By Stephen Bryen
Bernie Sanders is running for President as a democratic socialist. If he is successful in grabbing the nomination, instead of a platform as a democratic socialist, as the party’s candidate the Democratic Party will, at least for now, become the Democratic Socialist Party. That is something new in American politics where one of the two major political parties openly becomes socialist.
Of course the shift to the left in the Democratic Party has been gaining steam for some time, and many of the social programs at the heart of the Democratic platform are admittedly socialist ideas. But main line Democratic candidates have been careful to veer as much as possible to the center ideologically, because that is how you get elected.
I remember as a young man that my socialist grandfather said to me he would vote for the Democrats because they can win, even though his outlook was socialist. In many ways my grandfather and Bernie had a lot in common.
But if Sanders is running as a Democrat, he is not going to veer to the center. The clearest tipoff that is the case is his vulgar attacks on Israel and on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a powerful lobby organization focusing on helping Israel but supported by the American Jewish community. The majority of AIPAC’s members are Democrats and contribute to the campaigns of Democratic candidates. The simple reason for this is that historically the majority of Jews in the United States were connected to the Democratic Party.
That Jewish connection may be changing now, and that could be a clear harbinger for other minorities who may well shift their political allegiances.
There was a time when Jewish American politics and Israel’s Zionist Socialist state were very closely linked ideologically. One has to remember that Israel’s Labor Party ruled the country from its founding until Menachem Begin was elected in 1977. After Begin, the Labor Party got back into power for a while, but today the Labor Party is a faint shadow of what it once was. In the last Israeli election, Labor only polled 4.43% of the popular vote. And Labor, long part of the Socialist International, quit it in 2018 because the Socialist International was supporting boycott, divestment and sanctions program (known as BDS) against Israel.
Bernie considers Israel and its leaders racist and supports BDS. But even more significantly, what happened to the Israeli Labor Party could well happen to the American Democratic Party if Sanders gets control of it and is their presidential candidate.
For sure Sanders will lose most of the Jewish vote, even in New York although he will get support from some Jewish radical leftists and young people who really have little idea what a Sanders victory would mean for Israel’s survival or for a renewal of anti-Semitism, that a Sander’s candidacy may well encourage keeping in mind his slurs on Israel’s leaders.
The Jewish vote is a swing vote in certain states. Tablet Magazine, which is a moderate leftist source, says that in the 2020 election the Jewish vote will be a swing vote. For Republicans, the idea in the past was to try and capture between 20 and 30% of the Jewish vote, considered all important in strongly contested urban states with large Jewish populations (New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and others). This year the Republicans may get 50%, maybe even more.
Republicans are also making significant inroads in the African American and Hispanic communities across the country, as Republicans under Trump are delivering jobs and other forms of vital support. African Americans in particular are growing skeptical that, despite tons of promises of support from the Democrats. the promises have never really been delivered and that real improvement in the lives of African Americans have been won by African Americans bootstrapping on their own, without government help. In fact, as the Republicans have argued for years, welfare systems depress instead of grow a disadvantaged community. Bernie’s candy man approach (free everything) won’t be credible to most, because he could never get the political support needed or find the money to act like a Big Welfare Daddy.
More moderately styled Democrats fear that if Sanders captures the party, they will have to think about looking elsewhere.
There are two significant scenarios.
The first is that the party nominates Sanders. He will, of course lose the election, but he would emerge in control of his party, at least temporarily (rather similar to the antisemitic Jeremy Corbyn in the UK who has yet to be replaced). The party could split as a result.
The second scenario is that Sanders is denied the nomination for the election. While the field of Democratic candidates all are either weak players or have significant baggage like Biden, the Democrats may finally select a moderate candidate and stop Bernie’s electoral surge. This could be the case if the Democratic Party convention ends up being a brokered one. While Bernie now dutifully says he will support another Democrat if he or she wins (presumably including Hillary), don’t believe it. He will say he was cheated and probably go on to form a Third Party and get himself on the ballot. That will split the party and guarantee it will lose the coming Presidential contest, but it may help Congressional candidates by removing the Bernie curse. Democrats may like this outcome.
All of this leads to the conclusion that the Democratic Party is at a critical crossroads, and that either it will change permanently into a far left party, or it will disintegrate.