A year ago, concerned that ordinary citizens would be locked out of the presidential nominating process, The Nation argued that a vigorously contested primary would be good for the candidates, for the Democratic Party, and for democracy. Two months later, Senator Bernie Sanders formally launched a campaign that has already transformed the politics of the 2016 presidential race. Galvanized by his demands for economic and social justice, hundreds of thousands of Americans have packed his rallies, and over 1 million small donors have helped his campaign shatter fund-raising records while breaking the stranglehold of corporate money. Sanders’s clarion call for fundamental reform—single-payer healthcare, tuition-free college, a $15-an-hour minimum wage, the breaking up of the big banks, ensuring that the rich pay their fair share of taxes—has inspired working people across the country. His bold response to the climate crisis has attracted legions of young voters, and his foreign policy, which emphasizes diplomacy over regime change, speaks powerfully to war-weary citizens. Most important, Sanders has used his insurgent campaign to tell Americans the truth about the challenges that confront us. He has summoned the people to a “political revolution,” arguing that the changes our country so desperately needs can only happen when we wrest our democracy from the corrupt grip of Wall Street bankers and billionaires.
We believe such a revolution is not only possible but necessary—and that’s why we’re endorsing Bernie Sanders for president. This magazine rarely makes endorsements in the Democratic primary (we’ve done so only twice: for Jesse Jackson in 1988, and for Barack Obama in 2008). We do so now impelled by the awareness that our rigged system works for the few and not for the many. Americans are waking up to this reality, and they are demanding change. This understanding animates both the Republican and Democratic primaries, though it has taken those two contests in fundamentally different directions.
At the core of this crisis is inequality, both economic and political. The United States has become a plutocracy—one in which, as Sanders puts it, “we not only have massive wealth and income inequality, but a power structure which protects that inequality.” America’s middle class has melted away, while the gap between rich and poor has reached Gilded Age extremes. The recovery that followed the 2008 economic collapse has not been shared. Indeed, in the United States it seems that nothing is shared these days—not prosperity, nor security, nor even responsibility. While millions of Americans grapple with the consequences of catastrophic climate change, fossil-fuel companies promote climate skeptics so that they can continue to profit from the planet’s destruction. While Americans have tired of endless war, the military-industrial complex and its cheerleaders continue to champion the reckless interventions that have drained our country, damaged our reputation abroad, and created a perfect storm of Pentagon waste, fraud, and abuse. While Americans of every ideological stripe recognize the need for criminal-justice reform, African-American men, women, and children continue to be gunned down by police officers on the streets, and mass incarceration continues largely unabated.
Americans are fed up and fighting back. Seen in isolation, the Fight for $15, Black Lives Matter, the climate-justice movement, the immigrant-rights movement, the campaign for a financial-transactions tax, and the renewed push for single-payer healthcare may seem like unrelated causes. Taken together, they form a rising chorus of outrage over a government that caters to the demands of the super-wealthy, while failing to meet the needs of the many. They share a fury at a politics captured by special interests and big money, where pervasive corruption mocks the very notion of democracy.
"swipe left below to view more authors"Swipe →
The “Hunt for Hamas” Narrative Is Obscuring Israel’s Real Plans for Gaza
The “Hunt for Hamas” Narrative Is Obscuring Israel’s Real Plans for Gaza
In Bernie Sanders, these movements for greater equality and justice have found an ally and a champion. In contrast to the right-wing demagogues who exploit these crises to foment division, the Vermont senator has reached into a proud democratic-socialist tradition to revive the simple but potent notion of solidarity. We must turn to each other, not on each other, Sanders says, and unite to change the corrupted politics that robs us all. His campaign’s funding reflects this commitment, spurning the support of corporate super-PACS and relying instead on millions of grassroots donors. Thanks to his campaign’s integrity, Sanders alone has the potential to unite the movements emerging across the country into one loud, irresistible demand for systemic political change.
For over three decades, Bernie Sanders has defied the political odds, while consistently championing ideas and issues long off our country’s increasingly downsized political map. As mayor of Burlington, he led the fight to keep the Lake Champlain waterfront open to the people and organized the sustainable redevelopment of the city’s downtown area, submitting balanced budgets all the while. In the US House of Representatives, he helped organize the Congressional Progressive Caucus and secured support for amendments to protect pensions and expand community health centers. In the US Senate, he eloquently opposed surveillance abuses, wars of choice, the deregulation of banks, and bailouts for billionaires, and his effective chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs has earned bipartisan accolades.
While we believe that Sanders would make a great president, we know his road to the White House remains steep. At press time, he is contesting for wins in Iowa and New Hampshire and gaining ground on front-runner Hillary Clinton in national polls. His economic-populist message has resonated with many progressives and young voters, but he has yet to marshal deep support among the African-American, Latino, and Asian-American voters who form core constituencies of the Democratic Party.
