Bernie Sanders' unpredictable rise in national politics is pushing the Democratic Party out of its left-center torpor, where it has been loitering for forty years. The party's positioning has changed, and so has its branding. Tonight Sanders delivered his economic agenda to the Democratic National Convention. As an also-ran, he avoided identity politics so common in the Democratic party to advance his economic platform. His message of income inequality, pitting the 99% against the 1%, may fall out of sight during rest of this increasingly bizarre and troubling election cycle. No matter. Bernie has freed the Democrats temporarily from the accursed trap of American Liberalism.
Since the days of Kennedy's Camelot and even more of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, the Democrats have rallied around the Liberal flag, promoting equality and justice through social change. It was a politics by those who have, to benefit those who haven't, without actually turning over the reins. Liberals by and large are white and comfortable, epitomized by the tag, Limousine Liberals. They are stereotyped as prosperous members of the establishment spreading largess hypocritically among the common folk. The Liberal bubble burst in 1972, when Nixon thrashed George McGovern, whose flawed campaign won him a single state. Afterwards, Massachusetts took pride in its bumper sticker, "Don't Blame Me - I Voted for McGovern." That was, until it elected Scott Brown to the Senate.
As a result of the Reagan Revolution in 1980, Democrats came to believe that they had to move to the center to recapture the White House. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama ran from this left-center spot, always trying to avoid the Liberal tag. Hillary Clinton was following suit.
Along came Senator Bernie Sanders, former Mayor of Burlington, Vermont and self-described Socialist. He was elected as an Independent, and he caucused with the Democrats. The Liberal label didn't fit Bernie, and Bernie never embraced it. Bernie described himself as a Progressive, referring back to the movement at the turn of the last century. Progressivism was an economic movement before it was a political one, challenging the dehumanizing effects of 19th Century industrialization. The union movement, industrial safety and American Communism grew out of the Progressive Movement. By the end of the 20th Century, Progressivism was no more than an historical curiosity.
In his campaign this year, Bernie's best political insight is that he is a Progressive, binding himself to the lower rungs on America's economic ladder. This vision connected with a middle class sagging from slow growth and stagnation. Bernie connected with older voters, worrying about retirement. It also connected with newly minted college graduates, also worrying about retirement - and about student loans that might still be lingering when they reached their golden age.
Hillary Clinton is not a standard-bearer of Progressivism. She is an old-line left-center Democrat, who espouses Liberal values. Through the agency of her White House years with Bill Clinton and the Clinton family's enormously successful global initiative, she became part of the 1%. On departing the White House in 2000 with some of the silverware, Hillary received an advance of $8 million for her memoir. She later wrote that she left the White House "broke." So much for remembering your roots.
Because of Bernie's enormous success in the primaries, he has been able to push Progressivism on Hillary and the Party, pulling her into the periphery of his "revolution."