Eamonn McCann: Bernie Sanders’s big problem is his own party
Despite being far from the hard leftist portrayed in sections of the US media, Sanders does represent something different
Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders smiles as he waves to the crowd at his 2016 New Hampshire presidential primary victory rally in Concord, New Hampshire February 9, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
It is a measure of the radical mood of America that virtually every presidential candidate who has so far come to the fore present themselves as an opponent of Wall Street chomping at the bit to storm the citadels of capitalism and drive the bankers and commodity traders out. Even Ohio governor John Kasich – a foreign policy hawk and adopted candidate of the stately New York Times – came second in New Hampshire after a campaign stressing views on healthcare and immigration which the Republican bureaucracy regards as heretical.
The man Kasich dislodged from second place, Ted Cruz, is a Washington lawyer who went to work in the White House for George W Bush and then became solicitor general of Texas, the post which provided his stepping stone to the Senate. He says the Washington elite will be “shaking” when he hits town.
Marco Rubio recalls that when he first floated the idea of a tilt at the top job, he was told to “wait in line”: the former speaker of the Florida House and chairman of a Senate Foreign Relations Committee says party leaders “found it hard to believe that an outsider such as myself could win”.
General crazinessDonald Trump
Among Democrats, New Hampshire victor Bernie Sanders genuinely represents something radically different. He has hammered out policies on income inequality, free health care, free college education and campaign finance reform which might elsewhere be seen as simple common sense but which can be projected in the US as a statist threat to freedom and the American way.
He was believable when he took to the stage on Tuesday night: “We have sent a message that will echo from Wall Street to Washington, from Maine to California, and that is that the government of our great country belongs to all of the people, and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors . . .”
However, the fact that he walloped Hillary Clinton doesn’t make him favourite to win the race.
The last Democrat to unnerve the leadership was Howard Dean in 2004. The governor of Vermont – Bernie Sanders’s home state, too – had been one of the most forthright opponents of the invasion of Iraq.
He showed up well in the early primaries but was dumped from the contest when major party funders sponsored a series of television and radio ads depicting him as a co-thinker of Osama bin Laden. The more malleable John Kerry took the nomination and was duly trounced by Bush. At least, Bush believed in something.
To find a Democratic candidate openly identifying as socialist we have to go back to novelist Upton Sinclair running for California governor in 1934. In the primaries, he took three times as many votes as all his opponents combined. Despite this, President Roosevelt refused to endorse him. When polls showed that Sinclair might nevertheless win, conservative Democrats launched a new party to drain support away from him.
A number of Democratic donors switched their support to Republican Frank Merriam.
The point is, it was the Democratic Party itself which did for both of them.
The precedents suggest that despite the stumbles, Clinton will win the nomination. Still, it was an interesting indication of her uncertainty about where to find firm ground that, on the eve of New Hampshire, she complained Sanders should stop attacking her for snuggling into the pockets of the 1 per cent when he himself had accepted up to $200,000 from party funds, much of which had, in turn, come from banks and finance houses.
Wall Street interestsMorgan StanleyBank of America
That’s the most significant fact to emerge from the US campaign so far – that the American people are as angry with their country’s rulers as any electorate this side of the Atlantic.
Pressure from below is forcing the most unlikely of contenders to present themselves as spokespeople for an anti-establishment insurgency.
However the election works out in the end, the American people have already given us reasons to be cheerful.