When listening to people talk about the Democratic Primary, I often hear people describe Bernie Sanders using pejoratives related to his idealism. I cannot count the number of times I've heard supporters of Secretary Clinton cite the fact that Republicans control Congress, and Senator Sanders has promoted unabashedly liberal principles, which cannot be legislated, as a reason that they cannot vote for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. Instead of looking at Bernie's idealism as a negative, I want to spin it in a positive light.
While I'm not naïve enough to suggest that Bernie Sanders is going to be able to accomplish every one of his priorities, if he's elected president, a Sanders presidency would be a step in the right direction of progress. Even if the Democrats managed to retake the House and the Senate, Bernie would likely face opposition among certain members of the Democratic caucus. Democrats should be pleased that Senator Sanders has started a conversation on many of these important issues.
During his run for the presidency, Bernie Sanders has put the spotlight on many issues such as income inequality, Wall Street reform, mass incarceration, and college affordability, which had previously been ignored by members of political elite. These issues are all considered to be "losing issues" because they are issues that affect less traditional voters. Candidates tend towards issues where they can reach the largest number of voters (or raise the largest amount of money).
Many people acknowledge the President of the United States' responsibilities as a legislative leader or as Commander-in-Chief, but few people think about POTUS as the leader of their respective party. In the event that Bernie Sanders becomes President, it is likely that he will be able to continue the conversation on these issues within the context of the Democratic Party. While Hillary Clinton has begun to discuss many of the issues that Bernie has prioritized, it remains to be seen if Hillary will continue to push for these progressive policies, if she ends up in a closely contested general election. Bernie Sanders has remained constant on the issues from his earliest days as the mayor of Burlington, Vermont. While Bernie has undergone a natural progression on certain issues, his political career has been based on ideas of alleviating poverty and closing the gap between the wealthy and the disadvantaged.
The new Sanders campaign ad emphasizes, "Our job is not to divide. Our job is to bring people together." This reminds me of message from another once insurgent presidential candidate. "There is not a liberal America. And a conservative America. There is the United States of America. There is not a Black America. A White America. A Latino America. An Asian America. There's the United States of America." Yes, that was then Illinois State Senator Barack Obama, at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, who would later go on to become a US Senator, and then become the 44th President of the United States after defeating Hillary Clinton and John McCain. In 2008, many Clinton supporters questioned the idealism of the young Illinois Senator, questioning whether he had the experience, or the know-how to accomplish his lofty, liberal agenda. Nearly eight years later, I do not think many Democrats would question the many accomplishments of President Barack Obama.
This is not the time to capitulate to the demands of the party establishment. The 2016 election can be used to show the establishment what our values are as Democrats. Do not let the establishment set the agenda for what we can and cannot do as a united party. The Democratic Party says it espouses the values of all over the values of the few. The DNC and other party auxiliaries are only a small fraction of the Democratic Party. The millions of Americans from Chicago to Charlotte, Denver and Dallas, who are voting for Democratic candidates, are the heart of our party. Millionaires writing checks to PACs do not fuel the Democratic Party; the grassroots voters who are knocking on thousands of doors across the country fuel the party. Remember, your vote counts as much as Debbie Wasserman Shultz's, Barack Obama's, and George Soros's. Hillary Clinton may have won the support of the party elites, but that does not mean the discussion is over. It is time for grassroots voters to show the party what we believe.
Senator Sanders has cobbled together a coalition of voters, who have been previously disenfranchised by our American democracy. For too long, many in our party have stated they are fighting for the disadvantaged; fighting for the workers; fighting for minorities. But at the end of the day, many of their actions show they are working for the millionaires on Wall Street who are signing the checks that keep them in Washington, instead of the grassroots organizers who work tirelessly for meaningful political change. A win in New Hampshire provided legitimacy to the Sanders campaign, even if it was in an advantageous environment. Currently, over half of African-Americans hold no opinion of Bernie Sanders in South Carolina. As Bernie moves to Nevada, South Carolina, and beyond, minorities, who previously saw an air of inevitability to Hillary Clinton, will see a candidate who backs up his rhetoric on minorities with actions in Bernie Sanders. We have seen the beginning of this movement with recent statements of support from esteemed social commentators, Michelle Alexander and Ta-Nehesi Coates, and former NAACP President Ben Jealous. After South Carolina and Nevada vote, I truly believe that we are going to see a true melting pot that is the Sanders campaign. This is not the campaign of the establishment. This is not the campaign for the advantaged. This is the campaign for those who have had enough. A campaign for those who are angry with the misguided messaging of the two parties, who have made promises to Americans, and then gone up to Washington and turned their back on their constituencies.
I am proud to support Senator Bernie Sanders. We have spent too much time trying to place candidates into narrowly defined categories. Who or what defines what a progressive or a moderate is? What I see in the Sanders campaign is a candidate who shows an unwavering passion for improving the well-being of marginalized populations and creating opportunities for all Americans. At the end of the day, I believe that is why so many Americans, especially younger Americans, Feel the Bern. It is not about what messaging a candidate utilizes to speak to voters. Americans are sick and tired of candidates pandering on the issues. It is about a candidate's actions and values when off the stump. Bernie Sanders has ignited a conversation about these issues on the campaign trail in 2016, but if you examine Bernie's history, you see that he practices what he preaches. Bernie Sanders should embrace being identified as an idealist. We should be less afraid to embrace this term, which has initiated so much progress over the years. FDR was an idealist when he proposed the policies of the New Deal. JFK was idealistic when proposing the Civil Rights Act. LBJ was idealistic when proposing Medicare and Medicaid. I am Sebastian Ivory. I am proud to be a Democrat. I am proud to identify as a progressive. And I am proud to be an idealist.
Sebastian Ivory is a junior Politics and International Affairs and Sociology double-major at Wake Forest University, who is President of the Wake Forest University College Democrats and a member of the #WaketheVote democratic engagement cohort.