The Iowa caucus results this week set much of the Democratic Party into a tizzy. They weren’t expecting Clinton, the front-runner for the entire campaign, to virtually tie Bernie Sanders. Until this, Sanders’ name was rarely a part of the serious presidential discussion. He was stiffer competition than O’Malley and an easy target for any of the gaggle of Republican candidates but that didn’t mean much. Polls had him well behind Clinton. Yet, here we are.
It’s worth noting that a lot of people (including me) saw this coming. Sanders didn’t magically appear this February and steal the show. He’s been quietly campaigning for months, drawing crowds well in thousands and tens of thousands with cheap or free events and an approachable image. To frustrated Progressives and liberals, he has spent years offering genuine solutions and making actual change. Sanders has been in the House of Representatives since 1990 (moving into the Senate in 2007) and his voting record is the stuff dreams are made of—voting against action in Iraq, against DOMA, against the PATRIOT act, mostly for sensible gun law, and in opposition of cuts to social programs. His campaign financing shows it–his individual donor numbers are record breaking and he’s refused money from Super PACs, essentially revolutionary during the times of Citizens United. The fact that Sanders, a democratic socialist candidate from Vermont with wild white hair and a stern expression, has done so well has everything to do with the change Americans want to see.
He is fiercely passionate but he follows the logic more consistently than any other candidate. His rhetoric energizes people spanning age groups and classes. He’s accessible and he listens—visibly. When Black Lives Matter Protesters Mara Willaford and Marissa Johnson took the podium at one of his events in August, it set political crossfire alight. Other candidates asserted they wouldn’t allow such disruptions. Sanders, conversely, saw the opportunity and heard the voices. He added Symone Sanders, criminal justice advocate and BLM activist, to his campaign team as their national press secretary. He met with BLM organizers in mid-September and added a comprehensive racial justice plank to his platform (currently, Clinton’s website addresses “criminal justice reform”, which hits on all the major points of systemic racism in the justice system and manages not to actually reference race once). He actually wants to make change, which is so novel that seasoned political pundits aren’t sure to make of it. Where he goes, people follow; where he speaks, people listen. He’s not interested in mudslinging and has refused to run smear campaigns in his political career. He’s interested in the issues and for an increasingly jaded generation, that’s nothing short of miraculous.
Clinton’s camp is rattled at his success and they should be. Her record doesn’t compare to his when looking at progressive politics. As a feminist, I appreciate what Clinton has done for women around the world during her time in politics and I understand the importance of having a woman hold the highest office in the nation. The giant however is that Clinton’s politics aren’t as intersectional, progressive, or feminist as Sanders’. The comparison isn’t there. Sanders’ consistently supported things that Clinton rejected—racism in justice, rights for the LGBT community, addressing income inequality, and foreign policy that avoids war at all costs. Bernie Sanders isn’t just the candidate feminists need. He’s the best hope for ending corruption, improving healthcare, and bringing the U.S.’s social policies into the 21st century. He may be 74, but he’s the future.