The race for the Democratic nomination for president was transformed today as populist stalwart Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy.
The mainstream media immediately focused on the horse race – assessing Sanders' standing in the polls (low), money prowess (small), and name recognition (little). Sanders is not young, not a pretty face, not easy.
But in a populist moment, Sanders is the real deal. He has fought on the side of working people for decades. He has been one of the few consistent champions that working people have had as the rules were rigged against them. He was against the corporate trade deals from the beginning. He fought against the tax breaks for the rich and the corporate tax havens. He stood up to save Social Security and Medicare from privatization and grand bargains. He has championed universal health care as a right, taking on the insurance companies and the pharmaceuticals. He opposed Iraq from the first lie. He has been a consistent champion for action on green jobs to meet the challenge of climate change. No one has been a greater or more impassioned opponent of the corruption of our democracy by big money.
Sanders won't have a pile of money but he will have a powerful message. He will depend on the willingness of activists to suspend disbelief and work hard to spread the word. He will depend on the willingness of citizens to stand not with the likely winner but with the one making their case.
Cynics will say that he has no chance. Leaders of institutions will hesitate to risk supporting him. Even grassroots activists are quoted as welcoming his candidacy largely because of the effect it might have on moving declared candidate Hillary Clinton. The Clinton camp is said to be more worried about former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley than about Sanders.
Could be. We don't know what kind of effort Sanders will mount yet. But we do know one thing: No one will doubt his independence and his sincerity. His message will be a powerful call for people to take back their democracy.
"Don't count me out," he says. Few will count him in. But he just might surprise.
Here are excerpts from his announcement:
“I am writing to inform you that I will be a candidate for President of the United States. I ask for your support.
“For many months I have been traveling from coast to coast across our country, and have had the opportunity to meet with thousands of good, hard-working, and remarkable people. Like you and me, they are deeply concerned about the future of our country.
“They wonder why they are working longer hours for lower wages. They worry about whether their kids will be able to afford college or get decent jobs. They fear that they may not have the savings to retire with dignity and security.
“The challenges facing our country are enormous.
“It's not just that, for forty years, the middle class has been disappearing. It's that 99% of all new income is going to the top 1%, and the grotesque level of wealth and income inequality today is worse than at any time since the late 1920s. The people at the top are grabbing all the new wealth and income for themselves, and the rest of America is being squeezed and left behind.
“The disastrous decisions of the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case and in other related cases are undermining the very foundations of American democracy, as billionaires rig the system by using their Super PACS to buy politicians and elections.
“And the peril of global climate change, with catastrophic consequences, is the central challenge of our time and our planet.
“The middle class in America is at a tipping point. It will not last another generation if we don’t boldly change course now.
“After a year of travel, discussion and dialogue, I have decided to be a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president. But let's be clear. This campaign is not about Bernie Sanders. It about a grassroots movement of Americans standing up and saying: ‘Enough is enough. This country and our government belong to all of us, not just a handful of billionaires.’”