Sanders should keep running

The Republicans keep getting attention for the mess their race has become, but the Democrats are not in much better shape. The party of the people has lined up a corporate Democrat who never saw a war she didn’t like as its nominee, and every poll suggests the choice does not prompt the kind of enthusiasm among rank-and-file Democrats that will drive them to the polls.

The GOP has a choice of a blowhard who has alienated women and Latinos, making his election near to mathematically impossible, and an extremist who should be running on the American Independent line, meaning that pulling rank-and-file Republicans home will be just as difficult for the GOP as for the Democrats.

In other words, this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Democrats, not in terms of winning or losing but in terms of policy. They stand at risk of wasting the opportunity on another Clinton economic policy that increases the gap between rich and poor and tees up the Great Recession.

Granted, Clinton has adopted an economic populist persona in this campaign, but it was born not of conviction but of having to run against another economic populist, Bernie Sanders. It’s widely expected that as soon as Sanders stops dogging her heels, Clinton will be free to shake that Etch-a-Sketch and return to being the safe corporate Democrat she was before she had to contend with the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.

Obviously, Clinton will be a status quo president, as she was a status quo senator. She is not a reformer, not an activist. Those Wall Street speeches for which she was paid more than some people make in a lifetime put her before audiences who represent her comfort zone. Sanders’s campaign, however, made—and continues to make—history.

On Monday of this week, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife were on the road publicizing the White House’s push for free community colleges—a pale version of Sanders’s free college proposal.

Foreign policy experts say Sanders has changed the U.S. dialogue on the Middle East forever by speaking with respect of the Palestinians during the last debate.

Clinton has endorsed the Sanders-Schumer bill allowing families to pursue cases against Saudi Arabia as a way of learning more about the Saudis’ role in September 11 (which Obama says he will veto).

Sanders, in other words, may be losing, but he is setting a winning agenda for the party. Clinton’s aides and high level supporters are disdainful of Sanders, with one of them—former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee official Brandon English—posting a “Go fuck yourself, Bernie” message on one website. But Sanders’s policies fit the traditional economic programs of the Democratic Party. Clinton disdains them because they come from Sanders. Yet when they come from Elizabeth Warren, Clinton and her backers take a different view.

Had Warren gotten into the presidential race early, there would have been no need for Sanders to do so. Without his socialist baggage, the tie in Iowa would have been a win for Warren, followed—given Clinton’s weakness—by Warren running the table. Unfortunately, it was not to be.

But Sanders has a role in this campaign that transcends the campaign itself, of continuing to set the agenda, and the longer he can hold Clinton’s feet to the issues fire, the less able she will be to retreat back to the dismal Clinton economic policies, and the better off the Democratic Party and the nation will be.