Bernie Sanders is going to officially endorse Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, but that doesn’t mean he’s a loser.
In fact, Sanders’s campaign has been wildly successful beyond what anyone would have predicted at this time last year. He not only fought Hillary Clinton to the very end, but he also elevated a number of important campaign issues that would not have otherwise been discussed.
Below, we recap the six ways that Bernie Sanders transformed American politics in his run for the presidency.
1.) He made Hillary Clinton a vastly better candidate than she otherwise would have been. Hillary Clinton is very cautious by nature and isn’t fond of making bold promises.
Against Bernie Sanders, however, she had to move out of her comfort zone and start thinking bigger to avoid looking like someone without any vision for making the country better. Just last week, for instance, Clinton unveiled a plan to eliminate tuition at in-state public colleges and universities for families with annual incomes of $125,000 or less, despite the fact that during the primaries she dismissed such ideas as a fantasy.
Clinton also found herself forced to move to the left on trade deals by coming out in opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and she also embraced both a Medicare buy-in for people in their 50s and a public health insurance option for Obamacare exchanges.
All told, Bernie Sanders showed Clinton that there’s a real market for populist economics right now that she couldn’t have ignored.
2.) He ensured Donald Trump wasn’t the only voice of populism in the campaign. In times of economic distress, populist messages do very well with voters. For people who still haven’t fully recovered eight years after the start of the Great Recession, listening to lectures praising the virtues of cautious incrementalism weren’t going to cut it.
The big question with any upstart populist movement is, “To where does the anger get directed?” With Donald Trump’s campaign, populist anger is directed primarily at immigrants. With Sanders’s campaign, it was directed at Wall Street and at American corporations that have worked overtime to make sure American workers don’t get raises.
In other words, it’s really a matter of whether you punch up or punch down. Sanders’s brand of populism always punched up, and he showed how Democrats can campaign on populist messages without resorting to Trump-style demagoguery.
3.) The $15 minimum wage is the new baseline for American workers. For years, the minimum wage in this country has fallen well behind the rate of inflation. Thanks to Sanders embracing the “Fight for $15” campaign, supporting a $15 minimum wage is now an official plank in the Democratic Party platform.
To get some perspective on how big a deal this is, consider that the federal minimum wage was last raised in 2007, when it was raised from $5.15 per hour to $7.25 per hour. Before that, the minimum wage rose from $3.35 an hour to $5.15 an hour all the way back in 1997.
In other words, a $15 minimum wage would be the first major increase in the minimum wage for workers in decades.
4.) He got millions of young people deeply involved in politics for the first time. Bernie Sanders’s campaign did incredibly well with young Americans. During the Democratic primary, Bernie Sanders absolutely crushed Hillary Clinton among voters between the ages of 18 and 29, and also inspired young people to passionately campaign on his behalf.
These young voters are going to represent the future of the Democratic Party and they show it’s going to move in a much more progressive direction not just in terms of social issues, but in economic issues as well. It may take a while, but eventually many of these young Berniecrats will start running for office themselves and they’ll bring substantial change to American politics.
5.) He made people aware of the Democrats’ “superdelegate” system — and explained why it’s so bad. The Democrats installed a system of unelected “superdelegates” to act as a safeguard against Democratic primary voters picking a nominee out of the political mainstream such as George McGovern.
While superdelegates have never actually overturned the will of Dem primary voters, their mere presence is harmful to the Democratic process since they give party insiders an immediate advantage over upstart outsider candidates like Bernie Sanders.
Yes, Sanders’s campaign behaved hypocritically toward the end when it openly mused about lobbying the superdelegates to switch their votes from Clinton on the grounds that Sanders was more electable. But the fact that there’s now a movement to dump the superdelegate system all together is a testament to his campaign’s power to change the dialogue on issues.
6.) He upended the neoliberal monopoly on Democratic trade policy. For more than two decades, the Democratic Party’s policy on international trade has been the same as the Republicans’ policy.
Starting with Bill Clinton’s support of NAFTA, Democrats have supported international trade deals that critics say have been harmful to both the environment and the American middle class.
As noted earlier, however, Sanders’s strong condemnation of the Obama-backed TPP deal forced Hillary Clinton to come out in opposition to it as well. And even though Sanders didn’t get opposition to TPP enshrined in the Democratic platform, he’s shown that people who dissent from party orthodoxy on trade can no longer be ignored.