As the primary election season finishes up, Senator Bernie Sanders is expected to suspend his campaign and endorse Hilary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic Party nominee. Even though he will not be running for president anymore, it seems likely that some of the Senator’s ideas and beliefs will become part of Clinton’s platform, a potentially necessary strategy for the former Secretary of State to convince Sander’s backers to support her in the general election against Donald Trump.
Bernie’s grassroots movement had come a long way since he first entered the race, gaining supporters in droves with a platform of democratic socialism that pledged to break up the big banks, fight Wall Street, and have free college for all Americans. That being said, how many of his supporters, of which I count myself, actually understand the potential implications of his ideas? For the record, I am not attempting to insult Bernie supporter’s intelligence, or their understanding of politics. I merely mean to suggest that Bernie’s political ideology has differed from the standard 21st Century Democratic presidential candidate platform and as such, we should make sure we, as Americans, understand what the Senator actually wants to do. Of course while it is impossible to know exactly what Bernie’s “political revolution” would accomplish; we can look back at history to see where similar movements have succeeded before.
One of the greatest influences on Senator Sander’s ideas is President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal that he pushed through during the Great Depression. Speaking directly about this influence during a speech in November, the Senator applauded FDR’s policy, describing how he “implemented a series of programs that put millions of people back to work, took them out of poverty, and restored faith in our government.” Senator Sanders went on to say that FDR “reinvigorated democracy” as well as “transformed the country, and that is what we have to do today.” Despite the political debate over the New Deal’s economic impact, President Roosevelt maintained strong support amongst Americans, allowing Bernie to use his name similar to the way that many Conservatives position themselves as a disciple of Ronald Reagan.
Not only has the Senator applauded FDR’s policies during the Great Depression, he had tried to use President Roosevelt’s lasting image as a bridge between successful American politics and his own brand of democratic socialism, a term which scares many Americans into thinking of Communism and the Soviet Union. Leading up to the New York primary in April, Senator Sanders released an advertisement that’s sole purpose was to link the presidential candidate to FDR, the most recent President from New York. In doing so, Sanders has hoped to convince voters that his ideas about helping the middle class, creating jobs, and braking up the big banks will create help the economy the same way that President Roosevelt did.
While Bernie’s campaign may be at an end, his Revolution may just be beginning. It will be very interesting to see if the Democratic Party begins to move in a more democratic socialist direction to appease the young voters who overwhelmingly backed Sanders during the primary. Possibly more important to historians however, is the potential interest that his campaign could have on FDR and his policies. Will this lead more young Americans to be interested in learning about the New Deal? In addition, we are almost at a point where everyone who lived though the Great Depression has died, possibly creating a void in the process which needs to filled. Will this extra interest in democratic socialism and New Deal type programs create the push necessary to keep the topic alive and discussed? As a historian interested in FDR and the New Deal, I can only hope so.