by Brent Budowsky
The surge in support for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in 2016 is the latest evidence of a progressive populist wave growing across America that has the potential to create a new political majority in the tradition of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy.
The rise of Sanders and the challenges and opportunities it creates for Hillary Clinton are the great story in presidential politics, while a gaggle of GOP candidates competes to move America backward.
The miracle of Occupy Wall Street is that this movement of idealists and patriots that was reviled by the right and ridiculed by insider pundits was victorious in the first great battle of ideas of the 21st century on behalf of the 99 percent.
The game-changing genius and luminous inspiration of Pope Francis is that he champions from the pulpit of faith the same cause of economic justice for that 99 percent that Occupy Wall Street championed from the streets.
The prospect of this new era of new thinking from a new populism of a new left, following the Gilded Age corruptions of the last financial crash and the revolving door corruptions of Washington, is driving the surprise surge for Sanders and posing the dramatic test for Clinton.
If Clinton can conquer her penchant for calculation and caution, she can ultimately ride the wave, lead the movement and become a transforming president. If she proves to be a polyester populist, the Sanders summer will continue into fall and Clinton, whether she ultimately loses or backs into the presidency, will miss her moment to achieve a mandate for greatness.
The story of America is the long march toward equality that began by freeing the slaves and led to the election of our first black president. It advanced equality for women from the triumph of the suffragettes who won the right of women to vote, whose 100th anniversary will be celebrated during the presidency of our next leader, and continues in the ongoing battle to bring equal pay for women, a battle that is supported by the left and opposed by the right.
This steady advancement of American equality brought about collective bargaining that has meant higher wages for workers and most recently won the battle for marriage equality for gays — an issue that’s also fiercely championed by the left and attacked by a right that demands the power to outlaw other people’s marriages.
The American story includes fair and humane treatment of immigrants in a land that has always been a refuge for the huddled masses who became the citizens who built this nation. They are not, as Donald Trump charges, murderers and rapists, as earlier generations of jingoists once said about Jewish, Irish and Italian immigrants.
Because of the work of Occupy Wall Street and the faith of Francis on behalf of economic justice for the whole 99 percent, the great progressive cause for equal rights now includes the right to a job, to fair pay and to a higher standard of living for all citizens, of every race, gender, age and demographic profile. That is what makes the new left new, what creates the prospect of building a new realigning majority for the left and what’s driving the surge for Sanders and the opportunity for Clinton.
It is the universality of this progressive aspiration that motivated and inspired the Roosevelts and Kennedys as it inspires a large majority of Americans today in ways the left welcomes and champions and the right fears and condemns.
In this sense the left is right and the right is wrong, which is why the left is winning and the right is losing the battle of ideas. The right offers an anger-ridden vision of which Americans should be pushed down or locked out,ß while the left offers an uplifting vision that every citizen should have an equal share of the American Dream.
This is what fuels the Bernie Sanders summer and creates the opportunity for Hillary Clinton if she chooses to seize it.