Bernie Sanders came out on top in the New Hampshire primary, edging out Pete Buttigieg. The movement behind Sanders expresses a desire for left-wing politics in the USA, particularly amongst the young, who are fed up with the machinations of US capitalism and its two main parties. The establishment is in crisis, and an explosive period is being prepared.
Following the debacle in Iowa, the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination focused on “The Granite State” of New Hampshire. Unsurprisingly, Sanders, who hails from neighboring Vermont, came out on top and was able to hold the primetime victory celebration denied to him a week ago in the Midwest.
However, he only defeated Pete Buttigieg by just over one percentage point (25.8 percent to 24.4 percent, with 88 percent of votes counted). This is a far cry from his 22-point stomping of Hillary Clinton in 2016. Sanders won in all of the seven largest cities in the state, while some of the smaller suburbs went to Mayor Pete. Despite the win, Sanders and Buttigieg each won nine pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention, while Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar came in third, securing six delegates. The fact that Buttigieg now leads in total pledged delegates, despite losing in total votes in both Iowa and New Hampshire, highlights just how undemocratic the “Democratic” Party truly is.
Establishment losing ground
Elizabeth Warren followed in fourth place, below the 15 percent threshold required to win any delegates in the state. Many thought she would do better, as she is a “progressive liberal” from neighboring Massachusetts. However, Sanders is clearly at the forefront among progressive/socialist voters—why choose “Bernie lite” when you can get the real deal? Her main angle now is that she is just progressive enough and just conservative enough to unite the party in November.
As she expressed it:
If we’re going to beat Donald Trump in November, we are going to need huge turnout within our party, and to get that turnout, we will need a nominee that the broadest coalition of our party feels they can get behind. We can’t afford to fall into factions. We can’t afford to squander our collective power. We will win when we come together.
It remains to be seen whether this kind of bourgeois-liberal “centrist” unity can work in a country more polarized than it has ever been in recent memory.
As for ex-Vice President Joe Biden, he landed fifth in the field and also won zero convention delegates. He could obviously tell he was in for a rough night and bailed on his planned “victory” rally early in the evening, heading instead for South Carolina, site of the next primary election. He hopes to do better there, given the state’s large black population and his ties to Barack Obama. But nothing is guaranteed, and a poor result in the Palmetto State could spell the end to his being a serious contender.
Trump’s fellow New York City billionaire, Tom Steyer, came in sixth. As an interesting aside, he recently proposed a $22/hour minimum wage, which is far higher than the $15/hour called for by Sanders, Warren, and most groups on the left. Hawaii’s Tulsi Gabbard—who many had forgotten was still in the race—came in seventh. And Andrew Yang—whose “Yang Gang” looked forward to a $1,000/month universal basic income “freedom dividend”—was eighth and subsequently wrapped up his quixotic campaign.
Colorado Senator Michael Bennet also ended his bid for the White House. And former Massachusetts Governor, Deval Patrick, who claimed just 0.4 percent of the vote, also indicated he might be wrapping up his campaign, stating, “No matter what, the future of this cause endures”—whatever that might mean.
Healthcare at the forefront
Exit polls in Iowa and New Hampshire showed that healthcare is a top policy issue on Democratic voters’ minds. The party’s candidates are divided among those, such as Sanders and Warren, who call for “Medicare for All,” those who want to merely expand Medicare, and those who reject Medicare for All, preferring instead to shore up the shambles of Obamacare. As the campaign goes on, these differences are sure to emerge with increasing frequency; it is, therefore, useful to understand what exactly is being proposed.
On one end of the spectrum is Obamacare, a patchwork of private insurance and Medicare with government subsidies for the poorest in society—subsidies which go directly into the pockets of the big insurance companies. Some 30 million Americans remain without coverage under this plan. But even this is too much for Trump and co. who seek to dismantle Obamacare while offering nothing in its place.
Sanders’s plan, on the other hand, would guarantee coverage for all at the point of service. As per his proposal, it would be paid for through payroll taxes on employers. This is sometimes referred to as “single-payer,” as the government would foot the bill instead of individuals, and insurers would be out of the picture altogether. Unsurprisingly, six in ten voters in New Hampshire prefer a single-payer system—and about 40 percent of them voted for Sanders. Those who oppose single-payer split their votes more or less evenly between Buttigieg and Klobuchar, with Biden picking up some of these voters as well.
While universal coverage would be a tremendous step forward, it would nevertheless preserve the private, for-profit nature of healthcare provision. And although on paper, an employer-side payroll tax sounds better than an employee-side payroll tax, these costs would almost surely be passed on to the workers in one guise or another. Unfortunately, none of the candidates are arguing for a genuine socialized health service, in which the hospital, medical, and pharmaceutical industries would be nationalized under public ownership, run under democratic control, and operated in the interests of all. This, of course, is to be expected in a capitalist party like the Democrats.
