Sen. Bernard Sanders acknowledged in a story in Sunday’s edition that he is considering a run for the presidency in 2016. For conservatives, a Sanders candidacy would be at once preposterous and scary, another sign of the nation’s decline and fall.
For Sanders his admission inevitably sets off an avalanche of stories, including this editorial, of the type he hates. They are stories about the process, the race, the politics. Sanders wants to talk about the issues, as he has been talking for nearly five decades.
What issues? “The obscene level of wealth and income inequality” afflicting the nation. This is not a new topic for him. The iniquity of big corporations and the corruption of the political parties are also frequent themes. But the numbers he cites have grown familiar in recent years because they speak to the economic disasters and the ongoing struggles of the American people. “You have 1 percent of the population now owning 38 percent of the financial wealth of America while the bottom 60 percent own 2.3 percent,” Sanders says. Call it the return of “Downton Abbey.”
Sanders says he might run because no one is talking about the issue of inequality. In fact, rumblings within the liberal wing of the Democratic Party suggest that whoever runs in 2016 may have no choice but to confront the economic question. Already the push to raise the minimum wage has gained new respectability. Some economists and others are talking about the benefits not of cutting Social Security, but of increasing it.
Much attention has focused in recent days on Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the freshman senator from Massachusetts, who has become the darling of the left because of her record taking on the big banks and working to protect consumers. Warren has been called Hillary Clinton’s worst nightmare because Clinton represents the establishment of the Democratic Party, and a candidacy by Warren would eat away support from Clinton’s left.
These are all distant events, and consideration of these possibilities is the sort of speculation that Sanders disdains. Instead he likes to hammer at the long and continuing record of abuse by corporations that has caused a narrow elite at the top of the economic ladder to soak up almost all of the gains from the nation’s economic growth. At the same time, income for the middle class has stagnated or declined.
Sanders is right to focus on this trend, in part because the economy as a whole will never thrive if it remains so badly out of balance. The billions of dollars drifting toward the stock portfolios, real estate holdings and bank accounts of the few remain parked unproductively where they do not serve the economy well. If the wages of workers were growing, the money would be spent, circulating through the economy, increasing demand and boosting economic activity.
Sanders is capable of pointing to the ways that the laws have stacked the deck in favor of corporations. Elizabeth Warren, too, has made ardent enemies on Wall Street through her efforts to free consumers from the predatory grip of the banks.
The possibility of a Sanders run underscores the side of politics that Sanders dismisses as a distraction. Politics is partly about trust, and trust depends on more than how a candidate stands on a given issue. Trust is an intangible quality that derives also from personality, from the voters’ sense of a candidate’s integrity, dedication, humanity. Sanders has been a consistent and authentic spokesman for an important point of view that has grown ever more germane as the economy has proven Sanders’ warnings to have been prescient. But for him to establish a connection beyond an ideological one would be more difficult.
Sanders would presumably run as an independent, but he has promised he would not carry on a campaign if there were a chance a third candidate in the race would benefit the Republican. Instead he wants to make a point, which has been the point throughout his career.
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