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SHAH: Flawed media coverage delegitimizes, undervalues Sanders

Opinion Column: The Progressive's Hot Take

The most overwhelming sentiment regarding the 2020 Democratic primary is simple: Anyone who can beat President Donald J. Trump. Electability has largely been the metric with which we have been judging the growing number of presidential candidates. 

In the past two days since Bernie Sanders announced his 2020 presidential bid, people have been quick to delegitimize him. Almost every news outlet, even those who lean Left, has released some sort of article or editorial in which the progressive candidate that gave an established Democratic National Committee (DNC) favorite a run for her money in 2016 is written off as a “one-hit wonder.” Oftentimes seen as the perfect foil for Trump in the 2016 presidential election, why is Sanders’s new bid dismissed as quickly as it was the first time around? 

Sanders raised $6 million with an average contribution of $27 from all 50 states, leveraging his strong base and reminding us that there are still people out there who deeply support and stand behind his platform. And yet, Sanders remains the perpetual underdog while simultaneously becoming the arguable Democratic frontrunner in less than a week. 

It is a strange dichotomy, but one that speaks volumes to how quickly we underestimate radical ideas and how popular such ideas are in the face of a growingly desolate and hopeless political world. Discounting Sanders is simply a mistake we cannot afford or make again. 

The Democratic Party has never had a president who has taken office like Trump has, and it has only hurt Democrats as a whole. Generally speaking, the Democratic Party tends to show support for political elites who work slowly and moderately within the establishment despite touting a party message of moral clarity, justice for all and progressivism. In a society where populism elected Trump, our political landscape is ripe for a liberal populist who has been consistent in his policy and agenda ever since getting elected more than 30 years ago for the first time. 

In fact, Sanders’s platform has largely shaped the platforms of his competitors and has set the norm within the party, even while being seen as the outsider in the last primary election. Ideas such as Medicare for All, a $15 minimum wage and free college tuition have become commonplace in this election due to Sanders’s revolutionary approach to radicalism in the last one.

It has gotten to the point where candidates who divert from these progressive ideals can be ostracized for doing so, as the Democratic Party has been pulled further and further to the Left with a rise of young voters who are not waiting for gradual change anymore. 

His greatest strength is simple. As a candidate, Sanders is perceived as authentic in a way his colleagues have never been able to emulate. Because of his consistently held beliefs and identification as an Independent, Sanders has never shied away from a fight, even as he is written off as unrealistic for many of his boldly idealistic policies. If anything is clear from the 2016 presidential election, passionate rhetoric, even if impractical, is what wins an election, not a weakly moderate, noncontroversial platform that changes with the tide. 

And of course, there are issues. The Democratic field has widened exponentially since last year whereas much of Sanders’s support in 2016 was derived from those who would vote for any Democrat except Hillary Clinton. His agenda is considered radically Left by most, and while his rhetoric is compelling, his ability to govern such an agenda through a polarized political sphere is doubtful. He has historically struggled to capture the Black vote. Still, what people saw in Sanders in 2016 is not going away anytime soon. Progressivism mixed with populism is the newfound norm. 

Personally, I am not sure if I support Sanders or his policies yet. Technically speaking, it is far too early to start thinking about the election at all, especially as the candidate list just continues to grow. But I am sure that the definitions of “radical” and “revolution” are constantly changing and that people want change, and they want it drastically and now. Writing off Sanders once again feels like a repetition of history — the same history that got Trump elected in the first place. 

While $6 million in 24 hours is not all it takes to win an election, this monumental show of support demonstrates momentum that is bound to lead somewhere, even if it is not the presidency. Nobody, especially not other presidential contenders, can afford to cast Sanders aside as nothing more than a has-been. People believe in him in a way they have not any other Democratic primary candidate yet. They trust him. 

The 2016 presidential election proved to us that anything can happen. Of all the candidates in the race right now, Sanders is no exception that rule. 

Anjali Shah is a Rutgers Business School sophomore, contemplating  her primary major but minoring in political science and philosophy. Her  column, “The Progressive’s Hot Take,” runs on alternate Fridays.


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