Some call it ‘the New Politics’, others ‘Anti-Politics’. Whichever name the media decides on this week, it’s hardly as ridiculous as the continuing dispute over what to call ISIS; every movement needs a name, as survivors of the New Romantic generation will recall with a shudder. The term has been coined to describe the worldwide shift away from conventional politicians and political parties ever since the financial crash of 2008. Nordic Europe and Greece have led the way in this shift, though the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader last year showed this country is not immune to disillusionment manifested as fanatical devotion to an outsider-as-saviour either. Now it would seem it is the turn of America.
When President Obama announced his plans to reform America’s healthcare system during his first term in office, the most common cry from Republican heartlands was ‘Socialism!’ Obama was at pains to distance himself from the tarnished term, though as a politician the incumbent President is to the right of a past resident of the White House such as Richard Nixon, let alone Franklin D Roosevelt, whose own demonisation came posthumously. This was during the McCarthy era of the early 1950s, long after the deceased President had successfully instigated essentially ‘socialist’ policies to get his country through the Great Depression. It would appear Roosevelt’s assertion that his countrymen and women have nothing to fear but fear itself still has a ring of truth about it.
As anyone with a television set will have noticed, the US is currently deciding which contenders will take each other on in November’s Presidential Election. Last week, round one in the contest – the Iowa Caucuses – saw long-time favourite and expected victor Hillary Clinton emerge as a narrow winner for the Democrats. The former First Lady seems to have been around forever; even in 2008, when she was forced to concede victory to Obama during her first shot at becoming America’s first female President, she was part of the political wallpaper. Perhaps her time has come and gone; familiarity breeds contempt, so they say, and Hillary certainly has her critics.
The prospect of another American dynasty, following the Bush family and the Kennedys, is not something every US voter is comfortable with. Besides, there is now a generation blessed with an especially horrible name, Millennials, that owes no allegiance to a particular political party or politician, and that generation has entered the electorate. Curiously, however, as happened here with Corbyn and his online army, rather than flocking around a young contender sharing their twenty-first century genes, they have instead focused their idealistic ambitions on a veteran outsider.
This week, round two took place in the shape of the New Hampshire Primary, traditionally a pointer to who will eventually end up in the White House, and Hillary Clinton was trounced by Bernie Sanders. His margin of victory was 20%, one of the most convincing for decades – since 1984, as a matter of fact, when Gary Hart (remember him?) crushed Walter Mondale. What are called ‘insurgent candidates’ rarely defeat party favourites, so Hillary’s loss at the hands of a man unknown to most outside of the States could be perceived as quite a setback in her long-held aim to step out of her husband’s shadow. But who the hell is Bernie Sanders?
To call Sanders ‘America’s Jeremy Corbyn’ is not too way off the mark. Both men regard themselves as Democratic Socialists – yes, Sanders is not afraid to use the S word; both men were born in the 1940s, albeit at opposite ends of that distant decade, and both men have spent their political careers inhabiting the fringes, probably never expecting to be in a position where the sentiments of a generation young enough to be their grandchildren would collide with their own. Whilst Corbyn has been a card-carrying Labour man virtually all his life, however, Sanders was an independent for most of his time in politics, only officially joining the Democrats last year. Perhaps sensing he belatedly needed to attach himself to a major party in order to make the biggest splash, Sanders has shrewdly capitalised on the disenchantment of the nation with the so-called Washington elite and now stands as the one candidate who could derail Hillary Clinton’s all-powerful bandwagon, a scenario few foresaw when he finally joined the Democratic ranks in 2015.
The three-time Mayor of Burlington, Vermont, Sanders had been a Congressman since 1990, but became an American household name in 2010, four years after being elected to the Senate, when he instigated a notorious filibuster against the extension of President Bush’s tax-cuts. A native of Brooklyn, New York and a graduate of the University of Chicago, Sanders was a Civil Rights activist in his youth and still holds what many Americans would consider ‘radical’ beliefs, ones that have found a receptive audience in non-Republicans who have a deep mistrust of mainstream candidates who promise the earth and then fail to deliver once elected to office.
Like Corbyn, Sanders is only an outsider in the sense that he has never been part of government. After all, he’s been in Washington for 26 years, whilst Corbyn has been in Westminster for 33. Both men sat on the sidelines for decades until their implausible calling came and they went for it. Corbyn succeeded, and it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Sanders could follow suit. If he does indeed win the Democratic nomination, chances are he could be running against another unexpected contender in the divisive figure of Donald Trump. The current drawn-out drag of a contest may test the patience of most Americans, not to mention those of us who have no say or vote; but November might well turn out to be an entertaining month for the naive new recruits to the political scene as the mighty continue to fall and the unlikeliest of survivors emerge from the wreckage.
© The Editor