22 October 2016
Bernie Sanders appeals to the young and working class, who are fed up with business as usual in US politics. Photo: AFP
Bernie Sanders appeals to the young and working class, who are fed up with business as usual in US politics. Photo: AFP

How Bernie Sanders is riding the tide of support for change

Senator Bernie Sanders, now a household name in the United States, is one of the most polarizing and extraordinary personalities in the political scene in Washington in recent decades.

Even though his chances of getting the Democratic nomination for US president are not as promising as Hillary Clinton’s, his dogged perseverance, his uncompromising stance on fighting for social equality and his strong political convictions have made him such a worthy adversary that he even commands respect among Hillary’s supporters.

As a leftist and a steadfast democratic socialist throughout his political career, Sanders belongs to a tiny minority in American politics.

However, despite his leftist stance and lack of support from any major political organization, Sanders was a congressman for 16 years before he was elected to the Senate in 2006.

He was the longest-serving US legislator ever who was not affiliated to a party.

However, his role as an independent lawmaker finally came to an end when he joined the Democratic Party last year.

Given his leftist political views, Sanders has had quite a lot of difficulty fitting in with mainstream Democrats. As a result, he has often been considered an outcast by party members of long standing.

However, it didn’t take too long before Sanders finally rose to national prominence.

Shortly after he officially announced  in April last year his intention to seek the Democratic nomination for president, he began to set himself on a campaign path entirely different from that of former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

While Clinton tries to appeal to mainstream voters, Sanders has succeeded in claiming the moral high ground by vowing to narrow the wealth gap and declaring war on money politics as well as the rich and powerful in Wall Street.

While this simple yet powerful message has touched a raw nerve among the Democratic establishment, it has struck a deep chord in the hearts of many young people, liberals and the working poor, who are increasingly discontented with the status quo.

As a result, his approval ratings have continued to soar.

The latest nationwide poll results show that 42 percent of Democrats support his bid for the presidency, just a few points behind Clinton.

In the eyes of many young Americans, Sanders symbolizes the force of progressive change, while Clinton represents the evil vested interests in Wall Street that are relentlessly sucking blood from the American working class.

Recently, there was talk that if Sanders fails to get the Democratic nomination, he might team up with the Green Party and run for president on his own.

If that comes true, he will definitely turn out to be a force to reckon with in the November election.

The rapid rise of non-mainstream politicians like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee, indicates that many Americans have become so disillusioned with the political duopoly in Washington and are desperate for the fundamental social change that President Barack Obama has failed to deliver over the past seven years.

Perhaps it is only a matter of time before a powerful third party finally emerges in the United States.

If that is going to happen, there is no better time than the present.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 11.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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