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Bernie Sanders is seen as an existential threat by establishment Democrats

I’ve witnessed the antipathy towards progressive candidates like Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.  

Eric Hacopian
8 February 2020, 9.00am

The fiasco of the Iowa caucus has revealed the rot at the very heart of the Democratic Party. A faulty voting app delayed the release of results by several days, turning the contest into a farce. While Pete Buttigieg has now been declared the winner – by a 0.1% margin over Bernie Sanders – a litany of errors and inconsistencies have cast doubt over the final result. 

For Sanders’ supporters, already wary of the party establishment, the delays seemed to be a gift to his rivals. On Tuesday, the party released partial results which gave the impression of a narrow victory for Buttigieg. But as the count progressed, Sanders closed the gap leading to cries of foul play.

Amid the chaos, it also emerged that the company behind the app, Shadow Inc., received donations from both Buttigieg and Joe Biden last year. Neither of which was seen as a conflict of interest by the Iowa Democratic Party. 

Despite both Buttigieg and Sanders declaring victory, neither of them have come away from Iowa as winners. The havoc only served to benefit Biden by providing a convenient distraction from his humiliating fourth place finish.

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“I never witnessed as much vitriol and hatred among [the Democratic] establishment as that directed towards Sanders and his supporters.”

Iowa is only the first round in what is shaping up to be a battle for the future of the Democratic Party between its establishment and progressive factions. According to conventional political wisdom, the Democrats’ dislike of Donald Trump is so strong that the party will unite to support its presidential candidate. This is a mistaken assumption. The differences between these two factions are far wider than understood and far more existential in nature.

In the 30 years I have worked with the Democratic party, I never witnessed as much vitriol and hatred among its establishment as that directed towards Sanders and his supporters. The dislike is deep as it is personal and is primarily driven by the enthusiasm generated by his campaign. 

Ultimately what bothers the party establishment is the kind of raw authentic politics which the Sanders movement represents. A politics that speaks of class and concrete political demands, rather than the politics of profile and identity. A politics that at its core challenges the legitimacy of the American economic and political power structure.

Most damningly on a personal level, this brand of politics holds a mirror to the professional political class exposing them for what they really are – the very well compensated court eunuch’s of the oligarchy.

The reason the Sanders and Warren insurgencies are so problematic to the Democratic establishment is because they are an ideological attack on the legacies of the last two Democratic presidencies. Both candidates have argued that the Clinton and Obama administrations were tarnished by corporatist and Wall Street economics and militarist foreign policy that social liberalism could not remedy.

In addition, Sanders and Warren have accused the party of losing touch with its base by being unwilling to adopt more progressive policies, despite evidence that Americans support them. They have advanced the argument that the party has, either by design or incompetence, lost all the economic and foreign policy battles of the last 40 years.

“A victory by the party’s progressive wing is, for establishment figures, a repudiation of their life’s work.”

This line of attack infuriates the Democratic establishment who like to think of themselves as the “adults in the room”. They consider themselves the only force capable of winning elections among an electorate that they view as immutably centrist. A victory by candidates representing the party’s progressive wing is, for establishment figures, a repudiation of their life’s work. 

The biggest mistake that establishment Democrats have made is refusing to learn from the 2016 elections. It was not foreign interference that propelled Trump to victory. What they continue to ignore is that both the Democrats and the Republicans lost the trust of voters. To them, both parties are run by elites who long ago betrayed their interests in order to benefit that of their own class. A feeling of disillusionment that an outsider, populist candidate like Trump was able to capitalise on.

If anyone doubts the wisdom of voters’ cynicism, I refer them to the recent comments of our former first lady Michelle Obama. When questioned about her close friendship with George W. Bush, the former first lady responded that “Our values are the same.” To those who feel left behind by politics, Obama’s answer is confirmation that there’s little difference between political elites of all stripes.

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