Lose the battle, win the war? Sanders' progressive allies stay optimistic after 2020 exit

Alex Roarty, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- Bernie's Sanders' abrupt exit from the presidential race is a moment of deep disappointment for the progressive movement, which only two months ago began to truly believe that the democratic socialist from Vermont could win the Democratic nomination and radically alter the party's political direction.

But even on a day of mourning, many liberal leaders say they remain steadfastly optimistic about the future.

The failure of Sanders' campaign, they say, belies a movement that has made great progress in recent years and is poised to seize further control of the Democratic Party, both in future presidential elections, but also in state and local races. Their sunny forecast was echoed Wednesday by Sanders himself, when he argued that his movement had won the "ideological struggle" even as he was ending his 2020 campaign.

"Together, we have transformed the American consciousness as to what kind of nation we can become," Sanders said, citing a checklist of policies -- like raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour -- that have moved from the fringe to mainstream within the party.

Progressives' claim of progress warrants scrutiny, especially after a presidential primary in which Sanders not only lost decisively, but earned far fewer votes when the race whittled down to two candidates against Joe Biden than he did four years earlier in his one-on-one battle against Hillary Clinton.

And many progressives acknowledge that even if they are optimistic about the future, they need to learn from the mistakes of the Sanders campaign to make a better effort in future elections.


But nonetheless, they say they're encouraged. Even if Sanders's ideas didn't win, liberals argue, his unapologetically leftist vision for the country was adopted more swiftly and uniformly than any of them expected -- including from Biden himself.

"Joe Biden's going to be one of the most progressive nominees for president in history, and that's because the entire Democratic Party has been moved forward on these issues," said Charles Chamberlain, the executive director of Democracy for America, a grassroots liberal advocacy group.

Biden's agenda is far less ambitious than Sanders, but still represents a significant shift to the left compared to the party's previous presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, on issues like health care and climate change.

Just as important for liberals, however, is how many Democrats up and down the ballot have embraced once-controversial elements of Sanders' agenda. Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, for example, became part of the congressional Democrats official agenda in 2017 on their way to taking control of the House in the midterm elections.


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