Bernie Sanders has tapped into the "anti-fervor" that has gripped this country since President Obama took office in 2009. It began with the Tea Party's rage against the Affordable Care Act and what they couched as another big government takeover. Soon being anti something had become a fashion statement in American politics. Anti-government, anti-Wall Street (Occupy Wall Street) and even anti-science in the GOP's fight to prevent meaningful legislation to combat climate change.
For several years Sanders has preached about the evils of our campaign finance laws, putting hedge fund managers that participated in the cause of the 2008 recession behind bars, and the pharmaceutical industries price fixing. Over time, a willing audience grew and Sanders decided he needed more of a bully pulpit to deliver his message.
So, a senator from a relatively small New England state who ran and won as an Independent and then caucused with Democrats on issues of his choosing thrust himself on the biggest stage of his long political career. A Democratic presidential candidate that would campaign as a huge underdog to the heavily favored Hillary Rodham Clinton and become the champion of the left-of-center Democrats who could now embrace him as one of their own. A story Sanders and his rising followers would have hoped to have a storybook ending. Instead, now become yet another cautionary tale about how the human appetite for rising above expectations can distill the tidings, not only that Sanders brings to his audience but the prophet his base believes he has become.
For Bernie Sanders, his populist message and his advocacy for a revolution receives adulation from his supporters 24/7 in our 21st-century media. For a 74-year-old man who had no party affiliation, this has to be a crossing of the Rubicon. Now in a battle with Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president, Sanders has the best of both worlds. He can run as a Democrat, but speak as an Independent, (what his base believes to be an outsider to Washington corruption) which in 2016 is very appealing to many voters.
But while many in the country are listening to the grandeur of his ideas for campaign finance reform, battle Wall Street corruption and provide Medicare for all, Sanders knows that attaining this vision for America would require more than glorified speeches or birds flying by his side (a bird he implored his audience to think of as the dove of peace from the heavens) at a recent rally to create this tsunami sea change in American politics.
Buoyed by victories in many caucus primary states, where enthusiasm and rabid followers are a tremendous asset to an underdog campaign, Sanders has come to a fork in the road. Trailing Clinton significantly in pledged and super delegates (more than she herself did in running against Obama at this same time in '08) Sanders must decide even if his road to the nomination is all but blocked should he continue to deliver a message that while merits attention to the ills of our current political system, can also be used as a weapon to degrade Hillary Clinton and her chances to win in the fall. And for Sanders and his base this decision is ubiquitous with consequences for the general election.
There is an ill wind blowing from the ideological other side. A Republican party that is not only completely adversarial to a Sanders vision for a better America, but has two candidates running for the Republican nomination for president that communicate to their backers in words and tone that contain racism and nativism. Lower the bar for responsible political discourse in both civility and content. And incite behavior that kindles the fires or intolerance and hate.
Sander's knows that a President Trump or a President Cruz shares none of the values he holds dear and would not promote his ideals of a more equitable society. Sanders in the next few months must choose to continue to advocate for change or fight harder against all odds to defeat Clinton and in the process, perhaps giving life to a GOP spiraling out of control. Who many have come to see at a party guided by a reactionary fringe of extreme right-wing zealotry.
With every day that goes by the 2016 presidential campaign takes turns and twists that six months ago would seem unfathomable. Should Bernie Sanders choose ambition over pragmatism and allow his followers to believe in what many in his camp now say "Bernie or bust" his chances to win the nomination will not increase. Unfortunately, the country's likelihood for fairness, a Sanders basic article of faith, could diminish as well.