Can a socialist become US president?

The year 2016 will shape the future of global politics 

Can a socialist become US president?
It was one of those rare winter nights last week when a friend walked in, rubbing his hands vigorously to keep warm. He kept looking over his shoulders nervously, like he had seen an apparition. “How did you know?” he asked, pointing a finger at me. “How did you learn about Bernie Sanders?”

He is one of those committed American university types who regards any speculation on world affairs, which deviates from the right wing script, as a conspiracy theory. The world, according to him is kept stable by “establishments which supersede populism”.

Two months ago he was waxing eloquent about the inevitability of a Jeb Bush – Hillary Clinton contest for President, both establishment candidates. When I said “Bernie Sanders”, he waved his hand menacingly at me. He was severe. “A socialist as a US President?”

He was not alone. Conventional wisdom everywhere pointed to a Bush or Clinton candidacy. But that script has changed. Bush is nowhere around and Bernie Sanders has left Hilary Clinton yards behind him in the polls. Should he ever emerge the Democratic nominee, my friend will have to be placed under heavy sedation.

Trust Fox News to needle Republicans about “a self-avowed socialist” gaining traction for the Democratic nomination. The barb produced the expected response from a Republican Governor, John Kasich. “If Sanders is the nominee, Republicans will win all 50 states. I know Bernie Sanders, and he is not going to be President.” Never mind if Kasich himself is polling at less than 3 percent nationally.

I cited Vice President Joe Biden’s thumping endorsement of Sanders as evidence of his electability. Biden said Sanders was doing a “heck of a job” on the campaign trail offering an “authentic voice on income inequality”. Such fulsome praise for Sanders must be seen as some sort of a critique of Clinton.

“Bernie is speaking to a yearning that is deep and real. And he has credibility on it.” My friend nearly choked on his drink.
"Bernie is speaking to a yearning that is deep and real"

He has been through other shocks this past year. He was floating on cloud nine at Lord Mandelson’s interview about Jeremy Corbyn, the then candidate for the Labour Party President. “He is too far left” said the Tony Blair acolyte dismissively. “The country will never elect him Prime Minister.”

Even after Corbyn became Party President by a long margin, Mandelson and his tribe would not give up. “This is an invitation for the Conservative Party to continue their rule.”

Even during the worst spell of Murdochization of the world media, segments of the British media retained their character. Corbyn received balanced notices.

This was not the case in, say, Spain, where, La Prensa, as a central column of the two party establishment, provided no space to Podemos, which is something of a Communist Party under its charismatic leader Pablo Iglesias.

There was a similar antipathy to the Catalan nationalists headquartered in Barcelona. But despite the almighty Spanish establishment throwing its full weight behind the Peoples Party, Podemos won beyond all expectations. Without its 69 seats no government can now be formed in Spain.

These developments are not inexplicable. World affairs are following a pattern. Peoples’ tussle with their respective establishments has been the defining reality these past few years.

In liberal democracies, establishments have consisted of two party systems, their apron strings tied to Corporates who, in turn, clasped the hands of major multinationals. This network bred crony capitalism on a large scale. Skeletons of corruption came rattling down the cupboards.

Two party systems everywhere, therefore, have been in bad odour. Voters began to look for alternatives. The shift is to the left in Latin Europe, to the right in the Nordic north. Elsewhere the voters are simply breaking out of the two party systems which were inextricably tied to big capital. Alternating the two parties, Corporates had cultivated a system custom made for them: heads I win, tails you lose.

This is the framework in which a rank outsider, President Joko Widodo’s rise to power should be seen in Indonesia. Nearer home, Arvind Kejriwal’s profile is, at the moment, only confined to the capital region. But the manner in which the BJP-Congress establishments have turned upon him, checkmating him at every culvert, is ample proof that establishments fear AAP as an idea.

My friend heaves a sign of relief that all names mentioned above are only at the cusp of change. Establishments will throw everything in the fray to resist change. The year 2016 will decide the shape of the world to come.

The author is a veteran journalist form New Delhi

The writer is a journalist based in India.