That said, his campaign is attentive to the need to build a broader coalition, and in Sanders, Democrats have a candidate who can truly walk the walk: a civil-rights marcher in the 1960s with a consistent record of supporting racial justice, women’s equality, and LGBT rights. And they also have a candidate who has shown a willingness to listen and learn: Challenged early in the campaign by Black Lives Matter activists, Sanders has since outlined a bold agenda for holding police to account, reducing mass incarceration, and reforming discriminatory drug laws.
Voters can trust Sanders because he doesn’t owe his political career to the financial overlords of the status quo. Freed from these chains of special interest, he can take the bold measures that the country needs. Sanders alone proposes to break up the too-big-to-fail banks; to invest in public education, from universal pre-K to tuition-free public college; to break the power of the insurance and pharmaceutical cartels with Medicare for All reforms. He alone proposes to empower workers with a living wage. He alone stands ready to put Americans to work rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, and to confront climate change by making the United States a leader in renewable energy. His audacious agenda proves that money in politics doesn’t widen debate; rather, it narrows the range of possibility. While Sanders understands this, we fear that his chief rival for the Democratic nomination does not.
Hillary Clinton is a candidate who combines unmatched experience with intelligence, grit, and strength. She has responded to the populist temper of the times: questioning the sort of free-trade deals that Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have championed; calling for reforms on Wall Street and tax increases on the wealthy; courageously defending Planned Parenthood; challenging the National Rifle Association; and supporting trade unions. If nominated, she would be far more preferable to any of the extremists running for the GOP nomination (and so would former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley). We understand that keeping the presidency out of the hands of right-wing Republicans is crucial, especially when the next president will reshape the Supreme Court. And there is no denying that if she were elected, Clinton would shatter the thickest glass ceiling and champion women’s rights in a way that no other president has.
But the limits of a Clinton presidency are clear. Her talk of seeking common ground with Republicans and making deals to “get things done” in Washington will not bring the change that is so desperately needed. Clinton has not ruled out raising the Social Security retirement age, and her plan falls short of increasing benefits for all. She rejects single-payer healthcare and refuses to consider breaking up the big banks. We also fear that she might accept a budgetary “grand bargain” with the Republicans that would lock in austerity for decades to come.
On foreign policy, Clinton is certainly seasoned, but her experience hasn’t prevented her from getting things wrong. Clinton now says that her 2002 vote to authorize George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq was a mistake, but she apparently learned little from it. Clinton was a leading advocate for overthrowing Moammar El-Gadhafi in Libya, leaving behind a failed state that provides ISIS with an alternative base. She supported calls for the United States to help oust Bashar al-Assad in Syria, an approach that has added fuel to a horrific civil war. She now advocates a confrontation with Russia in Syria by calling for a no-fly zone. Her support for President Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran was marred by an explicit rejection of better relations with that country and bellicose pledges to provide Israel with more arms. If elected, Clinton will be another “war president” at a time when America desperately needs peace.
Sanders’s approach is different and better. The senator hasn’t talked as much as we would like about global challenges and opportunities, and we urge him to focus more on foreign policy. But what he has said (and done) inspires confidence. An opponent of the Iraq War from the start, he criticizes the notion of “regime change” and the presumption that America alone must police the world. He rejects a new Cold War with Russia. He supports the nuclear-weapons agreement with Iran, and he would devote new energy to dismantling nuclear arsenals and pursuing nonproliferation. He has long been an advocate for normalizing relations with Cuba and for reviving a good-neighbor policy in the hemisphere. Sanders’s foreign policy would also create conditions for rebuilding a broadly shared prosperity at home. He would lead an international effort to end the crippling austerity that threatens to create another global recession, and he would champion a green New Deal to combat climate change. And as a leader of the opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, he would undo the corporate-defined trade regime that has devastated America’s middle class.
Critics of Bernie Sanders dismiss him as an idealist (he is!) on a quixotic crusade. Meanwhile, the corporate media has paid shamefully little attention to his campaign’s achievements, instead lavishing attention on the latest outrageous pronouncements by Donald Trump and the Republican candidates struggling to compete with him. Nonetheless, polls show that Sanders—even as he still introduces himself to many voters—is well poised to take on the eventual GOP nominee, frequently doing better than Clinton in these matchups. Moreover, in contrast to the modest audiences at Clinton’s campaign stops, the huge crowds at Sanders’s grassroots rallies indicate that he’ll be able to boost turnout in November.
Whether his candidacy, and the inspired campaign it fuels, will spark a “political revolution” sufficient to win the Democratic nomination and the White House this year remains to be seen. We do know that his run has already created the space for a more powerful progressive movement and demonstrated that a different kind of politics is possible. This is a revolution that should live on, no matter who wins the nomination.
Bernie Sanders and his supporters are bending the arc of history toward justice. Theirs is an insurgency, a possibility, and a dream that we proudly endorse.
Editor’s note: This article has been edited to clarify Hillary Clinton’s position on Social Security.