Victory in defeat
Bernie Sanders’ withdrawal from the race for the presidential nominee from the Democratic Party at this juncture comes as no surprise. Ever since the Democratic Party field narrowed down to just two, with former Vice-President Joe Biden being endorsed as the overwhelming favourite of the party establishment, Mr. Sanders found the going tough. After his strong victory in the South Carolina primary, Mr. Biden emerged as the first among equals among the moderates and consolidated support for himself after the rest of the field was winnowed due to dropouts by other candidates. In direct contests after his triumph in the Nevada caucuses, Mr. Sanders did not fare too well and Mr. Biden emerged as the presumptive nominee. With the COVID-19 pandemic relegating the Democratic contest between the two septuagenarians to a lower priority among American voters, the path to a nomination soon became non-existent for Mr. Sanders. Without a large enthusiastic voter turnout, his chances of staging a comeback grew even weaker, forcing him to withdraw.
Mr. Sanders ran on a social democratic ticket, promising a universal and single-payer healthcare, free college education and a “green new deal” to tackle climate change. A lifelong independent before he entered the Democratic primaries in 2016, Mr. Sanders’ earlier campaign had also ended in defeat, but he managed to bring his progressive positions to the centre of the Democratic Party debates, buoyed by support especially among the youth and the white working class. By 2020, after progressives won a significant number of Congressional seats, most presidential candidates in the party adopted sections of his programme such as increasing the statutory minimum wage for workers and expanding social welfare. But his unapologetic embrace of the term “democratic socialist” to describe himself in a country that fought a half-a-century-long Cold War for the triumph of capitalism, his crusade against the wealthy and for campaign financing regulations among other systemic changes did not endear him to the Democratic establishment. Mr. Sanders’ emphasis on economic justice as key to overcome the social inequality in a racially divided U.S. did not have as many takers among African American voters who preferred Mr. Biden’s “safer” candidacy due to his identification with Barack Obama’s presidency in which he served as Vice-President. Mr. Sanders will be remembered for bringing to the forefront ideas of social welfare, collective action, and liberal internationalism that had been relegated by the neoliberal/neoconservative duopoly that had firmly established itself in the U.S. since the 1980s. He might have lost the battle, but the war for a progressive America will now be waged by activists inspired by his legacy.