The Bernie Sanders problem

The Bernie Sanders problem
© Getty Images

Michael Bloomberg should not be trusted to be the Democratic nominee. But he made a valid point when he attacked Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Memo: Unhappy voters could deliver political shocks beyond Trump Democratic senator will introduce bill mandating social distancing on flights after flying on packed plane Neil Young opposes use of his music at Trump Mount Rushmore event: 'I stand in solidarity with the Lakota Sioux' MORE and correctly declared, “What a wonderful country we have. The best known socialist in the country who happens to be a millionaire with three houses.” The irony is that Sanders has now become part of the ranks of the top 1 percent of Americans by establishing himself as a socialist who wants to destroy the system that benefited him financially and economically with his agenda.

If Sanders were the Democratic nominee, it would spell disaster for the party, as purists seldom win national elections. Capitalism and the free market system elevated the idea that the United States is where all can come and succeed. Republicans would love to see Sanders nominated since his progressive rhetoric combined with a strong economy grant Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump second-term plans remain a mystery to GOP Trump to hold outdoor rally in New Hampshire on Saturday Eighty-eight years of debt pieties MORE reasons for optimism. Sanders would no doubt have to change his campaign style so that his passion can inspire the critical moderates and independents while still keeping his loyal base happy.

The better news for Sanders is that he has made waves across the African American and Hispanic communities. He won nearly 30 percent of African Americans and more than 50 percent of Hispanics in the Nevada primary. His movement was only supposed to attract the younger generations. But something is resonating with demographics that he has not traditionally polled well. I cannot imagine why Sanders is appealing to voters outside of his base, but clearly his consistent message is speaking to them. Will this translate well in South Carolina and other states on Super Tuesday?

ADVERTISEMENT

The rise of Sanders and Democratic socialism has come to represent the party and its future. But many fail to remember that, back in time, Martin Luther King was considered a dangerous troublemaker. He was harassed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and vilified in the media. Now he is one of our civic gods. In a speech to the Negro American Labor Council in 1961, King proclaimed, “Call it democracy or call it Democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country.”

When King launched his civil rights campaign in Chicago in 1965, he was shocked by the hatred and violence from working class whites as he and his followers marched through the streets of segregated neighborhoods in the city and the suburbs. He believed that the problem was not legal segregation but rather economic exploitation with slum housing, high prices, and low wage jobs because “someone profits” in the system.

Indeed, King would be considered a Democratic socialist. He was never a politician, but his concerns over the influence of the wealthy, the national economic divide, predatory practices of Wall Street banks, and stagnating wages have since made more Americans willing to seriously consider the idea of Democratic socialism. It was not politically or socially acceptable for King then, and neither is it for Sanders now. This is the same country with the same conditions, and that makes it a clear liability for Sanders.

Will Sanders ultimately succeed? His progressive colleague, Elizabeth Warren, is more independent and is no socialist. She simply wants the market to work for everyone. Meanwhile, the middle class is collapsing, income inequality is greater than ever, and Americans are working more hours for less wages. Some of them are also getting angry. Who will be the Democratic nominee? The voters and party elites are about to say.

Quardricos Driskell is a federal lobbyist and professor of politics with the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management.