The other key question on voters’ minds, of course, is: who can beat Trump? Exit polls in New Hampshire indicated that voters would rather vote for someone who can boot The Donald from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, than someone who aligns most closely with their political views. The latest results would seem to indicate that New Hampshire Democrats are divided between those who think Sanders’s call for a “political revolution against the billionaire class” is the way to beat Trump, and “moderates” such as Klobuchar and Buttigieg. Klobuchar has ranted about how nominating a self-described socialist would be a catastrophe for the party, while Buttigieg asserted that “a middle-class mayor and a veteran from the industrial Midwest was the right choice to take on this president.”
The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana—who appears to use an automated sound bite generator—summed up his opposition to Sanders’s vision by declaring that “vulnerable Americans do not have the luxury of pursuing ideological purity over an inclusive victory.” He also took a not-so-subtle dig at the generational divide between the two: “I admired Mr. Sanders when I was a high school student. I respect him greatly to this day.”
Splits at the top
Sanders’s age may yet become an issue in the campaign. Should he win the presidency, he would be 79 years old upon his inauguration, making him the oldest president in US history. And just four months ago, he suffered a heart attack on the campaign trail. However, none of this has had any effect on his appeal among the youth. In fact, there was a clear generational divide in New Hampshire, with 51 percent of voters between 18 and 29 favoring Sanders over Buttigieg, who won just 18 percent in this demographic. And among those 30–44 years of age, Sanders beat Buttigieg by 36 percent to 22 percent. Only among those over 45 did Buttigieg edge out his older rival. This is proof positive that even if Sanders cannot surmount the odds and win this time around, the youth are clearly swinging to the left—something that should terrify the ruling class.
Much is at stake as the campaigns head to South Carolina, with its large black population, and Nevada, with its large Latino population. Biden is currently in the lead in South Carolina, but Sanders is gaining momentum after Iowa and New Hampshire. Sanders is polling strongly in Nevada, but Biden hopes to do well there also, given the non-white population and his ties to organized labor. In a disgusting example of the parochial vision of the labor leaders, the leadership of the large and influential culinary workers union in Las Vegas has put out a leaflet claiming that Sanders will take away their members’ union health plan! Instead of fighting for better health care for all workers, their narrow, “our members first” approach undermines the vast potential of the working class if it is united across union and non-union lines. It also underlines the class collaboration of the top union leaders with the Democratic Party.
Of course, this would not be an American election if billions of dollars weren’t being spent to influence voters. Most big donors expect something in return for their contributions, and if it looks as though a particular investment is unlikely to yield a return, the funding can quickly dry up. While self-financed billionaires like Steyer and Bloomberg needn’t worry, the stakes in South Carolina and Nevada are especially high for Biden and Warren. Both have already cut back on advertising in Nevada due to the strain on their coffers. With Super Tuesday approaching fast, and with Michael Bloomberg spending hundreds of millions in the fourteen states up for grabs, Biden and Warren may soon be in a “make or break” situation.
Sanders, on the other hand, continues to build a large campaign war chest based on small contributions. His campaign raised $25 million in January, and even before polls closed in New Hampshire, it had received 600,000 additional contributions in the first nine days of February. This broad base of support should power him all the way to the final rounds of the nomination process.
Buttigieg may be in the lead, with 21 secured delegates so far. However, with 1,991 delegates required to win the nomination and with 55 primaries and caucuses yet to go, the road to the convention will be long and winding. Even if Sanders pulls ahead among “progressives,” while the “moderate” vote is split between the likes of Buttigieg, Biden, and Klobuchar, he is not guaranteed to win the nomination, even if the weight of the superdelegates isn’t immediately brought to bear. We can be sure that behind-the-scenes horse-trading and jockeying for position will lead to one or another of the “moderate” candidates coming to the fore before the convention or at it. If this happens and Sanders “loses” to the combined forces of those who won fewer votes and delegates than him, how will he respond? How will his supporters respond?
It is also worth noting that although Trump is running unopposed in most states, in New Hampshire, nearly 150,000 voted in the Republican Primary—and 15 percent voted against him. Trump lost the state by a narrow margin in 2016 and this could be a bad sign for him this time around.
In 2016, the 2008 slump was more prominent on the minds of voters. The 2020 elections are unfolding during the longest recorded economic recovery. But it is also one of the weakest. Bernie has gone along with the propaganda of the others—that the problems facing workers are chiefly caused by Trump and the Republicans. But Trump’s policies are not the fundamental reason workers are hurting—it is the sickness of American capitalism.
Lenin explained that splits at the top of society are the first “major symptom” for the emergence of a revolutionary situation, which arises “when it is impossible for the ruling classes to maintain their rule without any change; when there is a crisis, in one form or another, among the ‘upper classes,’ a crisis in the policy of the ruling class, leading to a fissure through which the discontent and indignation of the oppressed classes burst forth.”
We are not yet on the eve of the third American Revolution—but we are closer than most people might think. The divisions within the Democratic Party and between the Democrats and Republicans are an important symptom of the beginning of this process. While keeping an eye on these dynamics at the top, Marxists must also remain focused on the fundamentals: the looming economic crisis, the intensifying class struggle, the need for a mass socialist party of the working class, and the need to build a revolutionary alternative to fight for socialism in our lifetime.