By Somar Wijayadasa*
The Socialist-Democrat Presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, ended his campaign as it lost momentum – and the coronavirus pandemic changed everything. Claiming that he is a democratic socialist, he wanted to stage a political revolution in America.
The dreaded words “socialist” and “revolution” are anathema to Americans even though they may be quite familiar with their modern day color revolutions, regime changes, and Arab Springs abroad – in the name of democracy and freedom.
What Sanders meant by being a “socialist democrat” or what he professed, may have nothing to do with what Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels spelled out in their communist Manifesto.
In the middle of the 19th century, they saw how the Industrial Revolution oppressed the impoverished working class poor who lived in slums and faced dangerous working conditions, and how they suffered while the wealthy thrived. Their ideology became popular in a few countries.
But today’s world in the 21st century is starkly different as almost all countries that embraced socialism have embraced different forms with elements of democracy, freedoms, and free market economy.
Americans despise “socialism” and “revolution” purely based on the unfortunate experiences of Russia, China, Cuba and several other countries, and also sadly witnessing the current despicable situation in Venezuela where socialist systems did not prevail.
Also, many of the Republican and Democrat politicians in local governments as well as in Washington are either recent immigrants or second generation immigrants from Russia, Eastern European countries, Asia (China, Korea, India, etc.), Latin American countries such as Cuba, and even Palestine and Somalia who have first-hand knowledge of what they and their families experienced in those totalitarian and dictatorial regimes.
Americans love what they know best as “the land of the free”, “the American dream” and “the land of opportunity” that all immigrant Americans (old and new) from all over the world fondly embrace. They have enjoyed the fruits of capitalism, and have no desire to revolutionize what they enjoy best.
Unlike other modern day politicians, Sanders never deviated from his progressive views for political gain. It is evident that from his young days, Sanders has towed socialist views. As a young High School student in the late 1950s, he had spearheaded a campaign to raise scholarship money for orphaned kids in Korea.
For decades, Sanders’ mantra has been that the rich have been getting richer and the poor the poorer reducing the middle class and their quality of life – and the American Dream is becoming unreachable to many Americans.
He lamented that healthcare (Medicare) for all, and redistribution of wealth remain only a dream for many ordinary and poor workers of America.
Similar to Sanders’ ideology, in 2011, millions of people joined the Occupy Wall Street movement to protest in over 600 communities in the USA against the undue influence of corporations on the government – vividly reveal people’s frustrations.
They epitomized the social and economic inequality and injustice, political deadlock in Washington, how actions of the plutocracy in Washington benefit the wealthy, undermine democracy, and destabilize the society.
Sanders built his Presidential campaigns in 2016 as well as this year, by calling for a “political revolution”. His message and vision resonated with the voter frustration and anger with the current political system.
His clarion call has been for progressive policies such as universal healthcare, tuition-free public college, and the Green New Deal – a plan to transition the U.S. to 100% clean and renewable energy within the next decade. These are basic rights in many countries, and have nothing to do with socialism. To obtain these rights in any modern day civilized society you need not stage a revolution. It is up to the sensible and altruistic politicians to bestow those to their citizens.
In his election campaign around the country, he reiterated “I suspect people all over the country are saying, these are good people, they have great ideas”.
Sanders then questioned, “But how come nothing really changes? How come for the last 45 years wages have been stagnant for the middle class? How come we have the highest rate of childhood poverty? How come 45 million people still have student debt? How come three people own more wealth than the bottom half of America?”
The answer, Sanders said, is: “That nothing will change unless we have the guts to take on Wall Street, the insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the military-industrial complex, and the fossil fuel industry.”
In demanding these rights and fighting for those rights, Sanders became the most fearless and outspoken advocate for the progressive left, and for the rights and benefits for the working class. Regardless, the end of his campaign, once again, proved that America loves to maintain its status quo.
With regard to universal healthcare, his landmark demand has been “Medicare for All”.
He argued that “combined public and private spending on health care in the United States is highest in the world”. Canada and the other 19 wealthiest countries pay about 60% as much on health, and provide free health care to all their citizens – and those are not socialist countries.
Even while ending his campaign, Sanders said that the coronavirus is leading “millions” of laid off Americans to lose their health insurance.
“In terms of health care, this current, horrific crisis that we are now in has exposed for all to see how absurd our current employer-based health insurance system is,” he said. “We have always believed that health care must be cosidered as a human right, not an employee benefit, and we are right.”
Sanders said the progressive movement has taken “a major step forward in the never-ending struggle for economic justice, social justice, racial justice and environmental justice”.
Saying that “over the course of the past five years, our movement has won the ideological struggle”, Sanders argued that “A majority of the American people now understand that we must raise the minimum wage to at least $15 an hour, that we must guarantee health care as a right … it was not long ago that people considered these ideas radical and fringe”.
In praise of Sanders, his ardent supporters poured kudos:
The young, progressive star, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, tweeted “Thank you Bernie – for doing your best to fight for all of us, from the beginning, for your entire life”. “Thank you for fighting hard, lonely fights in true devotion to a people’s movement in the United States. Thank you for your leadership, mentorship, and example. We love you.”
Another firebrand, Elizabeth Warren tweeted, “Your fight for progressive ideas moved the conversation and charted a path for candidates and activists that will change the course of our country and party”.
In his statement, the presumptive nominee Joe Biden said Sanders “has put his heart and soul into not only running for President, but for the causes and issues he has been dedicated to his whole life”.
Biden said, “Bernie has done something rare in politics. He hasn’t just run a political campaign; he’s created a movement”. “Sanders and his supporters have changed the dialogue in America.”
As in 2016, after the bitter battle between Bernie and Hillary, and the DNC fiasco, it would be almost impossible to convince Sanders’ idealistic young supporters who crave for a fair and just society to vote for a candidate who is inimical to their aspirations – thus, status quo would remain.
Saying that, “Together we have transformed American consciousness as to what kind of nation we can become,” Sanders quoted Nelson Mandela “It always seems impossible until it is done”.
Though Sanders could not make his dream come true, he leaves an indelible mark of his progressive ideology in American politics.
*Somar Wijayadasa, an international lawyer, was a UNESCO delegate to the UN General Assembly from 1985-1995, and was Representative of UNAIDS at the United Nations from 1995-2000.