Earlier this year, the popular liberal commentators The Young Turks discussed Obama’s ill defined but probable endorsement of Hilary Clinton, suggesting that he perhaps felt stung by the notion that Bernie’s campaign reflected his own one in 2008; for change. While his Presidency has been gratifying in many areas for liberals, few would argue that it exactly reflected the rhetoric of that glorious, “hope-mongering” (as he once put it) campaign. Simply put, he did not break the political establishment of old. Bi-partisanship has entrenched the country into its greatest division in years. Wall Street still looms malevolently; its regulations tightened but its lesson unlearned or accounted for. Campaign finance, as Sanders would put it, is a “mess” and despite economic recovery, millions are still struggling with poverty. While these issues aren’t wholly the President’s fault, it is interesting to consider The Young Turks’ assertion, especially in light of the struggle between progressive and revolutionary rhetoric being exhibited between Hillary and Bernie.
In a sense, Hillary truly does stand for progressivism; having championed women’s rights for years and led the effort for an ambitious if unsuccessful health care bill in 1993. There have been hiccups along the way (with her support for same-sex marriage sliding in at a convenient time) but evolution in thought and policy should naturally coincide with progressivism. Many of Clinton’s detractors have argued that she is part of the political elite; a chameleon who adapts to her environment as it changes. That’s true but is it necessarily a bad thing? For all her flaws and that hyena cackle, Clinton’s hardly rebounded and flopped her way to the top the way Mitt Romney has. Rather, she has allowed herself some leg room so that she may face the mercurial world she acknowledges Washington to be. As she said herself, she’s a progressive but one “who likes to get things done.” It worked for good old Bill when the GOP regained the Congress in 1994, could it not work again?
On the other side of this struggle for the soul of the Democratic party is Sanders; a rogue independent, who wants to drive the party back to the Left it so long ago abandoned. At this point, his nomination seems highly unlikely but the people are nevertheless paying attention because his cause remains relevant. Can America continue to accept a rigged economy? Can America afford to see so many of its citizens unable to afford third level education in a competitive global market? Can America continue on this rightward path that began in 1980? Earlier this year, we here at the Walrus wrote a piece on the “return of the left.” This is very much the revolution Sanders and his supporters want. It’s certainly not politically viable on Capitol Hill, especially with the likes of today’s Republicans but it is a bold step, many would argue, is essential for a modern United States.
Every now and again, the US will witness an election which changes everything; from the way its politics is conducted to the way it is perceived abroad. In 1860, it was with Lincoln. A hundred years later, it was with the election of John F. Kennedy. In 2008, it was with the first Black President (albeit for a small bit). Other elections are not so dramatic however. Eisenhower, for example, may have resolved the Korean War which dampened Truman’s appeal in the early 1950s but the course America took, economically and in terms of Cold War policy, remained very similar. In the late 1980s, George Bush Sr. faced a rapidly changing world with the fall of the Berlin Wall, but moved into it with care for the populist Reagan vision, whilst acting off of his own more reserved diplomacy. So with Bernie and Hillary, we see two different trajectories for the US; a revolution in rhetoric and a will for progressivism with respect for the past. As Bernie’s appeal continues to soar, we will likely see Hillary’s campaign continue to pay more credence to liberal principles but the revolutionary zeal for which the people beckoned in 2008 will remain in waiting.