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Bernie Sanders and the “Establishment”

The primary race for the Democratic presidential nomination is in full force. Last week, the Iowa caucus took place, which is the grand opening the three candidates – Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley – have been working for since they began their campaigns. For those who do not know, the Iowa caucus is the first voting event in the primaries, and for many presidential hopefuls, it is the moment that separates the weak from the strong as the general elections draw closer. O’Malley can be weeded out as the weak, after he managed to get less than 1% of the total votes in the State. Clinton and Sanders, though, were in a tight race for the delegation. In the end, Clinton was declared the winner, but only by a small margin: according to NBCNews, she only won four more votes than Sanders. Furthermore, Sanders won a sizable 60% of votes at the New Hampshire primaries on February 9th. He has proven to be a formidable unexpected opponent, and Clinton must be shaking in her boots, especially as Super Tuesday approaches on March 1st. Although the Iowa and New Hampshire caucuses indicate that voters are very passionate about Bernie Sanders, there is little hope that he will ever really win the Democratic nomination. His big talk about breaking the “establishment” will be his ultimate demise.

First, it is important to discuss what are the merits of Sanders. There is a certain honesty and sincerity to his political character that makes him very appealing to voters, especially those disheartened with the current state of Capitol Hill. He has maintained a level of transparency which few others have been able to match – especially Hillary Clinton considering her email scandal last year. Sanders unapologetically boasts himself as a Socialist (an extremely taboo label in U.S. politics), and he genuinely places the needs of his constituency before his own political career. Sanders has been part of the U.S. government for a long time, and in those years he has watched the evils of how the system really works; he has witnessed first-hand the way big money speaks louder than legitimate worries for the people. Thus, Sanders is calling for a political revolution to finally overthrow the big corporations that have a tight grip over Congress and return to a time of ethical governing. The center of his platform is to “break the establishment” and provide the American population with the services – such as Medicaid, Social Security, and college tuition – that they deserve, while pulling the poor and disenfranchised from the margins of society.

Sanders’ populist message is quite attractive, and it has grabbed the attention of many, particularly the youth. It is not surprising considering that this is the generation that led the Occupy Wall Street movement across the nation, demanding that the wealth stop being concentrated in the top 1%. For them, Sanders seems like the beacon of hope who will finally enter the top position at the White House and bring the justice they feel is deserved. Sanders is a refreshing voice that authentically concentrates on the need of the people – a rare breed of political rhetoric. It is the same approach that made Obama so appealing when he came onto the scene in the 2008 Democratic primaries, rising at a time when the political establishment had destroyed the U.S. economy and left many dispirited about the system. The past caucuses suggest that Sanders resonates very loudly with voters, foreshadowing Clinton’s potential defeat once again.

However, before jumping to that conclusion, one needs to step back and soak in the reality of U.S. politics. Sanders is fighting to break the “establishment”, but this is much easier said than done. In an era of PACs and super PACs, no candidate can assume they have any hope of winning without the help of the very establishment itself. He may have great sums of money coming in from small voter donations, but this cannot compare to the billions Clinton is raking in from large corporations. Without the appropriate funds, Sanders can only stay afloat for so long before his boat capsizes, leaving him to succumb to the big money. In 2012, Obama similarly praised small-donor contributions, but he still had financial support from the Priorities USA Action super PAC.

Aside from the money concern, it also important to look at exactly who Sanders is alienating when he fights the “establishment”. He has big talk about the corruption on the Hill, and if need be, he will fight solo for his agenda – a read of a Rolling Stones article from 2005 shows he has done so in the past. Yet, if he bashes his colleagues and preforms as a political lone wolf, he will have no power over Congress as president. Clearly, in a time of divisive politics, no president can afford to estrange potential allies by calling them the “establishment”.

Furthermore, Sanders has a skewed view of who the “establishment” really is. After Planned Parenthood announced their official support for Clinton, Sanders pegged them as yet another big money corporation that is corrupting government. This comment has important connotations. First, Sanders clumps all established groups in government as part of the same corrupt “establishment”, but he is attacking organizations that provide important services to the same populace Sanders fights for. Additionally, Sanders failing to get the Planned Parenthood endorsement means he is struggling to obtain the necessary support from organizations that are crucial to his voter demographic.

It is possible Sanders made the comment without careful thought, but then this implies another more worrisome fact. When Sanders is asked about issues he knows little about, he turns to his message of “breaking the establishment”, assuming it will deter attention. This habit can be observed in the primary debates through his response in regards to foreign policy. The problem here is that maybe there is little more to Sanders’ campaign besides fighting corporations: rather than having substantial ideas about the matter at hand, Sanders clings onto the only message he has that garners support.

Overall, Bernie Sanders’ anti-establishment platform will not carry him far. Its shimmer will eventually wear off, and people will have to confront the truth about the U.S. government. Though Clinton may be part of the “establishment”, and may be paid by the corporations that corrupt government, she has a firm grasp of the political truth in the U.S. The revolution Sanders is striving for may have to be put off until the next election.

– Maria Margarita Caicedo

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