While it is still too early to determine whether or not Elizabeth Warren’s well-organized campaign to paint Bernie Sanders as a sexist has diminished his chances of winning the Democratic nomination for President, we can already be certain of one thing. It has significantly enhanced his brand. After watching their candidate repeatedly attacked at by CNN’s moderators during the January 14th debate, his supporters on the Internet got mad. Then they got out their credit cards.
Even by the standards of Bernie Sanders’ fundraising juggernaut, Tuesday was a big day: He raised $1.7 million from more than 100,000 small-dollar donors, his biggest debate-day haul of the 2020 campaign.
Neoliberal economists like Frederick Von Hayek and Milton Friedman have argued that while the state is inherently oppressive, the market is open and democratic. Business models for Silicon Valley companies like Uber extend the libertarian ideal into the market itself, aiming to “disrupt” older, more traditional corporations by the use of the Internet, mobile and digital technology. Similarly, privately owned charter schools target top heavy public schools and teachers unions.
As odd as it my sound, it is the self-proclaimed democratic socialist Bernie Sanders who mostly closely embodies the libertarian ideal. While Sanders eventually hopes to roll back the neoliberalism of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton and restore the social democratic ideals of the New Deal, it is unlikely that he will get anywhere near the White House. The Democratic Party establishment, the corporate media, and big, top town unions like SEIU have placed formidable obstacles in his path. The sheer number of candidates remaining in the race and Joe Biden’s dominant position among older, southern, African American voters make it unlikely that Sanders will get the nomination on the first ballot, which will kick the decision up to the super delegates on the second ballot. 2020 is likely to be the most traditional Democratic National Convention since 1968, where fat ward healers in smoke filled rooms grabbed the nomination away from the young anti-war activists galvanized into politics by the recently murdered Robert Kennedy.
Like Robert Kennedy and George McGovern, Bernie Sanders has galvanized the next generation of progressives into electoral politics. He has met with some hostility on the far left, who accuse him of “sheepdogging” people into the hide bound Democratic Party, but it is in the Democratic Party itself where he has met with the most hostility. Older, more affluent Democratic Party activists, feminists, union leaders, and the African American elite led by figures like John Lewis don’t quite know what to make of Sanders himself, with whom they often agree on the issues. But they are unanimous in their dislike of his followers, who they label “Bernie Bros” or “social media bullies.” Like a middle-aged divorcee who spent his youth going to fraternity parties and suddenly finds himself face to face with Tinder, older liberal Democrats are experiencing culture shock. Suddenly they feel irrelevant, shunted aside by a horde of aggressive, new activists in their 20s. Unwilling to give up their institutional power, they have waged a scorched earth campaign against Sanders and his movement, determined to drive the Senator from Vermont, and millions of new voters away from the political party they see as their birthright, desperately hoping we will all “give up purity politics” and “vote blue no matter who” in spite of their obvious hostility.
The results are likely to be disastrous. Unlike younger left and liberal activists in Chicago in 1968, Sander’s followers are unlikely to riot when the corrupt old Democratic establishment steals the nomination from their man for Joe Biden. The Millennials of 2020 are not the hippies of 1968. The typical Bernie Bro is far more comfortable with an iPad or a cell phone than he is with a Molotov Cocktail. They will however continue to undermine the Democratic Party institutions they rightfully see as blocking their path to political power, and progressive reform. What’s more, the rank and file of the Sanders movement, like the rank and file of Occupy Wall Street, is likely to fade away in pessimism and disillusionment. Bernie Sanders is a 78 year old New Deal Democrat, an old fashioned big government liberal who has survived into the age of neoliberalism. The leadership of his movement however, the organizers and social media gurus who have built his campaign into a fundraising juggernaut will, like George McGovern’s supporters in 1972 — among who were Gary Hart and Bill Clinton — are going onto lucrative careers in politics. Will they hang onto the social democratic politics of their candidate once he retires? In spite of younger, prominent social democratic politics like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, it does not seem very probable. More likely, they will adopt the neoliberal identity politics of Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren, and simply replace the Baby Boomers among Democratic Party power brokers.
Who will be the Gary Hart and Bill Clinton of the Bernie Bro Generation? The only thing that’s certain is that there will be a fight about the color, gender and ethnicity of the new elite, about who gets to control all the money raised by the Sanders campaign from people who got mad on the Internet. Political opinions will be expressed more and more online, and with a credit card, and less and less in the voting booth and in the streets. Raising money for healthcare will continue to be about Go Fund Me accounts, and not about Medicare for All. Conservative dominance in the political arena is likely to continue through my lifetime. The market, however, will be up for grabs.