Even as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders announced the suspension of his campaign for the presidency today (Wednesday, 8 April 2020), he seemed to understand that he had found himself in the wrong election cycle – again.
In his 2016 campaign, a then 74-year-old Bernie was beaten not so much by eventual standard-bearer Hillary Clinton as by the Democratic Party itself, which had engineered a Super Delegates head start for Hillary that Bernie could never overcome.
This year, after a dead-heat with Mayor Pete Buttigieg in the Iowa caucuses, Bernie followed up with convincing wins in the first two primary state elections. But then, like in `16, Sanders came up against the Democrat Party machine, this time in South Carolina where, with the endorsement of Congressman James Clyburn, former VP Joe Biden began his run to the top of the Democratic ticket.
Ever since, Biden has gone on a winning streak, piling up delegates even as people reached out to Senator Sanders saying, ‘we believe in your cause’ and ‘we believe in what you’re projecting, but we think Biden is the man to beat Trump this November’.
Thus, Bernie’s call for a progressive revolution led by a government-run universal healthcare system hasn’t been repudiated per se, but instead maybe just been postponed, just like the Boston and London Marathons have been put off in the face of the coronavirus crisis, as in “now is not the time”.
Whenever a patient is considered for major surgery, one of the first calculations doctors make is to evaluate his or her overall condition. Is the patient strong enough to withstand the procedure? Well, the American body politic in 2020 isn’t nearly fit enough for the kind of major operation Sanders was prescribing. With the political polarization that currently defines and divides the nation, the electorate is in no condition to make an unemotional choice of this magnitude.
The long-term threats Sanders sees in the lack of universal health care and income inequality that is manifesting itself in the disproportionate number of African Americans being affected by the coronavirus are being trumped by the immediate existential threat posed by the man Trump himself.
Remember that in the 1964 general election Republican standard-bearer Barry Goldwater was soundly beaten by President Lyndon Johnson as Goldwater was perceived as being too extreme – “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice,” said the senator from Arizona. “Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
But the brand of ultra-conservatism Goldwater seeded in 1964 finally came to harvest 16 years later in the form of the Reagan Revolution, a revolution that Yale literary critic Harold Bloom said led to “the emancipation of selfishness” that built the 1999 DotCom Bubble, loosed the 2008 Great Recession, and currently is manifest in the polarization that makes the nation ill-equipped to handle a left-leaning counter-revolution.
It could well be that Bernie Sanders’ unsuccessful campaigns of 2016 & 2020 will take another three or four election cycles, either 2032 or 2036, to come to full flower in the form of an as yet unknown candidate who will appeal to today’s 18 to 39 year-olds who support Bernie and his democratic socialist cause – but don’t vote as widely as older Americans – when they come into their majority with ballots in hand rather than just poll survey opinions in mind.
(Not that I am a Bernie supporter, just a reader of history).