Bernie Sanders’ socialist ideals and calls for universal health care and higher wages have long been mocked in US politics, but he tapped a vein of youth discontent that made him a serious contender for the White House.
However, the feisty 78-year-old senator from Vermont threw in the towel Wednesday on his second fight to represent the Democratic Party in a presidential election, although only after propelling his agenda into the mainstream of US politics.
His quixotic battle was finally cut short when the centrist Democratic camp — the “establishment” he rejects — pulled together in a coordinated effort to support former vice president Joe Biden.
Ultimately, the party’s voters came to accept that Biden might be the stronger candidate to challenge President Donald Trump in November.
Breaking News: Bernie Sanders is dropping out of the presidential race. Joe Biden is now the presumptive Democratic nominee against President Trump. https://t.co/cHLbP2FBfy
— The New York Times (@nytimes) April 8, 2020
In remarks Wednesday announcing the suspension of his campaign, Sanders noted that he is 300 delegates behind Biden in the race for the nominating convention.
“The path toward victory is virtually impossible. So, while we are winning the ideological battle, and while we are winning the support of so many young people and working people throughout the country, I have concluded that this battle for the democratic nomination will not be successful,” Sanders said.
Deep political impact
A fringe figure for much of his career, Sanders’ political impact in the last four years proved more weighty than many grandees from either party.
His run from the left for the Democratic nomination in 2016 arguably fatally damaged his rival Hillary Clinton, who went on to lose the election to Trump.
Written off after the 2016 race and dismissed by pundits again in 2020 following a heart attack that put his campaign on pause, Sanders re-emerged, stronger than ever.
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He constructed a formidable base out of Americans under 30 who face skyrocketing housing and health care costs, stagnant wages and a country where wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of the “elite.”
With his unruly white hair and crusty, much-stereotyped Brooklyn Jewish accent, he defied his age as he shook his fist at corporate elites and fired up rock-concert-like rallies of “Bernie Bros” with talk of “political revolution.”
“Bernie” called the fight against inequality the greatest moral, economic and political issue of our time.
Launching his campaign in March, he promised to “create an economy and government which works for all Americans, and not just the one percent.”
“The underlying principles of our government will not be greed, hatred and lies. It will not be racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia and religious bigotry,” he said.
— Snoop Joshy Josh (@JoshMarino420) April 9, 2020
“The principles of our government will be based on justice: economic justice, social justice, racial justice and environmental justice.”
As he ended his campaign, he railed against Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying the president was “incapable of providing leadership.”
Labelled a communist
His enemies dragged out Cold War-era language to paint him as a communist.
But Sanders argued that the democratic socialism of northern Europe, with universal health care, fairer housing and low-priced universities, would serve Americans better than their own ultra-capitalist system.
Those were lifelong themes for the Brooklyn-born son of Jewish immigrants from Poland.
He studied at the University of Chicago, where he was active in the civil rights movement, attending the 1963 “March on Washington” where Martin Luther King Jr delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
After graduating, Sanders worked on an Israeli kibbutz and moved to Vermont, where he worked as a carpenter and filmmaker.
In 1981, he won election as mayor of Burlington, Vermont as a socialist. Regarded as a political curiosity by many, he flirted with revolutionary movements — praising Fidel Castro for expanding education in communist Cuba.
In 1990 he won election as an independent to the US House of Representatives, and moved to the Senate in 2006, where he has won reelection twice.
Fighting his own party
Sanders always struggled to gain acceptance from the Democratic hierarchy.
His candidacy this year gained endorsements from rising stars of the Democratic Party, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
But his uncompromising positions — the hallmark of a lifetime as a democratic socialist in a country where the term is anathema — prevented him from pulling in the party’s old guard.
And even as his primary fortunes offered moments of hope, it became clear that for Trump, a showdown with a man he nicknames “Crazy Bernie” would be the perfect gift — a gift the Democratic Party has now denied him.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk