What Bernie Does for the Democrats

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., lifts his arms in celebration as he speaks at a rally, Sunday,
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., lifts his arms in celebration as he speaks at a rally, Sunday, Aug. 9, 2015, at the Moda Center in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Troy Wayrynen)

The Democratic Party's single biggest worry in the run up to the 2016 presidential campaign should not be which GOP contender its nominee will face. It should be can the Democratic nominee do what President Obama did in 2008 and again in 2012 and turn the campaign into a crusade for the White House. This means one thing. The Democratic nominee must ignite emotion, passion, and, even a mania, among the voters who put Obama in the White House twice. Those voters are African-Americans, Hispanics, LGBT, young white women, and those aged 18 to 25.

They didn't just want to make history in electing and reelecting the first African-American president. They bought hard into Obama's sell of political remake and change. The worry whether they'll show up in the same numbers in 2016 is real because a Democratic victory hinges on their big turnout again in the handful of key battleground states. Two polls so far don't provide much comfort for Democrats. One is the June Reuters/Ipsos poll that found a major drop off in electoral enthusiasm among blacks, women and Gen X voters. A July AP/GfK poll found a major drop off in the percentage of Hispanics and those under 30 who view Clinton as favorably as Obama.

Before Vermont Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders decided to jump in the Democratic primary race, the jury was still way out on whether the Obama phenomena could be duplicated. The reason for that worry isn't hard to find. Democrats, especially Congressional Democrats, have taken a beating for being too cautious, careful, and circumspect when it comes to taking a bold and aggressive stance on the issues. They include: An agreement on budget and deficit reduction and debt ceiling deals, unemployment insurance extension, a hike in the minimum wage, rethinking the drug war, checking greenhouse emissions, and ending the grotesque income equality. These are not just issues that a majority of Democrats back, but polls show that a majority of Americans also back.

The criticism is grossly unfair because many Congressional Democrats have fought long and hard within and without Congress for these initiatives. But as in so much else about politics, the unfairness of it is that perception trumps reality. And if the perception is that Democrats are weak and vacillating then that's what much of the public believes. Unfortunately, Democrats didn't help matters when a pack of Democratic Senators flatly told Obama that they would not appear with him during their reelection bid in the 2014 mid-term elections.

Their sprint from Obama was driven by their near manic political fear. Fear of Obama's at that time plunge in poll popularity numbers, identification with his signature Affordable Care Act, and a huge saber rattle of them by the GOP for allegedly hugging too close to Obama's legislative program.

Sanders never had that fear. He's been the most relentless, and consistent gadfly in Congress pushing, prodding, and dragooning Democrats to make like FDR and back a big, expansive and proactive federal government on everything from job creation to education spending to single payer health care. He's gone further and been outspoken in calling for an end to mass incarceration and thundered that institutional racism underlay the grotesque black and white racial violence and inequities in America.

This is exactly the message that the overwhelming majority of young and minorities voters want to hear to give them a sense that the politician who utters them and the party that backs him really cares about making real change. The massive and enthusiastic crowds that Sanders has racked up wherever he has taken his traveling crusade amply prove that. The numbers Sanders has drawn has already translated into a quick jump ahead of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the polls in New Hampshire, one of the earliest primary voting states. Sanders' success should not be cause for panic for Clinton and the Democrats. It should be seen for what it is. That is a handmaiden opportunity for Democrats and Hillary to cash in on the energy and enthusiasm that Sanders has revved up for a Democratic candidate a year before the Democratic convention.

Clinton, wisely, has taken heed of the Sanders' crusade and has spun out her own mild populist stance backing a ramp up in federal spending on jobs and education, tuition free college education, and unabashedly touting blacklives matter. This is a clear pitch to those Democrats that she must have at the polls in big numbers on presidential Election Day 2016 to win.

There are two important takeaways in the early presidential campaign for Sanders and the Democrats. The first is that Sanders has already won a major political battle by not just being the star attraction in the Democratic race for the White House but by pushing the party's major hope, Clinton, to sound at times like him. The other takeaway is that if the Democrats continue to sound like him they'll do themselves well. That's what Bernie has done for the Democrats.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network.