wallace after the Democratic ticket’s election victory, November 10, 1944. Wikipedia/Commons

Wallace, who had served as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s vice president during his third term, bucked the Democratic Party to oppose President Harry S. Truman’s candidacy for election. A son of Iowa, Wallace was the nation’s leading progressive politician — a champion of the American farmer.  He represented the voices of rural voters, as well as disenfranchised African-Americans.

Pressing for a “century of the common man” in “a fight between a slave world and a free world,” Wallace vowed to renew the New Deal vision of economic security for all Americans. In fighting to ensure an adequate standard of living, he proposed a new economic bill of rights in the spirit of Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” — from want and fear, and of speech and worship.

When Roosevelt chose then-Secretary of Agriculture Wallace to be his running mate in 1940, conservative Democrats fought against it. By the 1944 campaign, the party’s conservative wing of influential Southern conservatives, along with Northern urban-machine bosses, pressured Roosevelt to drop Wallace from his ticket. As the staunchest ally of New Deal domestic policy, Wallace argued more forcefully than the moderate Truman for redistribution of wealth, collective bargaining and continued protections of labor to bring more equity to workers.

“FDR did not ‘drop’ Wallace,” said William Leuchtenburg, professor emeritus at University of North Carolina and dean of the Roosevelt historians. “Rather, he sluggishly went along with party leaders who did not want Wallace,” Leuchtenburg explained in an email. “My point is only that he took no initiative toward disposing of Wallace, and would have been content to run with him again.”

a-Henry-A.-Wallace-Townsend

Vice President Henry A. Wallace LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

Wallace’s efforts to breathe new progressive life into the party backfired. Instead of strengthening the morale of the original New Dealers, Wallace disbanded the Roosevelt coalition into a minority stake within the Democratic Party. Rather than influencing Truman’s agenda, Wallace alienated himself and his cause from the party.

Political scientist Karl Schmidt, examined Wallace’s creation of the Progressive Party in his book, Henry A. Wallace: Quixotic Crusade, 1948. It ultimately demonstrated, Schmidt wrote, the “continuing pattern of failure” among third-party competitors in a deeply entrenched two-party system.

Joe Lowndes, a political scientist at the University of Oregon, agrees that the two-party system is entrenched in the free-market capitalism propelled by a conservative counterrevolution “We are in a very different era than 1948 now,” Lowndes said. “The country is so far to the right that Sanders looks much like a mid-century liberal Democrat.”

Despite the Truman administration’s support for expanded healthcare and employment, it was unable to prevail against a “do-nothing Congress.” The void of New Deal activism swung the pendulum from what Sanders considers the socialistic Democrats to the corporatist Democrats.

Unlike Wallace in 1948, Sanders realizes the necessity of Democratic affiliation in order to deliver his intended goals. Moreover, his popularity among self-identified progressives can be a bridge to a modern era of New Deal-era policy. Even if he doesn’t win the Democratic presidential nomination, his conciliatory approach is poised to usher in a new generation of voters for the party.

“Democrats win when voter turnout is high” is a common Sanders refrain. If this is true in 2016, his supporters may not only embolden the party’s general-election prospects, but also drive the next president to govern for the common woman and man.

6 comments

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Nice analysis. Most Americans agree with many of Bernie’s economic proposals, but the people have allowed themselves to become divided over wedge issues or believe that someone else is benefiting from their work. This is simply untrue, and we have allowed an upward redistribution of wealth (while worker productivity is higher than ever) for many decades.

People end up focusing on the differences instead of the common goals.

Posted by pyradius | Report as abusive

When critics state government redistributes, that is what government does both in revenues and investments and services.

It is the same that business does, but is called “economy of scale.”

Posted by Flash1022 | Report as abusive

The liberal columnist are the biggest believers in censorship. Right Alex?

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

The southern democrats are best off in the republican party. They are in fact the racist wing of the GOP. The democratic party is better off without them The replacement of Wallace by Truman was the worse thing that has ever happened to the DFL in that Truman was actually a corporate fascist, and started us down the track of corporate control. He was an anti-freedom person who believed in masters just like the southern democrats.

The problem the democrats of today is that they are not liberals and they still believe in corporate control. They hate freedom and their base lacks rational thought just as much as the evangelical wing of the republican party. And, just like the republicans, they believe that victory in assuming power is more important than espousing good policy and protecting freedom and liberty. They look like just more money grabbers and liars and to distinguish them from the GOP is nearly impossible except that they pander to a slightly different ignorant portion of the populace.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

The problem for the republicans is that they don’t have a single person who can beat him. You think Trump or Carson have this kind of support? Not even close.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Here’s another view from Time Magazine on Wallace, whose foreign policy views the article interestingly chooses to ignore…

America’s Worst Vice Presidents
As the nation waits for John McCain and Barack Obama to announce their running mates, TIME looks back at the worst vice presidents in the country’s history

VEEPS
Henry Wallace

A colleague once described Henry Wallace as “a person answering calls the rest of us don’t hear.” Wallace did indeed feel a calling: the Iowa-born son of a former agriculture secretary declared his greatest aspiration was “to make the world safe for corn breeders.” Despite his unconventional pedigree and the rest of his party’s fervent opposition to his selection, Wallace was shoehorned into office by F.D.R., who made his running mate an economic policy czar and a key foreign emissary. Though he was a ardent believer in mankind’s inherent goodness, Wallace couldn’t elicit goodwill from his colleagues, many of whom found his mystical approach toward religion — he dabbled in ideologies ranging from Catholicism to Zoroastrianism — a bit unsettling.

In 1944, the Democrats bypassed Wallace to select Harry S. Truman as their vice-presidential nominee. Wallace was named Secretary of Commerce, where he feuded bitterly with Truman — who had by then ascended to the Oval Office — over the nation’s confrontational posturing with the Soviet Union, which the agricultural expert deemed dangerously hawkish. The clash earned Wallace a reputation among his detractors as a “Stalinist stooge.” Alienated but undeterred, he mounted a run for the presidency in 1947. One writer later termed his candidacy “the closest the Soviet Union ever came to actually choosing a president of the United States.” Not that Wallace posed much of a threat: he garnered zero electoral votes. Chagrined, he retired from politics and spent many of his remaining days tinkering with egg and corn yields on his New York farm.

— By Alex Altman

Posted by bluepanther | Report as abusive